Category Archives: Reluctant Vegetarian

Options for the Reluctant Vegetarian – That Purple Thing

“Meghan, do you know what that purple thing is? It’s been in the refrigerator for a month, and neither your grandmother nor I know what to do with it,” said my father once when I was down for a visit.

The “purple thing” he referenced was an eggplant, and it happened that I did know what to do with it.

There are many things you can do with eggplant. This delightful food (which is technically a berry, but eaten like a vegetable) comes in many varieties, all of them similar in their handling and all of them delicious. Its chewy and satisfyingly substantial texture and weight also make it a dietary staple for many people, vegetarian and otherwise. Eggplant sticks with you.

To buy an eggplant, in any variety, you want a firm one. No mushy spots. The firmer the better.

If your eggplant is very firm, you don’t need to peel it if you don’t want to.

There are many things you can do with an eggplant, but today we’re going to focus on stir-fry. And we’re going to stir-fry it with some summer squash (any variety will do – today I have zucchini and some Asian squash I stumbled upon). Choose summer squash the same way you choose eggplant – the firmer the better, and you don’t have to peel it.

You will need:

1. Eggplant

2. Two small summer squashes (your choice).

3. Garlic

4. Salt and pepper

5. Olive Oil

6. Onion – optional

7. Basil or other seasoning – optional

8. Italian or French bread baguette, or pasta, or eggs. See below.

Chop off the stem end, and a sliver of the other end too (just get rid of the tiny button thingy).

If you’ve never stir-fried anything, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You put it in a frying pan, turn up the heat, and stir it until it’s cooked. The end. But in case you’ve never stir-fried anything in your life (I hadn’t when I moved to NYC post-college), I’ll walk you through it.

First you need to chop up the eggplant and other veggies. Trying to stir-fry a whole eggplant might make an interesting science experiment on heat transference, but I’m not in a hurry to try it. You may choose to cut your eggplant into wheels or slivers. Slivers cook faster. Also, the thinner you slice, the faster it will cook. The more consistently you slice (as in – all your slices are exactly 1/4″ thick, as opposed to random thicknesses), the more evenly your eggplant will cook. But don’t worry if you can’t get all your slices exactly the right size. It’ll still cook up just fine, you’ll just have some bites that are a little mushier than the others.

No biggie.

Also, don’t worry about the seeds.

After you have sliced up your eggplant (it’s totally cool to just cut up half of it, wrap the other half in plastic wrap, and stick it in the refrigerator), you may want to “sweat” it. This is an optional step. Simply lay out the pieces, salt one side, flip them all, salt the other side, and let them sit for 30 minutes. The salt will draw excess water out of the eggplant, and I hear it improves the taste, although I’ve totally cooked eggplant without salting and I’m not sure I noticed a difference. ONLY SWEAT THE EGGPLANT – no other veggie requires this treatment. While you are sweating the eggplant, chop up the other veggies. Same deal – wheels or wedges or slivers, your choice.

When you are ready to start cooking, add some olive oil to a frying pan, put the burner on medium heat, add the eggplant only, and start slowly stirring it. (You don’t have to stir every single second, but the stirring keeps the food from burning to the bottom of the pan, so don’t neglect it too long). We are cooking the eggplant and summer squash separately because they take different amounts of time. Add salt and pepper to taste. You should hear a satisfying sizzle if your pan heats up to the right temperature, but if you see smoke, it’s too hot. If it takes forever and a day to cook, it’s too cool.

As you stir, you will notice that your eggplant pieces turn a dismal greeny-grayish color. Do not be alarmed – your eggplant is just getting tastier.

When the pieces are greeny-gray all the way through and pretty floppy, they’re done.

Remove them from the pan onto a plate or something and put in the other vegetables, including the garlic. Again, stir slowly until the veggies have sort of changed color and become more floppy. I recommend tasting as you go because some people like their stir-fry crunchier than others. For summer squash, there’s no hard and fast rule for when it’s “done,” it’s just however you like it.

When the summer squash is satisfactory, add the eggplant back in and stir for a few minutes until everything is heated through. If you want to add fresh basil or other seasoning, now’s the time.

You now have some great stir-fry.

