It’s easier than ever to be a vegetarian.
Twenty years ago, I followed a vegetarian diet. I did it to lose weight and live a healthier life, not because I am opposed to eating animals. Both sets of my grandparents were farmers, so I was raised with more of a “circle of life” mentality.
Ultimately, my 18-month stint with vegetarianism ended because I love meat and decided to follow a healthier diet with meat. However, I deeply respect people who chose this way of life. People are vegetarians for a variety of reasons and there are a variety of vegetarians:
• The most common are lacto-ovo-vegetarians, who eat both dairy products and eggs.
• Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but do not consume eggs.
• Ovo-vegetarian eat eggs but no dairy products.
• Vegans do not eat any products that are derived from animals — that includes everything from dairy products to honey.
• Pesco-vegetarians or pescatarians are people who eat fish and seafood. This is a semi-vegetarian diet, and some vegetarian groups do not consider these people vegetarians.
According to a 2015 Vegetarian Resource Group poll, 3.4 percent of Americans are vegetarian. I was a little surprised to read that number as I thought it would be higher, but looking at polls from various sources since 1999, the figure fluctuates between 3 and 5 percent.
However, a study by the Vegetarian Times said 10 percent of the population follows a vegetarian-inclined diet, so they lean towards vegetarianism. I know a lot of people who fit into that category, especially because there’s increasing evidence that a plant-based diet has many benefits.
If I wanted to be a vegetarian again, it would be so much easier than it was back then. Today, the market is flooded with vegetarian and vegan products. Restaurants have increased their vegetarian selections. There’s an abundance of blogs and websites dedicated to the subject, and people are eager to share their recipes.
Ancient grains, such as quinoa, make it easier to obtain protein. When I was a vegetarian, I struggled to get enough protein in my diet, and in the end, I also didn’t think it was healthier because I ate more carbs and fat than I had before.
One of my readers asked me about following a vegetarian diet, so I want so share some thoughts.
If you are considering becoming a vegetarian, first decide why you want to do it because that will help frame your commitment. You can eliminate all meat products immediately or go meatless four days a week and every week add one day so that you follow a vegetarian diet in about a month, which is what I did.
If you want to stick with it, this may be more realistic because you will learn how to cook and discover when it is most challenging to follow a vegetarian diet (for example, it’s hard to be a vegetarian on holidays and at parties). In time, you will better learn how to plan your meals or what restaurants have the best selection of food for you.
One thing I would caution against is focusing too much on one protein source. Vegetarians, like meat eaters, need variety of in their diet, so you should try to plan out meals and make sure you have enough protein from different sources. Eggs, soy, dairy, nuts and legumes are all good sources, but you don’t want to rely on any one. You could also add a smoothie with a scoop of protein powder to your meal plans.
Also, try to consider the fat content when selecting a protein because nuts and cheese are high in fat in comparison to edamame, for example.
Even if you’re not a vegetarian, these are excellent recipes, particularly the artichoke and sun-dried tomato strata, which is similar to a breakfast casserole but has artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, red bell peppers and onion instead of sausage. The brioche is key to this recipe because it lends a buttery flavor. This is an excellent brunch recipe for anyone.
The portobello Parmesan was inspired by eggplant Parmesan, which is delicious and so fattening. Eggplant is a sponge and soaks up fat, so instead of eggplant, I used mushrooms. I did not fry the mushrooms, I simply covered them in sauce and baked them with cheese. It was so easy. The dish takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and is delicious. You could also make this as a gluten-free option to pizza.
And the mixed vegetables and tofu in coconut sauce was adapted from a cookbook recipe that does not call for tofu at all, but it’s a delicious vegetable side dish and I wanted to add some protein to it. I love Indian food, and this is an Indian dish.
Whether or not you’re interested in vegetarian diets, we could all benefit from eating more vegetables so give these recipes a try. I hope you enjoy them.
3 large portobello mushrooms
2 cups favorite spaghetti sauce
11/2 cups shredded Italian style cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place two mushrooms in an 8-by-8-inch pan. Remove the stems. Cut the other mushroom in half and nestle each half in the empty spots in the pan. Poke the mushrooms several times with a knife. Sprinkle a little garlic salt on the mushrooms (very little). Top with spaghetti sauce.
Bake for 10 minutes and then remove and cover with the cheeses. Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes. Serve.
Artichoke and sun-dried tomato strata
7 cups of brioche, cut into 1-inch cubes
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped, drained artichoke hearts
13/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cube the bread, and then chop all your vegetables and set everything aside.
Spray an 8-by-8-inch pan with cooking spray. Place half the brioche in the pan and cover with half the onion, sun-dried tomatoes, bell pepper, artichokes and cheese. Then place the other half of brioche on top and repeat the process, reserving a little cheese.
Whip together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper to taste, and then pour over the bread. Add the remaining cheese. Allow it to rest on the counter for seven minutes. Then bake for 35-40 minutes until the center is set.
Mixed vegetables and tofu in coconut sauce
8 ounces potatoes, cut into 2-inch cubes
3/4 cup French green beans
5 ounces carrots, scraped and cut into 2-inch cubes
21/4 cups hot water
1 small eggplant, quartered lengthwise, then cut into 2-inch cubes
1 can coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound extra firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
1-2 dried red chilies (optional)
11/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Place tofu on several layers of paper towels and cover tofu with several more layers of paper towels. Then place a heavy pan, such as cast iron skillet, on tofu to press out some moisture. Let stand 45 minutes. Discard paper towels. Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes.
Put the potatoes, beans and carrots in a large pan and add 11/4 cups of the hot water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat a little, cover the pan and cook for five minutes.
Cut the eggplant quarters into 2-inch pieces. Rinse. Add to the pan.
Stir in the coconut milk with the remaining hot water and add to the vegetables. Add in the salt and tofu. Bring to a slow simmer; cover and cook for seven to eight minutes or until potatoes are tender.
In a small pan heat the oil over a medium heat and add the chilies, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Stir-fry the spices for 15 to 20 seconds and pour the entire contents of the pan over the vegetables. Stir to distribute the spices evenly, cook two more minutes and remove from the heat. Serve with naan or over rice.
Source: This recipe was liberally adapted from the book “Best-ever Curry,” by Mridula Baljekar
Juliana Goodwin is author of “Rotisserie Chicken Queen: 50 Fabulous Recipes That Start With Rotisserie Chicken.” If you have a question, email her at email@example.com.