Maybe you are starting to make Meat-Free Mondays a regular at your dining table. Or maybe you are one-half of a vegetarian/meat-eating couple. Or maybe you are trying vegetarianism for the first time. It can be confusing to find where to start when all you can think of are foods with meat.
I have been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old. My husband grew up eating traditional American fare, without much variety. So when we started dating seven years ago, and then eventually got married, we had to figure out how we’d eat meals together. The usual trouble is that some meat-eaters think vegetarian food is weird, or others don’t see the point in eating a meal if there is no meat included.
First we started out cooking meals for each other without any meat — traditional American food that is usually made without meat: salads, pasta dishes, cream-based soups. But that got old very quickly for both of us, as I wanted more adventurous dishes, and my partner wanted meat. So over time, we have started cooking meals that are what I call “meat adaptable.”
Here are some tips for meat adaptable cooking:
Start with recipes you know and love, and try just omitting the meat.
Many recipes are easily adaptable this way. I recommend recipes that have hearty sauces, so your meat-eating loved ones aren’t left feeling deprived and hungry.
You may have to make more of this food to satisfy hunger, because animal protein fills you up quickly, while it may take more plant foods to satisfy that same hunger or need for calories. These are usually the recipes that go over well, because they are familiar and satisfying.
Try meat substitutes
This does not have to mean processed soy or tofu! My favorite substitute is replacing the meat with beans or lentils, which works best in recipes needing ground beef. Try this with your casseroles and stews. But don’t be afraid to get adventurous:
- Cheese, add cubed to cold dishes, or shredded and mixed in to baked dishes.
- Mushrooms replace larger pieces of meat, especially grilled.
- Peas replace ground beef, especially in stews or curry. They’re very high in protein.
- Roasted or grilled vegetables replace meat just about anywhere.
- Chopped walnuts replace chopped meat, especially mixed in to baked dishes (casseroles).
- Vegetable stock/broth or salted water replace meat stock/broth in soups.
- Poultry/steak/grill seasoning can be added to pump up the flavor in dishes where meat was omitted.
- Liquid smoke can be added to recipes with omitted pork or beef (try it in split pea soup!).
Find a commercial meat substitute that tastes good to you. In my experience, many meals become palatable if we do use some sort of commercial soy product. We especially like the “prime” flavored burgers, and my partner likes the soy chicken strip meal starters. They are often convenient, comparably priced to meat, and cook quicker and more conveniently. These are a real winner that I keep stocked in my freezer.
Cook meat on the side
If all else fails, for the meat-eater who still insists on eating meat, try cooking it on the side. My George Foreman grill is a serious cornerstone to my marriage.
I will cook a great vegetarian meal, and then my partner will grill a chicken breast to eat with it. This tactic works for just about any meal. Chicken is especially versatile, and can be eaten as a whole grilled breast, chopped and added to salads, or shredded and added to sandwiches, stews and sauces.
Luckily my husband is a real sport when it comes to meat adaptable cooking. His favorite recipe that I cook, is vegan(!) and something he never adds meat to:
Serves 3-4, and works great as leftovers
- 1 Tbsp. Corn oil (optional)
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup dry lentils, any color, rinsed
- 2½ cups water
- ½ packet, or 2 Tbsp. taco seasoning
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or more for extra spice)
- Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion and cook until tender.
- Add lentils, water, taco seasoning and chipotle pepper all at once.
- Cook on medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through. Be careful not to let the lentils get too dry, you want a bit of sauce.
- Serve immediately, and scoop into regularly-prepared taco shells.
Suggested toppings: Cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa. But feel free to add the toppings you like, such as spanish rice, avocado, grilled peppers, fresh cilantro, vegetarian refried beans, etc.
These also can be served cold as an easy taco salad ingredient.