anyone can be vegetarian

May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

I love Pixar films and one of my favorites was Ratatouille. I hadn’t seen it in awhile so I watched it again this weekend. I was reminded of the message in the movie “Anyone can cook”. You could say the same thing about being a vegetarian. It’s about what you want to do and then putting your mind to it.

But just because anyone can doesn’t mean it is for everyone. This week I thought a lot about whether I could be a full-time vegetarian. I came to the conclusion the answer is “no”. In the same way a dish of ratatouille brought back childhood memories in the movie, there are dishes that I’ve had since I was a kid that I love and that reconnect me with my own memories. My comfort food is making a pot of chicken and noodles that my grandmother used to make for us.

We live in a very all or nothing society in which we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to commit to things “110%”. While I don’t want to be a strict vegetarian, I did decide this week I want to eat vegetarian more than I normally do. I feel healthier and just lighter in general. I think it’s good to keep my weight in check. In terms of meat I also want to commit to only buying what I plan to use and buying good meat from animals well-treated.

This weekend I did make a vegetarian dish that comes close to being able to replace my chicken and noodles which is saying a lot. I made ratatouille from my friend Pierre’s family recipe. It was unbelievable (he is French after all) and I have a feeling when the summer veggies are in full effect it will only be even better. Ratatouille, when made properly, is one of the best vegetarian dishes I’ve ever had. Thanks to Pierre for sharing his family’s recipe.

Pierre’s Ratatouille recipe

serves 2 (double ingredients for 4)

2 x zucchini
1 x yellow squash
1 x red/yellow pepper (more for color then flavor)
1 x  onion (yellow for a little sweetness)
1 x eggplant (small)
2 x grapevine tomatoes (only use 3 tomatoes to serve 4)

Canola Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Thyme
1 x cube vegetable broth

step 1 – Prep!
So prep is always an important step but especially for ratatouille as the vegetables will be added to the stockpot individually based on their required cooking time so its key to have them all ready and on hand to add as needed.
wash and rinse vegetables. important since we will not be pealing them. (skin helps contain the flavor )
dice vegetables in equal pieces. any where between 1/2 ” and 1″ is fine. don’t go too big so that when eating the final dish you can have more then one vegetable at a time and don’t go to small as to loose any sort of texture in your dish.

step 2 –  stockpot cooking

so the idea here is to sautee the vegetables and then start slow cooking with the vegetable broth and develop the flavors.
start by heating canola oil (cover the bottom of crock pot) on a medium to high flame (pending on your stove). not too hot so you don’t burn the onions.

while the oil is heating, start boiling your vegetable broth on the side. you will need about 1 1/2 cups of broth.

once the oil is ready begin with the onion. make sure to add salt as to pull all the water out and not burn them.

quickly add the pepper. stir frequently until onion starts to slightly take color.

add the squash and zucchini then season with salt and pepper as needed. bring heat down to medium, cover and let sit for 10 min.

then add the eggplant first and a couple minutes later the tomatoes. the eggplant cooks pretty fast which is why it goes in so late and the tomatoes go in last as they add a lot of liquid which is going to stop the sautee portion of the cooking and start the slow cooking portion of the cooking process.

add about one teaspoon of diced fresh thyme, season again and cover and let sit on medium for 5min.

now is the part where you have to start monitoring the liquid quantity. start by adding one ladle of broth and bring heat down so its on simmer. for the next 30/45 min check every 5/10 min and add broth as the level goes down. the liquid level should always be at about lower or equal height with vegetables. should not drown the vegetables in too much liquid.

step 3 – stoneware baker cooking

once you have added all the broth, heat oven to 350 degrees.

place contents of ratatouille into stoneware baker. taste and season as needed.

cover with a little extra virgin olive oil and fresh diced thyme.

place in the oven and let it cook in juices until they start to evaporate a little. once the juices are about at half way point in baker cover with tinfoil.

let ratatouille cook for another 30min/45min until it starts to confit. remove tinfoil, bring down temperature and let cook until its looks like the vegetables are browning. if vegetables already browning then remove.

remove and let sit for 15min.

serve and enjoy 🙂

perfect on its own but goes very well with rice or couscous.


maybe I didn’t think this through

May 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

When I decided to do vegetarian week I wasn’t quite thinking about the fact it was Memorial Day weekend. Only one of the biggest BBQ’ing weekends of the year. I love BBQ. I’m Southern and typically in the South the words BBQ and vegetarian don’t go hand in hand. Blasphemy.

Last night at my friend’s BBQ I reached deep down inside for some serious resolve to stick to my commitment. Despite the delicious smell of grilled meat filling up the yard, I stayed true. There was only one moment that shook my resolve when my friend Alicia asked if we had tried the pulled pork they brought. I am from South Carolina and a good pulled pork sandwich is one of the things I miss the most living away. I grew up near Charlotte in a South Carolina suburb so I got to divide my loyalty equally between the vinegar-based pulled pork sandwiches and the mustard-based that divide North & South Carolina.

Ok I need to stop writing about this. My mouth is salivating and my stomach is growling. Time to turn my thoughts back to being vegetarian. I did have one saving grace last night thanks to a friend and foodie from Boston who sent me a great recipe for the black bean soup I brought last night. Miriam is an ultimate BBQ entertainer so I trusted her on this one and it didn’t disappoint. Without it, those pulled pork sandwiches would have been mine!

Miriam’s black bean soup with chipotle chilis

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium-size red onions, chopped
1 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 16-ounce package dried black beans
1 tablespoon chopped canned chipotle chiles* – also called “chipoltes in adobo”
7 cups hot water (I use ½ water / ½ broth for flavor)
* in lieu of broth I tried a trick my friend Mark (a Texan) taught me to put soy sauce in at the end. It really does simulate the “meatiness” you would normally get from pork.

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt (I left this out because of the soy sauce)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Potential toppings:
sour cream or low fat plain yogurt
fresh cilantro

Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and both bell peppers and sauté until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cumin; stir 1 minute. Transfer mixture to 6-quart slow cooker. Add beans and chipotles, then 7 cups hot water/broth mixture. Cover and cook on high until beans are very tender, about 6 hours. Transfer 2 cups bean mixture to blender; puree until smooth (I just stick an immersion blender in the whole batch til it’s the consistency I like). Return puree to remaining soup in slow cooker. Stir in lime juice, salt, and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Spoon dollop of sour cream into each bowl. Sprinkle with tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro and serve.

*Chipotle chiles canned in a spicy tomato sauce, sometimes called adobo, are available at Latin American markets and many supermarkets.

from one girlfriend to another

May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Food is one of the great connectors. A meal is often better when it’s shared with others (unless you’re one of those non-sharing types). When I think of eating vegetarian, I’ve often thought of it as “foraging”. When I’ve tried stints before I’ve usually been struggling to fill myself up, let alone think about enjoying it with others.

My friend Emily sent me a recipe that is not only something that is rich & deliciously filling but something you’re dying to share with other people. It. Is. That. Good. Normally when you go to someone’s house for dinner, the entree is the star and it usually involves meat, but this dish can easily hold its own and last night I shared it with some of my other girlfriends.

So here’s to a dish you can proudly hold your vegetarian head high bringing to a dinner party.

Emily’s vegetarian goodness (via Epicurious):

**warning** do not half this recipe like I did. you will want it all.

  • 2 large fennel bulbs with fronds attached (Emily adds twice the fennel)
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, divided
  • 2 pints grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
  • 4 large fresh oregano sprigs
  • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), drained

Preheat oven to 425°F. Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 1/2 cup. Trim fennel bulbs and cut in half vertically. Cut each bulb half ito 1/2-inch-wide wedges, leaving some ore attached to each wedge.

Heat oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add fennel wedges in single layer; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Cook until fennel begins to brown and soften, turning occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, garlic, and crushed red pepper; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Fold together gently.

Transfer skillet to oven. Bake fennel and tomatoes until soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Mix in beans and 6 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds. Bake 5 minutes longer to heat through. Transfer mixture to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with remaining chopped fronds. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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part of the vegetarian club

May 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

A lot of times when you think about being a vegetarian, it’s easy to think of it in terms of what you’re giving up, like yummy, crisp bacon. Yesterday I learned that what you may lose in terms of foods you like you may gain in terms of an invitation to dinner from friends you haven’t seen in awhile who are also eating vegetarian. Score.

Last night my friends, Mark (artist) and Claudia (badass co-founder of Victors & Spoils) invited me over for an amazing meal that served as a reminder that going vegetarian can still mean going gourmet. They swear by a cookbook by Eloise Nelson called 14 Day Gourmet. The zucchini pasta dish above was not only inventive but delicious. The whole meal was full of flavor. It was a night of good food with good people.

This week I’ve been embraced with lots of delicious sounding recipes and encouragement from friends who either are vegetarians or are enjoying the benefits of at least eating a more vegetarian diet. I’ll have some speed bumps this week, like a BBQ (this will be hard; I am a Southerner at heart), but I plan on holding strong and now have some recipes to try that should stack up well to any delicious, juicy burger.

starting off easy

May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Despite my love of bacon, I’ve never had a lot of trouble being a vegetarian for breakfast since I often only have coffee and little else. When I lived in Boston I lived off a Starbucks mocha til lunchtime. Chocolate is by far my favorite vegetarian food.

Luckily, when I do eat breakfast, I love fruit almost as much as chocolate. There’s only one fruit I don’t like and it’s papaya. I think I may dislike papaya  even more than beets. I know I’m not alone with hating papaya because there are a few Facebook groups that have united in their hate. The one I just joined has their own theme song:

We Hate PAPAYA As It Is For Stinkers! BOO FOR PAPAYA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Papaya aside, I was thinking about ways to combine my love of chocolate and fruit for a breakfast treat to start the vegetarian week off nice and slow. I was inspired by my friend Holly’s smoothie she makes. I think if I were to cheat this week, I could eat a smoothie for every meal. Smoothies have to be one of the best parts about being a vegetarian.

Holly’s delicious smoothie:

1 small bag frozen cherries
1 c. almond milk (I substituted dark chocolate almond milk)
1-2 T. almond butter
2 T. vanilla egg-white protein powder (I did not have this so I used an egg white)

At least one meal is solved and now I’m inspired to come up with other delicious smoothie combinations this week. I also like fresh fruit & veggie juice, so I’ll work those in there as well.

As long as they aren’t papaya or beets.

a week of leafy greens

May 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

I just got back from a wonderful vacation to Italy & Greece where I was definitely eating more proscuitto and cheese than just about anything else. My body needs a break, so I’m going vegetarian this week.

Last year I experimented with being a “weekday vegetarian” since I know myself and I know I could never fully give up meat. It lasted about a month up until the holidays. The last time I ever went a full week was over 10 years ago traveling around India with my friend Adair and that was largely because there were no other options. We used to go to this place when we were studying in Bangalore called “The Only Place” which literally was about the only place at the time you could find steak.

Aside from the health benefits, I wish I could be a vegetarian all the time because I love animals. Because of my Mom I never grew up eating veal and I also have given up lamb at this point. I also now buy meat from places I know support good, local farms that treat animals well. It’s still hard though and I just have to tell myself not to think about it.

I am going to be calling on my vegetarian friends, especially my friend Emily, to send me some good suggestions. Send good sites and recipes my way! Who knows, maybe I’ll finally become at least a weekday vegetarian.

Just don’t send me recipes that include beets.

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