Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's a "flexitarian"?

I'm sort of opposed to all these cutesy new labels for occasionally eschewing meat. "Flexitarian" is the latest. I'm not sure why people feel the need to label the fact that they are occasionally willing to forgo meat in a meal. That's hardly a revolution.

But I'm also pragmatic.

I accept that very few people will actually become vegetarians, or vegans, for life. Some people are deeply convicted when it comes to animals, the environment and health. Others care, but not enough to live without a bacon-cheeseburger from time to time. I get that.

So if there's anything I like about the ovo-lacto, flexi-, pesci- add-ons to the root "tarian," it's that it might be giving people space to do what nutritionists have been imploring Americans to do with steadily increasing urgency: Put down the steak knife and eat a goddamn vegetable, would ya?!

I was sort of interested, then, to receive my February issue of Bon Appetit this week and see an even larger selection than normal of vegetarian dishes and a story on the Meatless Monday / flexitarian phenomenon. As I write, I'm enjoying a delicious bowl of Broccoli Soup with Leeks and Thyme from the magazine. I'm simultaneously slow cooking a giant pot of black beans, the base for Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash, also in the February issue. Both are super high in fiber, low in calories, and loaded with colorful vegetables that boast all sorts of antioxidants and nutrients not found in pre-processed, packaged convenience foods.

It's great to see at least some foodies embrace the potential of vegetarian cooking (that's how I'm choosing to interpret the Bon Appetit thing). Going vegetarian greatly expanded my culinary universe and made me a much, much better cook. (I was a pretty boring eater of chicken breasts and Lipton rice packets prior to ditching meat 13 years ago.) The chili recipe I'm preparing has bulgur in it, which is not something you'd find in the average chili con carne, and may seem slightly sacrilegious, but it's smelling like heaven at the moment and seriously ups the nutritional ante.

My advice? Try one day meat-free. I absolutely, positively, 100 percent money-back guarantee you will survive. Be brave. Experiment. And if you've got an question, you know where to find me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Easy vegetarian comfort food

I haven't made this recipe in years - literally. But while it's bubbling away in the oven I thought I'd share it with you. Why, if I haven't felt compelled to make it lately, would I pass it along? After reading a super annoying NPR blog post about how bacon is supposedly the "gateway food" for vegetarians who fall off the wagon, I decided to share it because it was a gateway TO vegetarianism for me.

This was one of the very first vegetarian recipes I cooked and shared. It is ridiculously easy, comforting, cheap and perfect for a weeknight when you don't have much energy. It doesn't have any weird or unfamiliar ingredients, and even if you consider scrambled eggs to be the extent of your cooking skills, you can do this. I promise.

Vegetarian Pot Pie (easily veganized, BTW)

1 med. onion, diced
1 T canola oil
1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 c. vegetable broth
1-2 t dried thyme
1 can beans (any kind)
5 cans vegetables in any combination (corn, green beans, spinach, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.)
1 stick butter (or margarine, for vegans), melted
1 c. milk (or soy milk)
1 c. self-rising flour

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Heat oil over medium-high heat and saute the onion for 2-3 minutes, until translucent. Slowly stir in the 1/4 c. all-purpose flour and cook one more minute. Reduce heat to medium and add broth 1/2 c. at a time, stirring as you go, until thoroughly mixed. The mixture should thicken a bit. Stir in the thyme and turn off the heat.
3. Open all the cans and drain them off a bit. This is sort of an imprecise direction, but you want them to keep a little bit of their juice but no so much that the mixture you're about to create is swimming in juices. I'd estimate I drained off 1/2-3/4 of the juice in each can.
4. Add all canned vegetables and beans to a large, 9x13" baking dish. Mix them together and then mix in the onion/gravy mixture.
5. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter or margarine, the milk or soy milk, and the 1 c. self-rising flour. Do not overmix.
6. Pour the batter evenly over the vegetables and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the batter on top is firm and lightly golden brown.

For the batch I'm making right now, I used corn, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots. But you can pretty much go in any direction you want, including Mexican, for example, with black beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, etc. Italian would be pretty easy too.

The original recipe I copied actually called for 2 cans of Veg-All or other mixed vegetables and then 3 cans of other vegetables, so feel free to use them if you like them. And finally, I'd like to credit the source of this recipe, but as I mentioned, I've been making it for so long I don't remember where I got it.

I don't have kids but I have to think this would be a winner with little ones - there's nothing spicy, strange or overly grown-up about it. It's just hot, bubbly and topped with a delicious buttery crust. Enjoy!