How Our Family Eats Vegetarian
Alicia 's unofficial guide to Vegetarianism
I became a vegetarian 9 and a half years ago when I was trying to get pregnant with my first baby. I read a bunch of literature, and was horrified at the treatment of animals in the farming and food industries. I was excited that eating less meat makes a substantial difference in helping the environment. I was excited to see the health benefits. But for someone who learned how to cook using meat as a staple ingredient, it took some time and testing to figure out what worked for us.
I went "cold turkey," my husband has gradually become vegetarian after losing his taste for it (he jokes that I ruined him with my hippie ways). I think it is great for everyone to do what they can to at least cut down on meat consumption, meatless Monday is a fantastic movement and a good place to start for some people.
So here are some tips, some links to favorite websites and blogs, and some of my favorite recipes.
Fake Meat alternatives:
Tofu. The poster child for the hippie/granola type. Much maligned, oft made fun of. But I’ve found it is really useful, just make sure you know how to use it properly.
- Stir Fry: We make this at least several times a month. The quickest meal there is. Buy frozen stir fry veggies, a package of smoked tofu (they sell this at Winco--it’s seriously awesome. It will probably change your mind about how tofu can taste), a big package of Yakisoba noodles, and a bottle of General Tso’s sauce from the Asian food aisle. Chop up the tofu, saute in a large skillet for a couple of minutes. Add the veggies, saute until tender-crisp. While the veggies are cooking, microwave the noodles for a minute in the microwave per package suggestion. When the veggies are done add the noodles and a quarter to a half bottle of the sauce. Stir, let simmer for a few minutes until hot. Enjoy! Seriously takes like under twenty minutes for a really healthy, filling, balanced meal.
- If you are having an asian food craving, here's the best way to make crispy tofu at home. Buy a package of firm tofu and freeze. This will really help the texture, trust me. Thaw, then press dry between paper towels or I like to use a clean tea towel, with something heavy on top. Chop into bite size pieces, place in a plastic bag or a large tupperware with several TB of cornstarch, and shake to coat. Then place in a skillet with oil, and pan fry. This will make really delicious, crispy tofu like you get in restaurants. Smother in your favorite sauce, and serve over noodles or rice with your favorite veggies.
- Use firm tofu as a replacement for paneer in Indian dishes. Target actually sells a mean Tikka Masala sauce under the Archer farms brand (I’d tried Costco’s and Trader Joe’s, and hadn’t liked them as well). I like to add chickpeas, carrots, and sauted onion as well. When the tofu has simmered in the Masala sauce long enough, it really does have a similar texture and flavor to paneer. Not quite, but close. Delicious.
Seitan or Wheat Meat. This is something I discovered through reading Mark Bitman’s cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Great resource btw. I used his recipe to make my own. It involves mixing vital gluten flour (I recommend Winco’s bins) with spices and water to form a very stiff, rubbery ball, and then boiling in vegetable stock for about an hour. You can then slice it, chop it, fry it up like you would other meat. My husband really likes seitan marinated in BBQ sauce and then pan fried or grilled. I’m not as big a fan of seitan eaten in big slices like that, but it can be fantastic when chopped up and added to things. When you look on the side of the can of vegetarian chili, you will often find something like wheat gluten as an ingredient. I have made a batch, then chopped it up fine and marinated it in a mixture of brown sugar and hot sauce to form a kind of buffalo chicken meat, then added it to burritos. There are a ton of seitan recipes out on the internet to experiment with. Definitely check out VeganDad’s (see link below) seitan recipes . . . his buffalo wings are really good.
Tempeh. I’m actually just beginning to explore the delights of Tempeh. I’m having a harder time finding it in grocery stores, but Trader Joes does carry some good stuff. The blog Vegandad.blogspot.com is one of my absolute favorite resources. Every single recipe I’ve tried of his has been fantastic. I made his swedish meatballs for Christmas dinner (which uses tempeh) and they were yum.
Websites I’ve found are the best place to find awesome vegan and vegetarian recipes. There are all these cool home chefs experimenting and then sharing, and recipes get passed around. It’s a fun community and people are so generous in sharing what they find that works.
Already prepared veggie meat from the freezer aisle is going to be more expensive, but for the odd craving (and the time savings!) it is sometimes worth the extra money. Our favorites are the Morningstar breakfast sausage links (spray with cooking spray and bake in the oven--so good) and the chick’n nuggets/patties. When I was pregnant with Wesley I totally craved those chick’n patties on a hamburger bun, with some veganaise, lettuce and pickles.
