|Gnocchi from Tavolata w/ English Peas|
I'm a pescatarian and many of my family members are vegetarians. I don't expect you to stop eating meat if you like eating meat and I don't really care if you eat meat. I would never stop you from eating meat and adding bacon to everything if you deemed that medically necessarily. Bacon and meat are delicious. Also, for the record, I don't find meat to be disgusting (although I suppose I should define what sorts and cuts of meat but for the purposes of this discussion, let's consider it fairly normal meat you can get at a grocery store, specialty store or butcher). I am Asian and I've been raised to love and appreciate fine culinary pleasures of many cultures which means I've probably eaten nastier bits of offal than you have.
However, many of my friends are deciding to eat less meat for whatever reason: health and diet concerns, environmental impact reasons, religious preferences, whatever. So here are some principles for vegetarian cooking and vegetarian diets that are important so you eat and cook awesome food and most importantly, are satisfied.
|A winning artichoke 'crab' cake dish|
- The key to vegetarian cooking is you don't want to miss the meat. Obvious, right? Craft a meal or entrees in mind that evoke the textures, flavors and satiety of meat so when you're done eating, you don't feel like running out and ordering a Big Mac or a steak. Most restaurants seem to get this wrong but vegetarian cooking isn't necessarily about vegetables or side dishes. I love pasta and salad and all, but just omitting meat doesn't necessarily make a good meal.
- Think about the flavor. I would argue that the most important flavor when you don't have meat is umami. Think about ingredients that will lend an umami richness like oyster mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, toasted nuts, soy paste, miso, sundried tomatoes, etc that will impart an umami savory flavor.
- Protein! Your dieting and nutrition obsessed friends will understand how important protein is to keeping you full, as well as developing your muscles and all but some vegetarians don't get enough protein because they mostly eat carbs. Protein is nutritionally important but is that other missing link to feeling satisfied by the end of the meal. I LOVE many of the 'fake meat' options they have out there. Morningstar, Torfurkey, Quorn and other companies make mock meat that imitates the texture and flavors of meat pretty convincingly. Trader Joes even makes frozen vegetarian corndogs which are a pretty awesome midnight snack. However, some of these products are fairly processed so you want to limit your consumption somewhat. You can also get protein from beans and legumes, tofu, seitan and other sources that can be easily dressed up in delicious ways.
- Tofu is not meant to be eaten raw. It's literally tasteless. Asians don't understand why other people eat raw tofu cubes to add protein and cringe while they eat it. Nonvegetarians in Asia eat a lot of soy products and tofu and love it; we even pair it with meat because it wasn't necessarily only a meat or protein substitute. Mapo tofu is an excellent example of a wonderful meat and tofu pairing. The wonderful thing about soy is that it takes on other flavors really well so you can cook it in a number of ways to get it to taste like something. It also comes in varied textures. But whether you fry it, bake it, stir fry it, sear it, cook it please.
- Do not give up on your favorite foods. Try making a vegetarian version of it. I am a crabcake fanatic and I also happen to love the artichoke cakes they feature at one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, Cafe Flora. This recipe is a great example of rule #1. My team did an Iron Chef challenge at Blue Ribbon Cooking School and team vegetarian won with a variation of that recipe. Seattle Food Geek made a leek marrow in lieu of actual bone marrow. This would be a great Top Chef challenge; take something traditionally meaty that you love such as Fried Chicken or Meatloaf and make a vegetarian version of it.
- Be creative. Being a vegetarian is truly not a limiting factor. I tell my friends that anyone could be a vegetarian if they lived with my family for a week because we have never sacrificed eating well because there is a lack of meat.
|Some yummy dish from Spring Hill with Hen Of the Wood Mushrooms|