Which you can totally eat on its own.

Or, you can put it on bread (crusty Italian or French is my favorite) and eat as a sandwich.

Or, you can toss it with pasta and smother it in fresh-ground parmesan cheese, and you’d have my grandmother’s lauded Veggie Pasta recipe.

Or, you can scramble this mix up in some eggs for breakfast (it’s WONDERFUL).

More eggplant recipes to come eventually….

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Options for the Reluctant Vegetarian – Summer Smoothie.

Breakfast (or snack, or on-the-go meal replacement, or dessert)

Thanks to Helen Pie for this 🙂  This recipe can go even greener by using local produce instead of bananas and mangoes, but every version is tasty.

Needed:

Fresh Fruit – 2 or more kinds.

Something to thin it out – yogurt, milk, soy milk, juice, water, etc.

Blender or food processor

ziploc, tupperware, or other freezer-friendly container.

Peel a banana, break it into chunks (smaller chunks might be easier on your blender), and stick it in a freezer-friendly container, and freeze for at least an hour, or overnight. This will make your smoothie thick and cold.

I actually do this to a whole bunch of bananas at once, and keep each banana in a separate plastic container (re-used take-out or leftover containers from restaurants are perfect). Then I have a bunch ready to use for the week, just have to pull out one at a time.

When the banana is frozen, dump the frozen chunks into your blender or food processor (a food processor can get messy, but I haven’t figured out how to attach my mom’s blender to the base yet, so…..baby steps).

Add some fresh fruit. Farmer’s market fruit is fantastic here, and currently in season, thus local and more environmentally friendly, although any fresh fruit is probably an improvement over sausage or bacon. I’ve been using mango this week. Berries, peaches, and nectarines are also good. Be creative!

Add some cream/liquid. I generally add some organic yogurt and milk. Using plain yogurt will cut the sweetness a little, while flavored yogurt can create an interesting flavor combination (be creative!). If you don’t want to do dairy, soy or almond or rice milk would work, and I’m betting apple juice would be wonderful. This morning I used leftover juice from a jar of canned peaches. It rocked.

Adding ice cream also makes it super-delicious. Less healthy, perhaps, but super-delicious. Also, if you like peanut butter or nutella with fruit crepes, a tablespoon added can go a long way.

Blend for 20-30 seconds until the banana chunks are smoothed out and you like the consistency. If it’s too thick, add a little more liquid and blend again.

Tip: If you put your glass in the freezer too, this becomes the ultimate summer chill snack.

EASY. This took 10x longer to write than it takes to make one. I think I’ll have one now….

PS – Just as a note on portions – I find that one banana, half a mango, 3-4 large tablespoons of yogurt and a splash of milk makes a very decent-sized smoothie, which is thick enough that I eat it with a spoon. You may need to experiment a little to find your magic mix, but it’s a fun and tasty process.

PPS – I love bananas, but if you don’t, I’m sure that choosing a different base fruit and freezing it would be just as awesome. In fact I’ve been meaning to try apple and watermelon as bases for a while, esp. because they’re much more local than bananas. Enjoy!

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The Reluctant Vegetarian

I like my steaks rare. I drool over hot wings and cheeseburgers. I hate broccoli. I refuse to eat any salad made with lettuce. Which, you may have noticed, describes most salads.

A little more than a year ago, I decided I was giving up meat.

~Ish.

I call myself a “Flexitarian.” I’m not opposed to the food chain per se, see. Sometimes animals eat other animals, and humans are omnivores.

But I hang around with a great number of people who are very interested in food justice and sustainability issues, environmentalists and animal-rights sympathizers and other lefty do-gooder types, so I kept hearing things over the years – things that my anti-environmentalist- libertarian- objectivist- rationally-self-interested father would say were transparent efforts at socialist propaganda.

I love my dad. But I think he’s dead wrong about the environment.

All human ideas change slowly. We have so many emotions clinging to the ideas that feed our sense of self-worth, our self-righteousness, our self-esteem, our sense of security.

Or maybe I should speak in the “I.”

I have numerous emotions clinging to the ideas by which I define my stance in the world.

So before I can change an idea, all the appended emotions need to be excised. That takes a long time.

