Friday, October 5, 2007

Meats of the Veggie World

I’d like to wish myself a happy one year anniversary from when I first identified as a vegetarian. It has been an interesting and frustrating journey—especially in a meat-loving family. Although I am thinking about a return to meat (what pleasant symmetry), I will not reject the lessons I have learned as a vegetarian cook.

While struggling to create satisfying dishes that my meat-eating family could share and enjoy with me, I was reminded of important lessons that apply not only to cooking vegetarian foods, but for preparing any satisfying dish.

Through my many flops and successes as a vegetarian cook (and thanks to the critiques of my family), I have come to realize that meat isn’t really the issue. Of course meat is meat, and no one is going to be fooled by tofurkey—but it is possible to satisfy a meat-loving person in different ways, by keeping a few key factors in mind. I realized that what my dishes lacked (besides meat) was a comparable richness, texture and aroma, and that without protein, my dishes weren’t necessarily filling or satisfying enough. I hadn’t mastered bringing out these key components from vegetables—I hadn’t discovered the meats of the veggie world.

The “meats” of the veggie world are veggies or veggie dishes that provide those key things that meat-lovers crave: texture, savory taste and aroma, and filling protein. For texture, taste and aroma, my new favorites are mushrooms, especially shitake or portabella. My favorite (and simplest) mushroom “dish” is the portabella “patty.” They work just like burger patties: after a quick marinade, I throw whole portabellas on the grill and they make amazing, juicy “burgers.”
When replacing meat with veggies it’s also important to add protein. So, when I add mushrooms for texture I also usually add nuts (cashews are my favorite), tofu, or egg, and (when I can) I substitute ingredients for whole grain alternatives. These filling ingredients don’t usually have strong, overpowering flavors, and therefore can be easily incorporated.

Whether I remain a vegetarian cook or not, this year of meatless cooking has been important in reminding me of what we love about food. It’s not about the meat; it’s about being satisfied by the whole meal.

My Quick and Easy Marinade
Great for those portabella patties, or any other grilled veggies

1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. mustard
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
¼ c. olive oil
Salt and pepper

These proportions can be adjusted by taste. Keep in mind that on the grill the vinegar will become sweeter. When marinating mushrooms, it isn’t necessary to soak them too long—they are like sponges and will take up the flavor in no more than 5-10 minutes.

1 comment:

Auntie Fi said...

Lovely, Fi.

If you decide on animal protein, salmon, chicken and turkey are good bets. Salmon particularly, is a life-extending food.

Will try the mushroom marinade--and you're absolutely dead on about not more than five minutes max on marinade time. Mushrooms are a very volatile medium to work with, absorbing flavors quickly, and doing marvelous tricks with heat through caramelization.