- Hummus: Go-to sandwich spread. Perfect snack material. Food of the Gods. You can make huge batches of it relatively cheaply by soaking chickpeas overnight, cook them in the crockpot the next morning, and by evening you can have hummus galore. My favorite recipe here: Hummus Recipe. I love to build sandwiches with thick layers of hummus, tomato, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, salt and pepper. So good.
- Nuts: Seriously, Winco bins save my life. We have almonds on hand for a quick snack. I chop them up and use them in this Harvest Bread (I make mine into muffins so they are easier to throw in a lunch or hand the kids for a snack. Seriously with boys, it is so hard to keep a full pantry!): Betty Crocker Harvest Bread. I like to use whole wheat for my Harvest Bread. Great source of protein, fiber and vitamins. We also keep unsalted cashews on hand. Cashews make the best cheese/dairy substitutes! If you ever consider going vegan, this is a must: cashew cream cheese
- Curry Packets. We love Japanese curry. I love how it is so easy to throw together, is super filling, and doesn’t take a lot of time. They come in boxes in the Asian food section of any grocery store and look like this:
In a large skillet, saute onions in some oil until translucent. Add chopped potatoes (our favorites are Yukon gold and sweet potatoes), carrots. Add enough water to skillet to almost cover tops of veggies, bring to a boil. Turn down heat to a high simmer, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about ten to fifteen minutes. Add cooked garbanzo beans, (tofu and be great here if you are prepared to let it simmer longer) and curry packet. Stir in curry, simmer until thick and hot. Serve over rice.
- Sweet Potatoes. So versatile! Curry, soups, fries :o). I'll post two of my favorites below.
- quinoa. So much love for this. Protein packed, nutty flavor. Great for breakfast with almond milk and honey, or in a veggie burger.
If your kids are used to having lunch meat on sandwiches, this is a yummy alternative. It slices thin and layers nicely with veggies and cheese: infamous seitan
- Every variety of Bean: I love Navy beans (or other white beans) for vegetarian chili with corn bread and veggie burgers. Black beans are awesome to have around for all kinds of mexican food. Add slightly mashed black beans to quesadillas, grill up your own burritos, etc. I like to make up a crock pot full of pinto beans every so often, then reserving some of the cooking liquid add rice to for the last hour or so of cooking. Add taco seasoning and cheese, and you have a great quick burrito filling. Homemade burritos are fantastic to freeze for a quick, filling snack or light meal (again with the hungry boys in the house!). I load up a flour tortilla with the filling, roll and grill in the George Foreman grill (you don’t even have to spray it) for a few minutes to seal. Then when they are cool you can throw them in a freezer bag and they keep really well. Chickpeas are probably my favorite, because they are so, so versatile. I add them to everything, from soups to curry to Indian food. You already know how I love hummus :o). They are mild, nutty and add protein to make dishes a little more filling. Plus you can roast them for a delicious snack.
- Lentils: Absolutely need to keep these on hand. There is this great pate which makes another great sandwich spread: http://weelicious.com/tag/pate/. Lentils cook so quickly, no soaking required, so that is a plus. They are a fantastic ground beef replacement; just cut back on the liquid in your recipe by about ¼ cup.
My all time favorite recipe is taco pizza. This is what I ask my mom to make for my birthday, and what I would ask for as my “last meal,” haha. Homemade crust--super easy I promise. (Note--if you use whole wheat flour, just knead the heck out of it in your mixer. Plan extra time for it to mix so the gluten can develop. Add a little more olive oil as the fiber soaks up more liquid than white flour). After you roll out the dough on the stone, bake for ten minutes in the oven. Remove from oven. Spread refried beans over the top--homemade are the best but in a pinch any vegetarian refried beans will work. Over this layer salsa, sour cream (there is awesome vegan sour cream by tofutti--they make yum cream cheese as well), guacamole. Over this crunch up tortilla chips. Grate cheese, bake for ten minutes more. Remove from oven and add shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and green onion. Enjoy. Seriously.
My favorite magazine is Vegetarian Times. While many recipes do call for some rather exotic things, it is worth a peruse every month. They highlight a different vegetable in every issue, with several ways to cook it. Check your public library, I can check it out for free over my tablet every month through the Zinio app. I screenshot the recipes I’m interested in.
I think you would be surprised how adaptable most recipes are to vegetarianism. In a pinch, seriously look online because there is a huge community of people who are constantly experimenting to find recipes that are not just healthy, but delicious things your kids will actually eat! Also, feel free to message me if you have further questions. Love to talk about this stuff :o)
Our Current Favorite Recipes: