One of my Aunts was talking about vegetarian cooking, and it got me thinking about what is really different about cooking veggie. This topic is also closer to the top of my head because of the reading I have been doing about the food industry.
Aside from the obvious difference about cooking veggie...as in no meat, the biggest change for me, that suddenly made meal planning a whole lot easier was asking a different question.
Usually, when your kids ask "what's for dinner?" the answer will be steak, or lamb chops or roast beef or whatever, and when you set out too cook dinner you traditionally think, chicken? Sausages??? Burgers????????
If you change the parameters of that question to, "What grain are we going to have for dinner?" it all suddenly gets a whole lot easier. I define grain fairly loosely, because so many people get their shorts in a twist if you say that C word, you know, carbohydrate. So here I will decide, rice? Pasta? Plantains? Potatoes? Bread? Pie? What will the focus of the meal be. This is usually answered by having a look in the cupboards, just like when you open up that meat drawer.
That said, if your a long term veggie, like we sort of are, you have to work at having a bit more variety or grains. While we basically only eat cow, pig and chicken, with a few seasonal variations...and fish depending on where you live...some veggies do eat fish as well, we incorporate a lot of variation in the meats. We don't eat only pork chops, chicken breast and steaks. There are many different cuts and preparations of meats that provide variety.
If you only eat Uncle Bens, Wonder bread and Primo spaghetti you are going to be pretty malnourished and before that pretty bored. There are lots of great grains out there....millet, quinoa, buckwheat, there area masses of flours, and different pastas, udon, soba, mung bean, rice, egg noodle. There are also a million different rices, short grain, long grain, black, red, Japanese, Thai, sticky and bouncy, wild and mixed, nutty....blah blah blah....but it provides the same variety options that different types of meat and fish do....also better nutrition.
The other thing to remember when cooking veggie is that there is only one source of complete proteins that don't derive from animals...soy. You got it, tofu. Which, if treated properly as a legitimate food in itself rather than trying to make tofu turkey is EXCELLENT. Really. And it won't make you impotent or anything. Look at the Chinese, there's plenty of folks over there.
OK so what's a veggie to do about the protein question? Here's the trick. There are three main sources of protein open to vegetarians other than soy....beans, or pulses to the Brits, grains...this is ONLY whole grains, no wonder white here, and dairy. Combine any two, and your home free. So your classic grilled cheese? Whole protein, IF you use real cheese, not plastic preslice, and whole wheat bread. Mac and Cheese...ditto. KD however.... well, the preservatives will probably keep your body from rotting once your dead. These two components should ideally be eaten at the same meal....and if your worried about iron, which some women should be, cook in iron cookware, no kidding, there have been tons of studies on this. An iron frying pan will up your iron count. It'll give you pipes too, and keep the burglars, children and husbands in line as well. If you are having food rich in iron, have citrus with it. Really, vitamin C helps to make iron more available to our bodies. Finally, Ovaltine is startlingly rich in iron, plus it's yummy, and if you drink it with skim milk, it's a pretty good thing for a woman to have. Lots of iron for now, and lots of calcium for when your old.
Get a good vegetarian cookbook, also a good rice cookbook, so that you don't have to eat endless servings of stodgy brown stuff covered in cheese. Bleach.
If any one is interested I will post a couple.
Go out there and get some spices, learn to use them....you need to season beans and rice for interest.
My final word, which doesn't work for the animal rights veggies, is that if you are SERIOUSLY craving meat and you have been for a day or two....EAT SOME. You probably need it. We were meant to be omnivores. Animals and ruminants are a natural part of the food chain, and our bodies. The problem is that our system and our western diet has so overemphasised meat that it is killing us and killing the planet. Literally. Killing. The. Planet.
Here's two tofu recipes for the brave.
Fried TOFU, or toadfood as one of the kids used to call it. A favorite.
Get extra firm tofu, if you can't get regular, sit it on a plate, and put another plate on top with a can of spam on it...let it sit for a while, say half an hour, and drain off the water.
Put a frying pan on the stove with a little oil, dice the tofu in bite size chunks, triangles can be fun, and drop them in. Fry them up, season with some REALLY GOOD soy sauce. I am speaking of Tamari here, not Kikoman... Eat. Mmmmmmm.
Second recipe: this is best on a hot day.
Silken tofu...put it in the coldest part of your fridge, but don't freeze it..
In a pot mixed about 1 cup of water with WAY too much sugar, think 1/3 to 1/2 cup, and a whole bunch of fresh real ginger root diced, but not very finely..a bit smaller than a dice for backgammon. Probably 2 or three inches of a normal root. Bring it to a boil, and simmer until you have a syrup. Take your cold silky tofu out of the fridge, pour the hot ginger spicy syrup over it and eat. I LOVE this. It's hot and cold, spicy and sweet and cool and bland and sticky all at once. It's like an explosion. I lifted this recipe from Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid I think, I don't know which cookbook, and as I am doing it from memory, I have certainly messed up/altered the volumes. Enjoy if you dare.
Are we vegetarian? No. We like to describe ourselves as opportunists. It goes well with being the animal homo sapien sapien. The ultimate opportunist.