Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Turning vegetarian

E gave up all meat/most dairy products about 4 months ago now, to manage some digestive issues.  It's helped immensely, and he feels much better since then.  We had already been on a low-meat diet for environmental reasons for a long while, so day-to-day the change didn't affect much.  Cutting out meat, though, does require a bit more creativity in the kitchen to prevent us from eating a big bowl of random veggies every day, which is what most of my omnivorous friends assume I do anyway.

When we ate meat, I often felt like we fell into a cooking routine.  Each of our meals would just be meat + starch or grain + vegetable.  Usually, each component complimented the other nicely, and there was some thought behind that, but it was often pretty boring, required a whoooole ton of pots and pans and dishes to accomplish, and left us feeling sluggish and vaguely sick. Once in a while, we fall into a seafood-heavy rotation (fish/shellfish doesn't affect E the way meat does, and it is just so delicious)  and I feel this way all over again.  We also relied a lot more heavily on processed/pre-packaged/frozen foods, which was expensive and not healthy.  Now, we do just about all of our food shopping at the local green grocer, and just about everything that comes into our kitchen is whole, green (or some other nutrient-rich color), and infinitely satisfying to eat.  And a fiber rich diet does help keep the plumbing in working order.

So yes, I can't say enough good things about our new diet, especially about how we each feel to be putting so much good stuff in our bodies.  Our meals are simple, fresh, and fantastic, overall.  There have been a few bumps along the way.  Sometimes it's frustrating that I have to accommodate his dietary needs when other options are cheaper/easier (one evening where I blew up because I was making brown butter gnocchi and we were out of vegan butter and E said I had to use olive oil instead of real butter comes to mind), but I think we're both happy with the switch -- and I'm just glad E's feeling so much better!

And honestly, there aren't many recipes I have to miss -- so many things can be easily made vegetarian.  E can't do fake meat (and I'm not a big fan, either), so we usually just skip those alternatives.  Last night, for instance, I made a vegetarian minestrone because the weather has definitely taken a turn for the autumnal.  Instead of using beef broth or any meat to flavor the soup, vegetable stock and some carefully used spices does the job.  In under an hour we had a giant bowl of hot soup bubbling away on the stove, for under 10 bucks.  We froze about a meal and a half's worth right away, and I am enjoying a leftover bowl right now!  I highly recommend this recipe, which is the first I've made up on my own for minestrone!

Shae's Rough Vegetarian Minestrone Soup

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed (this can be reduced... we eat a lot of garlic and are desensitized)
  • 1/2 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1/3 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (one of those big guys)
  • 1 can cannellini (white kidney beans)
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 3/4 of a bunch of fresh spinach, chopped (I am not sure how much spinach is in a bunch... probably close to a pound?  Feel free to eyeball this, but don't get too skittish -- spinach cooks down a LOT)
  • 2 pounds zucchini, diced
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (homemade or using bouillon, like I did)
  • a glug of wine, white or red (this is very scientific)
  • oregano, basil, black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 a pound of Ditalini

  1. Heat your oil in a large pot on the stove over medium heat.  Add the crushed garlic and the onion to the oil (Sidenote: to peel garlic easily, cut off the hard tip of the clove and crush it with the side of a knife. The skin will come off in one piece, and then you can prepare the garlic however you want).  Stir to coat, and let cook for about 2 minutes, and then add the carrots and the celery.  Let it cook until the onions are transparent and the garlic is fragrant.
  2. Add the contents of the can of crushed tomatoes.  Let it simmer for a few minutes while you cut up your zucchini and spinach.
  3. Add the vegetable stock to the pot.  Stir well. Once everything is incorporated, add the cut spinach and zucchini to the soup. Stir well, though the spinach won't wilt for a few minutes and might seem to refuse to mix in. It's okay.  Its time will come.
  4. In another pot, start boiling some water for your pasta.  Cook it until it is slightly underdone.
  5. Drain about 3/4 of the liquid out of the cans of beans.  Dump them into the soup pot.  When the pasta is ready, drain it and put it into the soup as well.
  6. At this point, I poured a glug of white wine in, which I think helped bring the flavors in the pot together.  I used some crappy wine we bought for cooking, and it worked great.  I think a red would be even more delicious, but I didn't have any on hand.  I also added a bit of dried oregano, a few leaves of fresh basil, and a healthy shake or two of black pepper to the pot at this point.
  7. Simmer the soup for 20-30 minutes, until the spinach and zucchini are cooked and it smells divine.  Serve with a shake of romano cheese and some crusty white bread. Makes at least 6 servings, depending on how hungry your crew is, and it's a satisfying, inexpensive, healthy meal.

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