A Challenge for Eaters Everywhere

The American diet really is changing. Meat consumption is down and people are adding more vegetables to their meals. This is a good thing.

You may have heard of a program called Meatless Mondays, which has garnered support from big name chefs, nutritionists, doctors and foodies across the country. This program has been very successful with food and recipe sites offering loads of meatless recipes and meal ideas.

The people who brought you Meatless Mondays are now promoting Meatless May, a whole month of meals without beef, pork, chicken or even seafood.

We know asking you to give up meat for a whole month is a lot. Quite frankly, I don’t think I could do it. But if you can just bump up your meatless meals to six a week, it will help a lot. It’s possible you might not even miss the meat. And pretty soon, you’ll be eating meat as a treat instead of a three-times-a-day routine.

With warmer weather, salads are probably going to play a larger role in your eating. Salad is a good way to add vegetables and fruits to your meals without adding a lot of fat. There’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t add some sliced strawberries to that pile of lettuce. And there are lots of other greens to use besides lettuce.

For example, take 3 cups of baby spinach and 3 cups of watercress with the stems removed. Be sure to wash all leafy greens thoroughly even if they say they are pre-washed. While those are drying, make a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette dressing with a tablespoon each of maple syrup and extra virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Just whisk them together in a big bowl. Add to the bowl your greens, a third of a cup of chopped chives and a couple cups of fresh sliced strawberries. Toss to coat. When you serve the salad up, top each plate  with some toasted pecans or walnuts and some crumbled goat cheese. This is low-fat and refreshing.

Soup is good anytime. In fact, many cuisine from warm parts of the world enjoy a spicy hot soup for summer. Add some noodles and tofu and you’ve got a one-dish meal for easy portability and clean-up.

For an Asian take on a summer soup, start with about 14 ounces of firm tofu, preferably water-packed. This is usually found in the Produce aisle. Before you start saying, “not tofu,” prepared correctly, this bean curd can have plenty of flavor, lots of protein, no fat and many possibilities. While you’re in that section of the supermarket, nearby should be Chinese noodles or wonton wrappers. If you can’t find those, just pick up any pasta noodles, but remember to increase the cooking time.

When you unwrap the tofu, you’ll have to pat it dry with paper towels. Then cut it into ½ inch cubes. In a dutch oven or stock pot, heat up about two teaspoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Throw in two tablespoons of grated or chopped fresh ginger (the finer, the better) and six cloves of minced garlic. Stir them around until the wonderful fumes begin to fill the kitchen. That takes about a minute. Now add in about two cups of shiitake mushrooms with stems removed and sliced into pieces. Cook until the mushrooms are soft, about two minutes.

Shiitake mushrooms used to be hard to get, but today they’re just about everywhere. You could also use criminis. I wouldn’t recommend portabellas as they flavor and texture might be a little much. In a pinch, I guess you could use button mushrooms. But at least get the fresh ones, not canned.

Now add to your pot ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce, a tablespoon brown sugar, four cups of vegetable broth (remember, this is supposed to be meatless, so only use chicken broth if you can’t find vegetable broth, but most stores carry it), two teaspoons chili sauce (with garlic if available) and bring to a boil with the lid on the pot. Then add 4 cups of thinly sliced Napa or bok choy greens and the tofu you had cubed, cover and simmer on low heat until the greens are wilted, about two minutes. Turn up the heat to high and put in the noodles or pasta. If you get wonton wrappers, just cut them into inch-wide strips. Chinese noodles or wontons take about two or three minutes to cook. Dry pasta will take about five or six minutes. You’re done, so take the soup off the heat. As a finishing touch, if you like it, you can garnish with chopped cilantro.

Grains are a great way to eat less meat without missing out on a lot of the protein. But some grains are better than others. In our culture, we eat so much wheat that many people are developing allergies to it. Also, people are jumping on a gluten-free bandwagon, and that usually refers to wheat gluten. White rice can be a problem for some people, especially diabetics. But have you tried barley? Quick cooking barley is available in most supermarkets, usually in the cereal aisle next to the oatmeal. You can use the convenient, nutty-flavored grain to make a vegetable risotto with a different look and taste.

As in other recipes that usually call for chicken broth or chicken stock, whether homemade or store-bought, you’ll have to go for the vegetable broth to make some of these dishes. We always try to have chicken and beef broth around, so it’s easy enough to pick up a carton of vegetable broth as well.

In this risotto the technique is the same as any similar dish using rice. But first let’s talk veggies. Steamed Asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, along with a bunch of chopped scallions, round out the dish. Start by cutting your asparagus into pieces about 1-1/2 inches long. You don’t really need a recipe for that, do you? Meanwhile, heat 2-1/2 cups of broth in the microwave on in a small saucepan. Put a heavy pot, dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. When ready, pour in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Then add in your chopped scallions and chopped mushrooms and cook until tender, about four minutes.
Now add the barley and cook for a couple minutes, stirring frequently. Just as in making rice risotto, you want the completely coat the grain in oil and see the color change slightly. If you want, add a half cup of a dry white wine and allow it to be completely absorbed. As in any risotto, add in half cups of broth, stirring it in until it is absorbed before adding another half cup. When the barley is tender  and has a saucy consistency, take it off the heat, even if you still have some broth left. Stir in the asparagus and a half cup of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed. And now you’re ready to serve.

Speaking of serving, isn’t it about time for dessert? For this, we’ll take a traditionally savory dish from the South and turn it into something sweet and delicious. It’s spoonbread.

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking dish (or other 2-quartovenproof dish) with cooking spray. Combine a cup of cornmeal, preferable stone-ground, a cup of buttermilk, ⅔ cup maple syrup and ½ teaspoon of salt in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the mixture bubbles and thickens. Keep that whisk stirring all the time. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together 4 large egg yolks. While continuing to whisk, pour in ½ cup of the hot cornmeal mixture until it mixes in completely. Scrape in the remaining cornmeal mixture and whisk until smooth. Whisk in ¼ cup of flour and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract until smooth.

Beat the egg whites from your 4 eggs in another large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed or whisking quickly until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in ¼ cup of sugar, continuing to beat until soft glossy peaks form. Fold the whites into the cornmeal mixture. Fold in 2 cups raspberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared dish. You should have another cup of raspberries left for a topping.

Bake until puffed, golden brown on top and the center is set, 35 to 40 minutes. The spoonbread will be slightly wobbly and soft when it is completely cooked. Let cool for 20 minutes. Serve warm, topped with some of the remaining raspberries and some non-fat plain Greek yogurt.

So you see, eating without meat doesn’t have to be dull and boring. It gives you a chance to eat the way the rest of the world eats and bring some new creativity to your Bachelor’s Kitchen.