On the Menu: Viva vegetarian!
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Vegetarian and vegan diets have gained mainstream acceptance in recent years. While the percentage of the population that strictly follows such diets is small, a growing number of Americans are reducing the amount of meat in their diet to improve their health.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans didn't explicitly discourage meat consumption, but they did emphasize the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables while reducing overall caloric intake -- easily accomplished by eating smaller portions of meat or cutting meat out of a few meals a week while adding servings of fruits and vegetables.
Even restaurants are figuring out that a plate of vegetable side dishes won't cut it any more. In Pittsburgh, restaurants such as Salt of the Earth in Garfield, Spoon in East Liberty, Avenue B in Shadyside and Kaya in the Strip District offer fantastic options for vegetarian diners.
Cooking vegetarian meals can seem like a challenge for people who aren't used to it. But it doesn't have to be more difficult than a meat or fish-centered dinner; it just takes a slightly different frame of mind.
Last week, at the North American Vegetarian Society's annual Vegetarian Summerfest meeting in Johnstown, private chef and cookbook author Alan Roettinger held a cooking demonstration focused on plant-based protein. Now a vegan, Mr. Roettinger started writing about vegan cooking while he was still an omnivore, so he likes to call these recipes "vegan food for an omnivore's palate."
Mr. Roettinger avoids processed meat-substitutes and instead relies on whole foods, such as beans, tofu and quinoa. He uses lots of fresh herbs and high-quality spices to add flavor. As Mr. Roettinger pointed out, most Americans get ample protein, so it's not really essential to include it in every meal, but focusing on a protein source can help make vegetarian cooking (and eating) easier for omnivores.
In "Vegetarian Entrees That Won't Leave You Hungry: Nourishing, Flavorful Main-Course Dishes that Fill the Center of the Plate," (The Experiment, 2011, $17.95), Lukas Volger writes, "determining what to put in the center of the plate can be the hardest part of adapting to and following a vegetarian diet." His book, due out in October, will expand your horizons far past pastas and salads.
While books such as these demonstrate that it's easy to eat vegetarian year-round, summer is an especially enticing time to focus on fruits and vegetables. They're bountiful, cheap and full of flavor, and when you have fantastic ingredients to start with, it's that much easier to make a delicious meal.
Flaxseed oil is typically sold in the nutritional supplement area of grocery stores. It contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggest may reduce the risks of heart disease. However, flaxseed oil is relatively expensive (I bought 8 ounces for $7), must be refrigerated and should be consumed within a few weeks, as it tends to oxidize quickly. If you don't want to use it, just substitute olive or canola oil.
-- China Millman
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube
- 1/2 cup flaxseed oil
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large bunches mint leaves, finely chopped
- 2 bunches scallions, finely chopped
- 1 cucumber, seeded, finely chopped.
- 8 ounces arugula, finely chopped
Put the quinoa in a fine sieve. Rinse it well under running water and drain. Transfer to a small pot. Add the water and bouillon cube and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. The quinoa grains should be fully opened, giving the appearance of having "sprouted."
Whisk the flax oil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the quinoa, mint, cucumber, scallions and arugula. Toss until thoroughly mixed. Serve at once, while still warm.
Cook's note: Using the whole cup of oils results in a fairly oily dish, so in the future I would reduce the amounts to 1/4 cup flaxseed oil and a 1/4 cup olive oil.
-- From "Speed Vegan" by Alan Roettinger (Book Publishing Company, 2010, $19.95)
Bulgur Salad with Kale and Feta
A bulgur and kale salad may sound like the kind of vegetarian health food that is easy to mock, but the cumin, jalapenos, cilantro and feta give this salad a wonderfully bright, spicy flavor. It also makes a great brown-bag lunch.
-- China Millman
- 1 cup bulgur
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 small red onion or 1/2 large red onion, sliced into strips
- 2 jalapeno peppers, minced (seeded for a milder heat level)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or water
- 1 bunch kale (about 6 ounces), washed and cut into thin strips
- 3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine the bulgur and water in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes until tender. Strain off any water that hasn't been absorbed.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and let sizzle until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook until it's browned around the edges, about 6 minutes. Stir in the jalapenos, garlic and salt. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the kale and cook, tossing from time to time until wilted, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly. Stir in the scallions, cilantro, feta, cooked bulgur and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.
Serves 3 or 4.
From "Vegetarian Entrees That Won't Leave You Hungry" by Lukas Volger (The Experiment, 2011, $17.95)
Corn and Basil Cakes
These corn cakes make a delicious breakfast option, and they come together so quickly you can even make them on a weekday. Or, for a beautiful, seasonal appetizer, top them with fresh ricotta and sliced cherry tomatoes.
-- China Millman
- 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup low-fat milk
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 2 large ears) or frozen
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Whisk flour, milk, eggs, 1 tablespoon oil, baking powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until smooth. Stir in corn and basil.
Brush a large nonstick skillet lightly with some of the remaining 1 tablespoon oil; heat over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Cook 4 cakes at a time, using about 1/4 cup batter for each, making them about 3 inches wide. Cook until the edges are dry, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until golden brown on the other side, 1 to 3 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining oil and batter, making 10 cakes total. Reduce the heat as necessary to prevent burning.
Makes 10 cakes.
From "EatingWell Fast & Flavorful Meatless Meals: 150 Healthy Recipes Everyone Will Love" by Jessie Price & The EatingWell Test Kitchen (The Countrymen Press, 2011, $24.95)
First Published July 17, 2011 12:00 am