Guest Post: Without Meat, What Do You Eat?
About the Author: Tera Kurtz is an experienced urban farmer, self-taught cook, recipe developer, and has taught vegetarian cooking classes that focus on seasonal, local eating. She and her husband currently teach English in S. Korea, but someday soon will own a small organic farm. There, they will grow vegetables, raise chickens and goats, and play board games while drinking good coffee. You can read more on her recipe and sustainable living blog Continue this Labor.
Shortly after finishing university, my now-husband and I made the decision to minimize our intake of animal products, due to a combination of health and environmental concerns. The first step of our journey was to find a comparable milk substitute to eat with our cereal. Each weekend of that first month, we could be found in a different supermarket, poring over the natural foods aisle, our frustration growing each time we checked a different brand of nut or grain milk off of our “to try” list. The day we discovered rice milk was triumphant.
Although not strict vegetarians, five years and many frustrations and triumphs later, my husband and I cook nearly every meal at home – always sans meat. The changing of our diet has happened so gradually that the questions asked when one considers the way we eat often take me aback.
Whether one is deciding to become vegan or start cooking meatless on Mondays, it is easy to feel lost in the beginning. Below are some common questions and concerns that I receive and practical advice and tips on making the switch to a meatless or less-meat lifestyle.“Is this all there is?”
I often hear this question from non-vegetarians who look at their dinner plates – usually a sizable portion of meat, with a predictable starch and a side of poorly cooked frozen vegetables – subtract the meat, and feel discouraged.
Go beyond the idea of the tri-partitioned plate and plan your meal with a nutritious grain or particular vegetable as the centerpiece, instead of a chicken breast or pork chop. Many find that in doing so, their options are actually opened, as sides can become obsolete. Try “stacking” your meal by choosing a grain, topping it with your favorite roasted or stir-fried veggies, and adding a sauce that ties the meal together, such as a homemade pesto or a red wine reduction.
Although whole wheat pasta and brown rice are favorites of mine, try branching out and experiment more with quinoa, polenta, couscous, and lentils. All of these make an excellent foundation for a stacked meal, and can also be added to soups or salads to create a heartier vegetarian entrée.
A word on meat substitutes: Though I’m sure they have certainly come a long way, substitutes that are made to mimic the taste and texture of say, a chicken breast, should be avoided. Substitutes of this nature are usually highly processed and I see them as a hindrance in the kitchen, as they encourage the typical meat-starch-vegetable dinner plate, and can prove to be unsatisfying. If your goal is to go meatless, I recommend focusing your time on learning and creating new vegetarian dishes in the kitchen, which brings me to the next concerns I often hear:“I’m just not creative in the kitchen/I just don’t have the time.”
The idea of cooking in a different style can be daunting, especially for those who work full-time and feel as though time in the kitchen is already limited.
An excellent place to start is by incorporating a meal planning time into your week. Health – however many animal products you allow in your diet – must be planned. Failing to do so invites temptation to take a spin through the drive-thru, or reach for a TV dinner. At the beginning of each week, sit down and plan out your dinners for the week, taking into account the vegetables and grains already on hand. As you plan, make a list of any items that you will need for the week, and let this list be your guide when making your weekly supermarket run. I find that by doing this, I spend less money and seem to have more time in the kitchen because I always know what I am going to make for dinner. Also, I know ahead of time if I need to do any special prep work, such as soaking dry beans, and can plan accordingly, saving time and avoiding frustrations.Tips for planning and creating unique vegetarian dinners:
Signing up for a weekly/biweekly CSA will help you eat seasonally and get you out of any creative rut you may be experiencing by forcing you to work with new ingredients and seek recipes that tie the week’s harvest together. My CSA in Nashville would include recipes and descriptions of uncommon vegetables for each week’s bushel, a practice I’ve heard belongs to many CSAs.
Dabbling in other cuisines that specialize in vegetarian dishes can make cooking exciting and taste buds appreciative. Four years ago, after visiting an Indian restaurant and ordering a vegetarian curry, a door was opened to hundreds of delicious vegetarian options. Today, I can be found in my kitchen making a curry from scratch several times a month. Already an Indian food fan? Try Turkish and other Middle Eastern cuisines – you can’t go wrong with falafel and hummus. Thai food offers flavorful curries, soups, and noodle dishes that can be easily made vegetarian, and Ethiopian cuisine contains many vegan dishes, often in the form of curries and vegetable stews.
If you are not an experimenter in the kitchen by nature, there’s a good chance that you have a vegetarian friend who is willing to share their expertise. Planning regular cooking-together nights cuts the work load in-half and makes cooking a more enjoyable affair. In addition, you can make a list of local grocery stores or shops that regularly offer one-time cooking classes (Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Williams Sonoma, just to get you started) and check each month for one that involves a vegetarian dish or special cuisine that interests you.
What tips do you have when eating without meat?