Monday, August 9, 2010

Meatless Monday* - Meat-free Cooking Tips, Part 1

Getting Prepared

If you're thinking about cooking meatless meals, I've found that it pays to be prepared. You might think that meatless cooking is about throwing together a salad. That is one option, but if you want to cook something that is satisfying and nutritionally-rich, and do it without a lot of hassle, thinking ahead will pay off.

Portrait with Vegetables, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. This guy's probably a carnivore.

Today I'm going to talk about choosing recipes and outfitting your kitchen. Next Meatless Monday, I'll share some tips (that I've picked up the hard way) about the actual cooking process.

Choosing Recipes

In Texas, many of us who eat meatless meals are viewed with suspicion. And in the land where macaroni and cheese is considered a vegetable, I don't blame anyone for thinking that vegetarian eating is about bland food that won't fill you up.

Plenty of veggie meals would fit that description. There are many more, however, that are flavorful and filling. To make sure you choose one of these, consider the following:

  • Explore your resources. The shelves at bookstores are filled with vegetarian cookbooks, spanning the distance from vegetarian (no animal flesh) to vegan (no animal products) to raw (no cooking). Regular cookbooks are filled with vegetarian recipes as well. Of course, these days, the internet is one low-cost resource for recipes of all kinds. A few websites to check out: Meatless Monday's site has recipes along with information about the movement for meat-free eating. If you want to try vegan eating, you might want to take a trip to The Post-Punk Kitchen. At The Kind Life, Alicia Silverstone shares recipes along with organic beauty and fashion tips. I LOVE her recipe for fried mochi!
  • Think protein. As you peruse recipes, think about protein. That's what gives you long-lasting energy and makes you feel full. Especially if you're cooking for skeptical family members, protein is important. Beans, soy proteins (like tofu or tempeh), seitan (wheat gluten), organic yogurt (packed with protein in a way that regular yogurt isn't), quinoa -- all of these can give you a protein boost. Look for these ingredients as you choose recipes.
  • Explore the world. Let's face it. American cuisine is not exactly light on the meat. If you branch out, you have many more options -- and they are likely to be more flavorful and unique. Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines are particularly friendly to vegetarian eating. Also, with these cuisines you're likely to find recipes with lots of colors -- lots of colors means lots of nutrients.

This is a Moroccan tagine, or stew, with prunes and butternut squash. Kinda makes you forget about beef, huh??

Vegetarian cooking is much easier when you have a well-stocked kitchen. If you've chosen your recipe well - one that has protein, a variety of colorful veggies, whole grains, and delicious flavors, you're going to be chopping and prepping like one of those cheftestants on Top Chef. To make this easier, make sure your kitchen includes:
  • Knives. You'll want a variety of sizes. Serrated knives are best for slicing tender fruits like tomatoes. I use a big butcher knife for chopping nuts (get your mind out of the gutter, greenies!); a steak knife for onions, leeks and the like; a pizza cutter for cutting tortillas, mochi, and, you know, pizza. You'll also want a grater and peeler. Many chefs swear by a mandolin, but I don't have one. Think about it when Christmas comes along.
  • Prep bowls. All that chopping means you'll have to put your veggies somewhere. A variety of small bowls will keep all of your ingredients organized. I love my set of Mario Batali Measuring Prep Bowls with a love that's as crazy as Sookie Stackhouse's for Vampire Bill. You don't need special prep bowls, however. Regular bowls work just fine.

Prep bowls. Get down and mise en place! (We'll be talking about mise en place next Meatless Monday)
  • A strainer or colander. After you wash your fruits and veg in a mixture of white vinegar and water (removes dirt, kills germs) rinse them in a strainer and let them sit on a towel to dry or in the colander. I tend to wash all of my fruits and veggies at once, so this is the most effective way to dry them.
  • Spices. Vegetarian cooking can be blando mac and cheese or it can be curry eggplant with potato. Great vegetarian cooking demands a well-stocked spice cupboard. Some invaluable staples (aside from those in the typical Betty-Draper-style kitchen): cumin (known as comino in Texan and Mexican kitchens), curry, cayenne, turmeric, garam masala (my favorite go-to spice blend), and coriander. I also like to have a variety of vinegars (rice,balsamic, red wine) and condiments (sriracha, stone ground mustard, low-sodium soy sauce). All of these items are commonly available at grocery stores. I round out my seasoning selections by always having fresh garlic, lemons, and limes on hand. Because spices can be expensive, I like to invest in one each big shopping trip until I'm stocked up.
  • Gloves. If you like hot food, and think you might be chopping fresh chilies, a pair of gloves can be your best friend. Should you happen to get jalapeno essence on your hands, and are running around screaming and flapping your fingers in agony, dip your burning appendages in a bowl of milk. This remedy has something to do with bases neutralizing acids. Trust me. I know.
Now that you've got your recipe and your kitchen is prepared, it's time to cook. Next Meatless Monday, I'll share a few tips I've picked up as I've tried to increase my commitment to vegetarian cooking.

* Meatless Monday is a movement to increase awareness ofsustainable, meat-free eating, by eating meatless meals on Mondays. So alliterative!

1 comment:

Shelley said...

Blando Mac and Cheese? Doth thou seek to offend? Seriously Mac and Cheese is my favourite food, and can be very savoury, flavoury, and fun! And what an adventure to prepare. Those Mario Batali bowls are probably dreaming every night of the day when they are filled with varieties of hand grated exotic cheesey goodness. Miss you!