Vegetarian Cooking For Non-Vegetarians.

March 11, 2009

I could never see myself as a "true vegetarian." Give me my steak (rib eye, prime, medium rare, s&p, nothing else, thankyouverymuch), my burger, salami, bacon....I do love the occasional red meat. But truthfully, those indulgences are getting fewer and farther between. This isn't really by political message, no health issues, but I am finding that I don't really need a lot of meat to feel satisfied. (And for the record, I just don't really get into chicken unless it's in small amounts -- for instance, in a soup, shredded into enchiladas, etc.)

I remember reading a long time ago on a blog called Figs, Bay, & Wine (which, sadly, is pretty much now defunct), that part of our problem as Americans (OK, we have many), is that we truly believe what our elementary school teachers pounded into our brains during our monthly Nutrition Class -- that every meal must consist of meat, grain, vegetable and dairy. The suggestion in the Figs post was that we are grown-ups here and can't we balance our meals throughout the day (or even week)? In other words, go ahead and have that bowl of polenta and mushrooms for dinner if you had protein at lunch. Who cares? We eat too much when we feel we have to have all that stuff on our plates for it to be a meal.

And so. I've been cooking more vegetarian-ish meals. (Now, it does help that I have a cooperative husband -- he's definitely not the "meat and potatoes" kind of guy.) And I am much happier for it. It's better for the planet (so many fewer resources are used when meat is not involved), supposedly better for our health, easier to shop for, not to mention cheaper. But I think there are a few keys to making it work for those of us who still enjoy meat and don't want to give it up.

1. Don't make "fake meat" recipes. Forget the veggie burgers, veggie loaf, veggie meatballs, etc. (although I have a KILLER veggie burger recipe that I must share one day). Just make food that tastes good without meat (or with very little used). Which brings me to my next idea.

2. Use meat as a flavoring or accompaniment. Instead of having a slice of pork roast for dinner, use some bacon in a dish (that flavor goes a long way), or add some shredded chicken to those enchiladas but supplement it with cheese or vegetables.

3. Be sure to keep your favorite meals involving meat. We have friends who have carne asada burritos and shredded beef rolled tacos every Friday night. If that's you're thing, keep it. Just balance out the rest of the week with vegetable based meals.

4. Fat is your friend. Not on your thighs, but in your food, especially meatless food. Here's another thing wrong with Americans, IMHO. We think vegetables should be suffered through because they are healthy rather than something to indulge in. Use butter, cheese, even some cream. It really turns a vegetable from a side dish to dinner. Ideas: vegetable gratins and creamy soups (like my current favorite: cream of asparagus).

And so, with that lecture, I give you a recipe. This dish did not photograph well, but it could be one of the most delicious dishes I've made in recent years (B and girlfriend Elise agreed). It is rich, satisfying, very healthy and I don't think you will miss your pork chop at all.

You are going to have to search out that lacinato kale I keep telling you about (a.k.a. dinosaur kale or cavolo nero). It really does make a difference here.
Wilted Kale and Roasted-Potato Winter Salad
Gourmet, December 2008

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves (3 thinly sliced and 1 minced)
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 pounds lacinato kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced crosswise
Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.

Toss potatoes with oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large 4-sided sheet pan, then spread evenly. Roast, stirring once, 10 minutes. Stir in sliced garlic and roast 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, purée tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (Add a bit of water if sauce is too thick.)

Toss kale with hot potatoes and any garlic and oil remaining in pan, then toss with tahini sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze lemon on top. Very nice with a Pinot Noir, I might add. :)

photo via Mariquita Farm


  1. I think that sounds absolutely delicious. Thank you!


  2. I'm not so kale-savvy so I'd like to give this a go. You never disappoint with your recipes.

    I have to say the veggie loaf I posted on "Sunday Supper" was sooo good--especially the checca sauce. It made a large portion and I thought D and I'd be eating it for lunch for the next week but it went right away. Everyone liked it.

    And we are having veggie burgers tonight. Remember the sandwhich shop we went to on Del Mar street a couple of years ago? It's inspired by that tasty Bali Burger. Can't wait.

    I'm not a vegetarian either but I certainly have veggie tendencies. I actually think there is really good meatless food out there, but a good steak will do me fine too now and then (organic, grass-fed, of course)

  3. I am so with you on this---I love beans and have been using them a lot more recently, instead of doing the meat thing. And I feel the same as you about 'faux' meat products. They drive me buggy---isn't the point of not eating meat to eat other things, not to eat things that pretend to be meat? it's just weird...

    the kale salad looks awesome--I've been looking for ways to use kale other than in soups and pasta. brilliant! i'll bet it's lovely with purple potatoes too.

  4. so the kale just wilts when you add it? no need to steam it or anything first?

    Your BF Mark Bittman was on Steven Colbert a few days ago and he said he is a vegan by day and then after 6 p.m. anything goes. easy way t balance it!

  5. sounds wonderful! I do love Kale and appreciate any recipe that includes it...

  6. I love this idea. I experimented with fake meat products for awhile, but they were so depressing, and all that soy makes me squidgey anyway. Better to focus on making the veg as satisfying as possible. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. yummmmmmmmmm. as a full time vegetarian, i hear you!

    and i'm not a vegetarian so i can eat fake meat. what a weird concept. plus most of it is soooooo processed. though not homemade veggie burgers.. please share!

    and as you know, i could eat this kale every day and not be sorry.

  8. what a great post! First, please do share that veggie burger recipe! As a veg-oriented omnivore myself, I consider VBs to be not a substitute for something else, but a totally yummy concept on their own.

    When I worked downtown, I subscribed to the vegetarian before 6pm rule -- works great, no post-lunch slump. Now, cooking bfast and lunch at home, it's even easier.

    Being married to a "meat and two sides" kind of guy, it's a challenge to steer (ha ha) him towards more veggies. Plus, he's good at cooking meat (and we only go with local Marin grass-fed beef for our Friday night steaks).

    Love your ideas about gratinating everything. You can sneak just about anything into some cream and cheese :) Same goes for my BF, the lovely risotto. And if I were to ever un-box the FryDaddy that I got as a gift about 8 years ago, I bet I could fry up some sneaky veggies too.

  9. Hi there! Going through my favorite bloggers' old recipes to get some good ideas for the next few months ... would LOVE your killer veggie burger recipe. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years, and still can't find a good one to make. THANK YOU!!!!


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