I wrote recently that as a result of my surgery I am not supposed to have red meat for three to six months after the procedure. I also wrote that I wasn’t thrilled about a diet of strictly poultry and seafood, and that I was going to want to include some vegetarian cooking in the mix. While my sensibility, as I wrote, is that if you are going to cook vegetarian you should cook vegetarian in and of its own right and not try to emulate meat, I am nonetheless not adverse to a good veggie burger or using soy crumbles to make vegetarian chili.
A former manager of mine read the blog and noted how much her family loved the Beyond Burger. I was familiar with it because the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain had been heavily advertising the product on baseball television broadcasts. Their version is the Beyond Famous Star. What I did not know was that the uncooked Beyond Burger is available in the grocery store.
I was doing a major shopping trip at Winco, our local discount bag-your-own-groceries supermarket and I found the item in the meat department. I bought a package and grilled one of the burgers on our new stove’s grill top. I buttered a slice of sourdough bread, sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese, and added it to the grill. I added mustard to the bread and topped to burger with tomato and onion.
The result: marvelous. It tasted just like a beef burger and was just as satisfying, although it didn’t stay with me as long. It’s a bit expensive: two patties cost me nearly six dollars, but it’s a really nice treat.
I still want to try the Carl’s Jr. version.
As a result of my surgery I have one really big dietary restriction: no red meat. Not for three to six months from the date of the surgery. Now exactly what that means depends on who you talk to. When my surgeon’s assistant tried to clarify that for me she got varying responses. She told me that two nurses said that it meant only beef, while two doctors told her that it meant both beef and pork. The nurse who removed my staples and who is very familiar with my surgeon said it meant only beef. But when I finally had my follow-up with my surgeon he couched the restriction in the broadest possible terms: no beef, pork, lamb, etc.
Now as a practical matter only the first two affect me (I never eat lamb), but that still creates a huge impact on my diet. It means I am restricted to poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes. Given that I’m not keen on a diet based exclusively on chicken and turkey, and since a diet heavy on seafood is not practical, I have to open myself up to more vegetarian food.
Long time readers of this blog may recall that I have flirted with a vegetarian diet in the past, and more than once. This is not exactly new and unfamiliar territory for me. I know a vegetarian diet is healthier for me as an individual and it’s far better for the health of the planet. That is one thing that has not changed a bit since Frances Moore Lappé first published Diet for a Small Planet in 1971.
The question, then, is how to eat vegetarian. It’s the same question I have asked intermittently since the 1970s. The easy path, the path taking the least amount of thought, is to go with meat substitutes. I bought a package of veggie bacon strips which were awful. Some of the meat substitutes aren’t so bad, however. Soy crumbles make a great vegetarian chili when properly seasoned, and black bean burgers can be very tasty.
A vegetarian snob, however, and even a serious vegetarian who is not a snob, would say that one ought to cook vegetarian dishes that stand on their own and which do not try to emulate meat dishes. Perhaps that’s not as easy as it might first sound. Mollie Katzen admits that in her first edition of The Mousewood Cookbook she tried to create recipes specifically so the meat wouldn’t be missed. But that was decades ago (1974) and a lot of vegetarian cookbooks have been published since then, a good number of them with some very tasty, savory dishes. Martha Rose Shulman, one can make the case, is a master of this sort of recipe in her cookbooks.
It’s not an easy journey right now, but it is one that is highly manageable.
La lucha continua, if I may be so presumptuous as to borrow from those engaged in the fight for social justice.
I was looking for something different for a Saturday dinner and for something that I could grill on our new stove-top grill pan. I found this recipe for grilled chicken kebabs with pineapple salsa in my database, which originally appeared in Shape magazine in September 2010.
The marinade called for pineapple, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper pureed in a blender. The salsa consisted of diced pineapple, tomato, spinach, garlic, cilantro, and salt. I omitted the cilantro and salt in the salsa. I cooked the chicken on the grill pan along with pineapple pieces, forgoing the skewers. I also cooked rice as a side, which turned out to be completely unnecessary.
It made for a very tasty Saturday evening dinner.
Terry recently said that she wanted to have Manhattan clam chowder, so I pulled up this recipe from my database, which originally appeared in the Cooking Light issue of May 1999.
It’s really quite straightforward, calling for garlic, a chopped and peeled baking potato, oregano, black pepper, diced tomatoes, and clam juice along with the clams. Terry added cumin and chili powder and a couple of slices of microwaved bacon.
I took care of the garlic bread. It made for a really nice dinner on a cold evening.
I originally had this chocolate chip cookie recipe in my bulky three-ring binder, and it got transferred to my Living Cookbook database when I made the conversion. It’s from the old Yahoo Vegetarian Group and was written by the group owner, the incomparable Donna.
I followed Donna’s ingredients, but went my own way with the instructions.
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
I mixed all of the dry ingredients in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and then threw in the wet ingredients. I next added the chocolate chips and then walnuts which I chopped using the chopping attachment for my immersion blender.
I used a soup spoon to place the dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper and baked at 375° for twelve minutes.
They turned out great!
I have written about this before, but it bears revisiting. This is an incredibly simple way to get multiple meals. The great thing about cooking a whole chicken in your slow cooker is that you put the chicken in the crock pot and turn it on. It’s (almost) that simple. You don’t need to add any liquids because the chicken provides plenty of liquid.
Most recently I bought a six-pound chicken at the grocery store. I pulled out the giblets and the neck and I rubbed it with a combination of za’atar seasoning and smoked paprika. I really prefer the Trader Joe’s whole chicken without the giblets, but the nearest Trader Joe’s is half an hour away in a very congested shopping district. I simply don’t have the culinary skills to work with those parts. (I can’t help but think of the Dan Aykroyd parody of Julia Child on Saturday Night Live: “Save the giblets!”)
I cooked the chicken on low for eight-and-a-half hours. Next time I need to remember to rub the spice mix under the skin. Otherwise it turned out great.
The chicken cost a little less than twice what we pay for a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. We generally get two meals out of a rotisserie chicken. This one yielded four: that evening’s supper plus three bags sealed up in the FoodSaver and put in the freezer. The math certainly works.
I have a number of recipes in my database that call for using rotisserie chicken. The crock pot chicken is, certainly, a perfectly fine substitute for that, and I don’t have to worry about going out and finding a rotisserie chicken. I just pull it out of the freezer.
There’s a lot to be said for chicken in the slow cooker.
Tortilla Soup was a Mexican remake of the Taiwanese (I believe) film Eat Drink, Man Woman. What was interesting to me was that aside from some changes in cultural references, it was almost a line-for-line remake.
That’s not what I’m talking about here, however. I’m talking about Terry’s tortilla soup. She has made tortilla soup before, but not this particular recipe.
The recipe called for rotisserie chicken, breast and thigh. I had made chicken on our stovetop grill a couple of nights before, and I had extra, we she used that. It specified a poblano chili, but the store didn’t have that so I bought another variety. The recipe included onion, which she omitted as Terry is allergic to onion. She did, however, throw in some frozen corn.
The result was a really tasty winter’s evening meal.