It took a long time in this case. But change I did.

At first, when my friends started in on environmental gobbledygook, I just kept quiet and cultivated an inner stance of dismissiveness. All these bleeding hearts were terribly deluded, but I liked hanging out with them, they were fun people, and I have an aversion to rocking the boat, so I said nothing and forgot about it.

After a while, I graduated to distant curiosity (“well, I have to admit that last point wasn’t totally stupid, she may have something there”), then to sympathy (“ok, I can get in line with a few of those ideas”), to inactive believer (“yes, I agree with you, but what could I possibly do about it myself?”), to guilt-laden believer (“if I really believe that sustainability is an urgent priority for all of us, shouldn’t I be doing something?! But what? It’s so overwhelming! I’d have to change my buying habits! My leisure habits! My diet! I hate vegetables!”).

Finally, a little more than a year ago, I saw a Law and Order: SVU episode set in a chicken factory, and it tipped  me over the edge. I could not, in good conscience, eat any previously living animal that had been subjected to conditions like the ones I’d seen on TV. I didn’t even have to take morality into consideration. It was nauseating and gross.

My boyfriend had decided to give up meat for Lent the previous year. In an effort to support him, I’d made a list of easy meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert) that don’t involve meat. He only lasted two weeks, but I knew where the list was.

I tried my own Lenten meat fast. I used my list from the previous year and allowed myself, once a week on the sabbath, to eat whatever I wanted.

I discovered a few things:

1. My sense of smell sharpened noticeably whenever I walked past the guy selling lamb skewers by the train station.

2. Veggie Delight subs from Subway are delicious (I get mine un-toasted, with everything except hot peppers, topped with sweet onion dressing).

3. Tex-Mex food loses a lot when you eliminate meat.

4. With Indian food, however, I barely missed it – chana and dal and saag are fantastic on their own.

5. Asian restaurants can do amazing things with tofu.

6. Getting veggies at the farmer’s market somehow makes me want to eat them more. Except for broccoli or lettuce. There’s just no help for that.

I still hated salads, and I dearly missed burgers, but it actually hadn’t been nearly as hard as I’d imagined. As the Lenten season ended and I looked forward to the prospect of re-incorporating meat regularly into my diet…. I found that I didn’t really need to.

And, of course, my new dietary restrictions had sparked a whole new round of conversations with those very same lefty do-gooder friends who had gotten me interested in these types of things in the first place.

Aside from my distaste for eating anything that’s been tortured, it turns out that consumption of meat is a big contributor to global warming. It also puts a huge strain on world water and grain supplies (did you know it takes 600 gallons of water to produce one hamburger patty? One.)

And the kicker – Apparently, about 70% of the antibiotics produced in the US are given to livestock. As a preventative measure. Because they’re so much more likely to get sick when we raise them in god-awful conditions. Do you remember in biology and health class where they told you how misuse and overuse and unnecessary use of antibiotics can create super-bacteria that are drug-resistant?  We are helping to breed our next global pandemic with some of our meat-raising methods.

Not to be a downer or anything. And not to get down on farmers – never criticize a farmer with your mouth full. I appreciate and respect the work of anyone who is helping to put food on my plate. I just think that a system that is willing to actively abuse living creatures in order to turn a profit is pretty messed up.

But the good news is – there ARE easy ways we can reduce our meat consumption, and other easy ways to be pro-active about stewarding our resources. You don’t have to go vegetarian, and you don’t even have to identify with lefty do-gooder types – a lot of these changes are desirable for other reasons (health, finances, deliciousness). And I will totally still love you if you continue to gorge yourself on animal flesh. I just want you to know that you have options that are not awful.

I find that baby steps are the key to making any change stick. If everyone skipped meat for just one more meal a week, it could make a huge difference.

I’m by no means an expert on these things (I’m not even a full vegetarian!), but I’ve decided I’d like to share some of this faltering journey on the blog, in case it makes it easier and less threatening for other hard-core carnivores to make some changes. I’ll be periodically posting different baby-steps, tips, suggestions, and recipes to try so that if you are hanging out in guilt-laden believer limbo, you too can start taking action.

The gentle way.

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