Archive | October, 2010

Vegetarian 101

17 Oct

First, I’m a bad blogger – sorry for all of the time without a post! Now, on with it..

A few months ago my mother called me, frustrated. Apparently my father had decided that he wanted to try to have “vegetarian week” and not eat any meat for a week. While my mother thought it was a good idea, she found herself a little lost in trying to come up with meat-free recipes that were reasonably nutritious and satisfying for an entire week.

I’ve been cooking vegetarian for about three years now (since my vegetarian boyfriend came onto the scene and completely confused my kitchen habits). Since it’s been a while, I really don’t have much trouble cooking without meat, and can generally come up with quite a few vegetarian recipe ideas off the top of my head. That said, I had forgotten how difficult it was at first to adjust to the boyfriend’s dietary restrictions at first.

I’m not sure if it helped my mom, but I wrote down a few of my tips for vegetarian cooking. If you’re learning to cook vegetarian or just want to think up more ideas for what to make on “Meatless Monday”, perhaps some of these will help you to make the transition a bit more easily.


Try using eggplants, portabella mushrooms, or squash as a main dish - stuff them to make them even better.


Make Main Dishes, Not Just Sides

Vegetables are side items – at least that’s what most omnivorous chefs use them for. One of the big mistakes that people make when they start cooking vegetarian is to keep this mindset and just make more sides. You’ll find that a meal of mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn without the meatloaf for the main course might leave you feeling a little unsatisfied.

The thing is that while side dishes are lovely, most of us need a main dish to feel like we’ve had a complete meal. Try using more filling and fulfilling vegetables for main dishes – eggplant and portabella mushrooms, or butternut squash are very meaty and have a great flavor. Eggs are also an excellent main dish (and can be added to more dishes than you expect).

Don’t fall into the carb trap


Yes, carbs are fantastic, but when eating out, you'll constantly be forced to eat pasta, rice etc. in order to avoid meat, so avoid the carbs at home.


Many beginning vegetarians, especially those who don’t cook much, tend to turn to pasta, potatoes, and rice dishes as their main food source. All of these things are delicious and each is fine in moderation. If you’re not at least a little aware, though, some people will have toast for breakfast, pasta for lunch, and a nice plate of fried rice for dinner. Shockingly, you won’t end up feeling very lively or healthy if you eat that many carbs in a day. I recommend eating as few carbs as possible at first – you’ll find that you are practically forced to eat pasta or rice at many restaurants in order to avoid meat so avoiding them at home most of the time is good practice.

Don’t Worry so Much About Protein

(this part is NOT for vegans)

I constantly hear about how vegetarians don’t get enough protein. I’m sure that in some cases this is true, but I’ve tracked my own protein intake and have never gone below what’s recommended for the day, even without trying and paying much attention.


It's not as hard as you think to incorporate protein into your diet. This is a fried egg. I put fried eggs on top of sandwiches, include egg in fried rice, etc. Cheese, yougurt and beans, are also great if you're worried about protein.


At my house, the key is to vary our diet pretty regularly. You’ll find that if you eat a little cheese, eggs, beans or yogurt with most of your meals, you’ll get more than enough protein each day. People who spend all of their time worrying about getting enough protein tend to eat tremendous amounts of protein-rich foods. This isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t really necessary.

If you’re concerned about protein intake, I recommend eating some Greek yogurt for breakfast – you’ll find that a serving has a large portion of your protein for the day, which gets you off to a good start. Still concerned? Grab an egg and mix it in with just about anything – vegetarian fajitas, fried rice (with lots of veggies), or just fry an egg and eat it plain. Eggs are quick and easy options.

Keep Snacks Easily Available

One of the things about being a vegetarian is that you still have to eat just as often as everyone else. There are times when you’ll find yourself in the middle of East Texas in a diner where the entire menu is either meat, or made with meat products (think of green beans made with bacon grease etc.). While you could have a piece of bread and perhaps some butter, that probably won’t hold you over. Other times, you’ll come home from work with about five minutes of energy left and cooking just doesn’t feel like an option.

First off, buy some Amy’s frozen meals. Keep one or two stocked at home and at work for a quick meal (They also taste great). Second, keep a few granola bars, maybe some dehydrated vegetables in the center consul of your car. They won’t go bad for quite a while and you can grab them when you need to – like when you’re in East Texas with a choice between eating meat and eating meat.

Vary Your Diet


It's important to eat a variety of foods in order to get the vitamins that you need.


Everyone should think about variety in their diet, but it’s especially important for vegetarians. No matter what you’re eating, if you’re eating the same thing every day (or every 2 days), then you’re probably missing out on some aspect of nutrition unless you’ve worked out your diet with a nutritionist. Eating a variety of foods means that you’ll get a variety of vitamins and it keeps things entertaining.

Give these tips a try if you’re a beginning vegetarian chef or even if you just want to eat less meat. I would love to hear any of your tips if you have more ideas for how to make vegetarianism easier and healthier.