Try going veggie!
I have pretty much of a heterodox philosophy towards vegetarianism. My wife and I cook a lot of vegetarian dishes and we embrace the cuisine from a style and health standpoint, but we are occasional meat eaters (maybe twice or three times a week) and not at all apologetic about it.
I understand the logic behind being a vegetarian and I understand and to an extent identify with the philosophical underpinnings of going veggie. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that we also have tons of (thankfully non-proseletyzing) vegetarian friends. When we have our vegetarian or vegan friends over for dinner we are happy to cook according to their dietary requests. No problem at all. Heck, maybe the only reason we have vegetarian friends is that they're just using me because I actually LIKE cooking veggie food and I'm good at it.
I do have one ethical issue to throw out to readers out there however: putting aside for a moment the fact that I eat meat, is it unethical to take a vegetarian dish and ADD meat to it? We have done this on occasion, in particular with some of the soup recipes from Jay Solomon's Vegetarian Soup Cuisine (see below for other veggie cookbook recommendations). One year we had leftover turkey meat from Thanksgiving and we added it to his Garden Gumbo. It worked well in the dish but at the same time we felt guilty because I'm sure Mr. Solomon would consider this a horrible bastardization of his recipe.
So what do you think out there? Am I a bad person?
One of my main beefs (sorry) with strict vegetarianism is with the fact that many of our vegetarian friends are staggeringly unscientific about their diets and they seem to get sick constantly. A few of them look pale--like they're not getting enough iron in their diet.
And holy cow, I also think if you plan to raise your kids on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to put on your scientist's hat and make sure you're getting all you need in terms of amino acids, minerals, etc.
But this isn't a polemic against vegetarianism. Far from it! This is actually a celebration of the cuisine by somebody who just happens to eat meat too.
Vegetarian dishes are a lot more likely to be high in fiber, low in fat, low in sodium and all around healthier than a typical meat-centered meal. They are cheaper too. Do you realize that an entire pound of collard greens costs only 99c? And a couple of servings of collards has as many antioxidants as an Ocuvite tablet--and for a heckuva lot less money too? And our politicians wring their hands about Medicare being out of control.
So this week I encourage you to try a vegetarian meal, or even try a vegan meal (no meat, dairy or eggs) and see what you think.
Here are a couple of cookbooks that I strongly recommend for getting into vegetarian cooking:
1) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes from the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant by the Moosewood Collective
2) Vegetarian Soup Cuisine: 125 Soups and Stews from Around the World by Jay Solomon
3) The New Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition is another classic
4) Also Molly Katzen's original The New Moosewood Cookbook is a classic. There's an awesome hummus recipe in there that is a staple in our kitchen.
My wife and I lived in Ithaca, New York for a while in the late 80s/early 90s and that's how we got hooked on the Moosewood Restaurant and its cookbooks. If you're ever in Ithaca, make time to have dinner there. (Helpful hint: be sure to go to Ithaca during the summer!)
Try this dish while you're at it:
Spanish Chickpea and Garlic Soup:
(heavily modified--without permission--from Jay Solomon's book)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
10-12 scallions, chopped
6 carrots, peeled and sliced
5-6 potatoes, washed and unpeeled, chopped into chunks
1 14.5 ounce canned chickpeas, drained (prefer Goya)
5 cups water
3/4 cup fresh parsley, very coarsely chopped.
In a large stock pot, heat oil briefly.
Add onions, paprika and black pepper.
Saute on medium-high heat until softened, about 7-8 minutes.
Add garlic, saute another 2-3 minutes.
Add tomatoes, scallions, carrots and saute another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add potatoes, chick peas and water. Bring to a boil.
Simmer for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Remove from heat and add parsley. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve.
Garden Gumbo Recipe
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