Great Meatless Meals

Brooke Shields,  Christy Turlington, Ellen Degeneres, Deepak Chopra, and Paul McCartney. What do all these celebs have in common? They are all vegetarians.

Now, you don’t need to be a star to know that a vegetarian diet can improve your long-term health and help sustain the environment, too. Still, if you’re used to eating a lot of meat, it may be hard to imagine what vegetarians eat every day, and you might think that a meatless diet is either dull or labor-intensive. Not so. In fact, with a little inspiration, veggie-centered meals can be delicious and easy to prepare. And even going vegetarian for only one or two dinners per week can make a big difference for your own health as well as the health of the planet.

Need more convincing? Here are some sad statistics: Due to the methane produced from manure and the energy needed to grow and transport feed, livestock creates 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases. That’s more than all forms of transportation-cars, trucks, trains, planes- combined! Just as shockingly, a study by an international group of scientists predicts that if we keep eating fish at the current rate, with our same destructive fishing practices in place, all salt-water fish and seafood will literally disappear by the year 2048.

So how do you go about making those small adjustments to your diet, making sure you and your family get adequate protein, but also remembering that your food choices have a big impact on the natural world? Here are some useful ideas for veggie menu planning:

  • Instead of meat, center the meal around a hearty vegetable protein like tofu, tempeh, beans, or mushrooms. You can see some examples in the recipes below.
  • Vary textures, colors, cooking methods, and flavors. Vegetarians typically eat from a much wider range of ingredients and cuisines than meat eaters do; that’s what keeps it interesting. You can completely forget about the fact that you’re not eating meat simply by combining contrasting elements; for example, grilled mushrooms with garlicky mashed potatoes and lemony steamed artichokes.
  • To make a veggie meal satisfying, go heavy on healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and avocadoes. You’ll still be taking in the same amount or less in calories, but healthy fat brings flavors alive and fills you up. For example, a rich, flavorful pesto sauce combined with grains or vegetables will satisfy the pickiest eaters, and ripe avocado slices make an otherwise “healthy” salad into a hearty treat.
  • It runs counter to what we were all taught in school, but every meal does not need to contain protein-in fact, you’ll be giving your body a break if you go without it now and then, because proteins are quite difficult to digest. It’s perfectly okay-even to be encouraged- to make a meal of grains and veggies; for example, sautéed greens and brown rice. A little olive oil, a pinch of salt, a dash of soy: delicious.
  • To satisfy that craving for the taste of meat, try preparing a meal using only small amounts of meat for flavor. A wonderful, rich-tasting salad can become a hearty meal when enhanced by a couple of tablespoons of homemade, crispy bacon bits.
  • Most of the world eats a diet centered on grains and vegetables accompanied by just a small amount of meat. It’s not what they eat, but how they prepare it that makes it so special. If you’re having trouble coming up with exciting ideas for meatless meals, check out international recipes as a source of inspiration. Online and in cookbooks at your local library or bookstore, you’ll find wonderful veggie recipes drawn from Indian, Italian, and Mexican cuisines, to name just a few.
  • Fool yourself with a great veggie burger! We all know that a lot of what’s satisfying about a burger is the condiments and the texture. Find a good recipe for veggie burgers and make a big batch-they freeze well. Or ask for recommendations for a healthy and tasty store brand. With good cheese, bread, and all the fixin’s-one of my favorites is fresh dill-most burgers, even the meatless kind, are bound to taste good, and you’ll probably feel a lot better after eating one than you will after a big honkin’ beef burger.

With a little confidence and chutzpah, you can take these ideas and eat like the stars, while doing your part to curb environmental pollution and save the planet! Here are two recipes to get you inspired. Bon appetit!


Stuffed Poblano Chile Peppers

Instead of the usual ground beef, these poblanos are stuffed with tempeh, a traditional Indonesian food made from soybeans. You can find tempeh at any natural foods store. Queso Fresco is a mild, crumbly Mexican cheese. If you need a substitute, use shredded white cheddar or Monterey Jack. You can prepare the filling and even stuff the chiles the night before cooking them. For a memorable summer meal, serve the chiles with fresh salsa and corn on the cob.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 8 ounces plain tempeh, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and finely chopped
  • 3 cups crumbled queso fresco
  • Salt
  • 8 poblano chile peppers

To make the filling, heat a sauté pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to brown, then stir in the kale and sautée for 2 minutes. Add the tempeh, cumin, chili powder, cloves, garlic, and soy sauce. Cook for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup water and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Stir in the queso fresco. Taste and season with salt.

To prepare the chiles, slice off the stem end so you have a wide hole for stuffing. Using a sharp knife, reach inside and slice out the membrane and seeds. Work carefully so as not to puncture the skin.

Preheat the oven to 450°F, or preheat the grill to medium.

Rub the chiles inside and out with olive oil. Using a small spoon to tightly pack the narrow end, stuff the chiles with the filling. Pack them as tightly as possible without tearing the flesh. This will help to hold the stuffing in during cooking. Each chile can hold 1/2 to 3/4 cup of stuffing.

If roasting, put the chiles in a lightly greased casserole dish, cover, and roast for 5 minutes. Uncover and roast for 10 minutes. Rotate the chiles and roast for another 10 minutes, or until the poblano skin is lightly charred and the filling is heated through. If grilling, place the chiles directly over the heat and cook for about 15 minutes, rotating two or three times. Serve.


Charred Eggplant and Polenta Torta

This rustic Italian dish is a lot like eggplant parmesan, but much less labor-intensive. Serve it with a green salad and fresh bread. Charring eggplant is a “quick and dirty” technique used in restaurants. It gets a little messy, but it’s fast and easy, and gives a wonderful smokey flavor.

Serves 4

  • 2 globe eggplants
  • 1 cup instant polenta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh or dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh or dried rosemary
  • ½ cup vegetable stock
  • 3 cups spinach leaves firmly packed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves firmly packed, torn
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Turn 2 gas burners on high and use tongs to place the eggplants directly on the burners. Char the eggplants, turning them once every minute, until they are evenly charred, black, and tender, about 6 minutes. Remove from the flame and let cool. If you don’t have a gas stove, poke holes in the eggplant with a fork and cook on a greased baking sheet in a 400°F oven until soft, 30-40 minutes. Pull off the skin and slice off the stems. Set aside.

Lightly grease a 9-inch round glass pie dish with oil. Combine 3 cups of water in a pot with 2 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in the polenta and immediately whisk to break up any clumps. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking, for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and scrape the hot polenta into the pie dish. Use a wet spatula to smooth the top and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450°F and position a rack near the top of the oven.

Heat an ovenproof sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the tomatoes and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic, eggplant, and dried thyme and rosemary if you are using and sauté for 3 minutes, breaking up the eggplant into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt. Add the stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the fresh rosemary and thyme, then stir in the spinach and basil leaves until just wilted. Transfer the eggplant into the dish of polenta and smooth the top with a spatula.

Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the eggplant and roast in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden, about 15 minutes. Slice and serve.


Adapted with permission from Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Lifeby Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press. Available January 2010.

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