Tag Archives: vegetables

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.

The Survivors

2 Aug

As you are all aware, I planted my first veggie garden and started this blog on the same day in mid-June. Now, about a month and a half later, it’s about time for an update on how the garden has survived.

Here's the blossom on the eggplant. I'm hoping that this means we'll have some eggplant soon.

First off, planting in June is not really something that you should do. I think that for most of the plants that I selected, March would have been the ideal time. I’ll admit that a few items immediately committed suicide – including the strawberries and most of the herbs. They were dead within a week of planting. The two squash plants survived quite a while (one even produced blossoms) but they too succumbed to the overwhelming heat.

Fortunately for me, we’ve had quite a bit of rain, and temperatures that have been a little cooler than last summer, so some of the veggies have actually done quite well.

The tomato plant has been producing lots of tomatoes even though the leaves look quite unhealthy.

The survivors include the tomatoes. Though they looked rather peeked when planted, have lived and produced lots of small tomatoes for us to eat. They’ve actually been delicious. Oddly, the leaves have continued to look half dead, but the plant has given tomatoes very consistently (maybe 5 – 6 per week at the most – 3 this week).

The okra (yes, I planted okra) and eggplant have certainly been the most successful of the bunch. Both of the plants are now giant – the okra leaves are broad and flat and the largest ones are now about 16 inches across. They haven’t produced any actual okra yet, but I think that we may be getting some soon.

I'm not sure how big okra plants usually get, but the widest of the leaves on this one are about 16 inches across.

The eggplant has shown some promise this week by growing two pretty blossoms. It’s also gotten fairly large with its largest leaves being about 10 inches long. Do the blossoms mean that eggplants are soon to follow? I suppose that it remains to be seen.

Exciting news is that it’s almost time to plant the fall garden. I’ll probably start in about two weeks, but I’ve already selected a few new veggies that I want to try:

Brussels Sprouts

Cucumbers

Kale

Peas

Spinach

I’ll also add one or two other items depending on what’s available when I go to the store to buy my veggies.

Currently, my biggest debate is whether or not to start from seeds or from small plants. I’ll probably go with small plants, but that also depends on availability.

CSAs – Local, Fresh Veggies Every Week

28 Jun

One of my good friends introduced me to the concept of a CSA last summer, by giving me part of her share. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about (as I would not have a year ago), “CSA” stands for “Community-Supported Agriculture”. The basic idea is that individuals pay a set amount of money in exchange for a “share” in a farm – those individuals then get a portion of what is grown on the farm for a season. Members generally get a box (or bag) of vegetables every week based on what the farm has available that week.

This board tells me what types of vegetables I get each week

In many cases, a CSA will deliver a box of vegetables to their members every week or two (depending on what you sign up for). My CSA asks that I drive out to the farm to pick up my veggies every week, which I love because it gives me the chance to trade vegetables that I don’t like, for some that I do. Also, going out to the farm once a week is pleasant – meeting the people who work on the farm and seeing the vegetables growing makes me feel even better about what I’m eating.

There are tons of advantages to being a CSA member, so I’m just going to list out a few of my favorite:

–       I get enough vegetables for the week, and rarely have to buy veggies at the grocery store

–       All of the vegetables are organic, and locally grown

–       The CSA “assigns” me certain vegetables every week, which requires me to learn to cook vegetables that I would not otherwise have tried (see, for example, pattypan squash from a few weeks ago)

–      Eating local, in season vegetables helps me to know what I should be eating at various times during the year – and keeps me from eating vegetables that have been bread for shipping and potentially exposed to chemicals and who knows what else

–       The vegetables are fresh and flavorful

Some of the veggies on the farm stand at Green Gate Farms

I go to Green Gate Farms here in Austin, which is a pretty charming place – they grow vegetables, raise chickens for eggs (and for eating, I imagine), raise pigs, and have wildflower bouquets that are readily available at their farm stand.

On a typical week, my share is about two grocery bags of vegetables – most recently lots of squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, green beans and okra. I split my share with one of my friends which has turned out to be a great thing to do. We share recipes for the vegetables that we have that week and sharing our vegetables means that I don’t have as many to cook. I generally cook for just my boyfriend and myself so having the entire share to myself would be too much.

The biggest disadvantage I’ve found with being a CSA member is that at times, you end up with too many vegetables. Last week, for example, I didn’t have much time to cook so only a few of our vegetables were eaten. My methods for dealing with the occasionally overflowing CSA box are pretty simple:

–       Your friends probably love the idea of farm fresh vegetables – give them a few veggies (or give them your share for the week) when you feel like you have too many veggies

–       Make things that are simple – not everything has to be a labor intensive recipe – I frequently just cut up tomatoes with a little bit of vinegar and olive oil as an appetizer when I have too many

–       Make casseroles or other food that you can eat throughout the week  – that way you can eat your veggies every night, but not have to cook every night

–       I’ve heard that preserving certain vegetables is not difficult, though I haven’t tried it out yet

My CSA has worked out very well for me this year, and I’ll defiantly join again next season. I would recommend it to anyone who likes to cook and is looking to try out new recipes and vegetables that may be a little out of your comfort zone.