Vegetarian eating for anyone, anytime

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Vegetarian foods are taking up more grocery space, and the number of people practicing vegetarianism continues to grow. There are many ways to eat vegetarian style. Below are the most common practices:

  • Vegan: excludes all animal products including poultry, fish, milk, eggs, cheese, gelatin, and honey; it is the strictest form of vegetarianism. Attention to nutritional needs is important due to the restrictive nature of this eating style.

  • Lacto-vegetarians: exclude eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood, but dairy products are consumed.

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians: exclude meat, poultry, and seafood. This is the most common type of vegetarian.

  • Flexitarian (semi vegetarian): occasionally meat, poultry, and seafood are consumed, but the primarily focus is on a plant based diet.

There are also many reasons people become vegetarian; it is a highly personal decision. Some people go vegetarian for health reasons, others out of concern for the environment or animal welfare, and others for weight loss. Regardless of the reason, proper planning is important to maintaining a healthy vegetarian diet.

The health benefits of eating vegetarian are many, including reduced rates of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. A side benefit of vegetarian eating is a reduction in food costs, since most plant protein is less expensive than animal protein.

For example:

1 pound of beans$1.00/pound
1 pound of boneless chicken breast$1.99 to 4.99/pound
1 pound of ground beef$3.59/pound

Similar to the word "organic", "vegetarian" is associated with health, but not all things organic are healthy, nor are all things vegetarian healthy. With increasing popularity and market share comes increasing number of vegetarian convenience foods. Just like non-vegetarian foods, whole foods are usually healthier than processed foods. In addition, the features of the vegetarian diet that decrease disease risk are a diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Do keep that principle in mind when shopping the vegetarian food aisles.

Let’s take a vegetarian walk around the store and of course let us begin in the produce section!

  • Eggplant: It is highly versatile and has a dense texture that is particularly wonderful and meaty when eating vegetarian.

    • When purchasing eggplants, look for the skin to be smooth, firm, and taut. They should be on the heavier side. If it is too light, the flesh may be spongy and seedy.

    • Store in the refrigerator inside a plastic bag, wrapped in a paper towel to absorb moisture. It will keep for up to a week.

    • Eggplants can be broiled, grilled, fried, roasted and sautéed. Use it in dips pasta, soup, stew, casseroles, gratins, and purees.

  • Portabella Mushroom: Mushrooms are prized for their woodsy flavor. The Portobello specifically is large enough to grill and stuff, making it a good stand-in for meat.

    • At the store, mushrooms should be firm, have a sweet earthy smell, and be dry, never slimy.

    • Store mushrooms in a closed paper bag or in their cardboard container and they will last about 1-2 days.

    • Mushrooms can be sautéed, marinated and grilled, broiled, stuffed and are great in stir fries.

There are many more delicious vegetables to include in a vegetarian type diet, of course, but those are the main two that can be used as a “meat replacement” due to their texture. I think zucchini would also work from a texture standpoint.

BEANS!

I adore beans, and they are a wonderful meat replacement whether you eat vegetarian or not. Once a week try bean tacos, bean chili or white beans on your pasta instead of meat. They are inexpensive and full of fiber and phytochemicals. Enjoy some today!

SOY oh BOY!

You don’t have to eat soy to eat vegetarian, but soy is a great source of protein in a vegetarian diet or for anyone wishing to add more plant protein to their diet.

Soy milk is made from ground and strained soy beans and water. With the addition of coagulants and heat, soy milk can be turned into tofu, which comes in many forms. Tempeh is a high protein fermented Indonesian soy food, and has a dense, meaty quality.

There are certain techniques that will allow you to enjoy these foods to the fullest extent and that require knowing how to handle and cook these foods properly. However, I don’t think soy milk needs any explanation. Use it as you would milk.

Tofu and Tempeh (Excerpt from: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison)

Draining:
Getting rid of the water in tofu makes room for a marinade to penetrate or allows the tofu to be fried without sputtering. A big fuss is often made about this step. However, effective draining can be as quick as a cursory blotting. Unless you’re deep-frying, this step shouldn’t deter you from cooking tofu.

Just put a few paper towels on a cutting board, cut the tofu into slabs, and place them on the towels. If planning to fry it, cover the tofu with a towel, put a weight like a can of tomatoes on it, and tilt the board toward the sink to drain for 15 minutes or so. Sturdy Chinese-style firm tofu can take this handing; silken tofu, which is more fragile, should be treated the first way.

Firming and Precooking:

Many recipes call for shallow or deep-frying tofu in oil to give it a chewy texture and an attractive color. Once fried, it can be marinated and then broiled, used in stir-fries, or added to stews. Another way to firm up tofu is to drop cubes into a pot of simmering water for about 5 minutes. In both cases, heat makes the proteins firm so that cubes of tofu won't fall apart when cooked further.

Steaming is a way of precooking tempeh. Once steamed, it can be fried, crumbled, or added to a marinade. Cut tempeh into desired shapes or leave whole, then steam over boiling water, covered for 20 minutes. You can also precook tempeh directly in a broth or in a thin marinade.

Marinating Tofu and Tempeh:

Both tofu and tempeh benefit from a turn in a marinade before being cooked. Tempeh absorbs much better than tofu, becoming flavor-saturated in about 20 minutes. With tofu, only the outside is really affected by the marinade. Drain tofu well before marinating or the moisture will dilute the marinade. Slice and cover with the marinade. Tofu can rest, refrigerated, for several days in its marinade.

What about pre-packaged vegetarian items?

In reality, whole foods are the best option. Whenever you eat processed foods, you get less of the desirable ingredients and more of some less desirable ingredients. Vegetarian convenience foods are no different. However, I have found them to be lower in fat and saturated fat and higher in fiber than many meat-based counterparts. Many times they are just as high and sometimes higher in sodium. Guess what that means? Yes; as always, READ THE LABEL.

Bottom Line: When eating vegetarian, focus on whole foods, using processed vegetarian foods occasionally. The health benefits of vegetarian diets come from the high level of produce and the low saturated fat intake as well as fiber and nutrients that come with plant-based foods. Load up your plate with delicious vegetables and enjoy.

In addition to Eating Well with Kim recipes, these two cookbooks can help get you on your vegetarian way:

  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

  • Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment by Jill Nussinow


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