Tag Archives: vegetarian

Easing back toward the veg life

As I mentioned the other day, I’m hoping to make the transition from a meat-heavy diet to a more plant-based diet this year.

My primary reason is athletic: Done right, a vegetarian diet is a near-perfect way to fuel a marathon training program. (When I say “done right,” I mean heavy on whole grains, legumes and minimally processed vegetables, not the classic “Beer and potato chips are vegan, right?” diet of my misspent youth.)

The contents of my freezer are sort of forcing me to ease into this slowly: I’ve got about five pounds of frozen chicken down there, a metric crap-ton of cheese tortellini, God alone knows how many pepperoni pizza rolls, and a pantry full of canned tuna. But Ron likes the pizza rolls better than I do, so I’m leaving those for him to make whenever the day’s menu involves something he doesn’t like, and I’m starting the transition by simply eliminating red meat from my own diet.

We made our quarterly trip up to Costco in St. Louis today in hopes of finding vegetarian convenience foods I could keep in the freezer for quick meals. They didn’t have the veggie burgers and fake corn dogs I wanted, so I wound up with a big bag of quinoa and kale divvied up into microwave-friendly steamer bags, a bag of edamame, and an eight-pack of canned organic black beans — not as much fun as corn dogs, but probably better choices for boosting endurance.

My menu for this week is split pretty neatly among vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and pesco-pollo-vegetarian meals, which is the easiest way to make the shift. If you’re interested in attempting a similar diet, here’s what I’ve got planned:

Sweet potato tacos

Chicken tikka masala (chicken breasts simmered in prefabbed tikka masala sauce, served over whole-wheat couscous)

Burritos (refried pinto beans, shredded cheddar, salsa in a big flour tortilla)

Lunch: Breakfast burritos (diced potatoes, scrambled eggs, green chile, shredded cheddar, salsa in a big flour tortilla)

Lemon-tahini pasta (this is a recipe I’m making up as I go, but it’s basically capellini tossed with tahini, lemon juice and garlic)

Beans and green chile cornbread

Vegetarian lasagna

To use up the tuna in the pantry, I’ll be making a lot of tuna salad — my version is a can of tuna mixed with 2 tbsp. each of mayo and dill relish and a couple of finely chopped celery stalks. I scored 5 lbs. of Clementines for $5.99 at Costco today, so I’ll be eating a lot of those as recovery snacks after runs. (Oranges are really high in potassium, so an orange sprinkled with chile-lime salt is a great way to replace electrolytes after a run.) I’m also a fan of nooch nachos, and the freezer is still well-stocked with ingredients for smoothies, so I see a lot of that in my future, too.


Vegetarian Friday: Roasted asparagus with mushroom-walnut couscous

Yes, I know we just talked about asparagus and mushrooms a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed that batch of pasta so much that I bought another round of ingredients with the intention of making more, only to realize I was out of linguine. Undaunted, I found some couscous in the cabinet and went another direction that’s probably a little more health-conscious. Consider this one a two-fer.

For the asparagus:
1 bunch asparagus, washed and trimmed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. water

For the couscous:
1/2 lb. mushrooms, washed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 c. whole-wheat couscous
1 1/2 c. water
Butter to taste (optional)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used black walnuts, but pecans or English walnuts would work as well)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange asparagus in one end of a large baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and water and sprinkle with garlic.

Arrange mushrooms in the other end of the dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic as you did the asparagus.

Oven-roast until the asparagus is bright green and tender and the mushrooms turn dark and start to shrink a little. This will take about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

While vegetables cook, combine couscous and water in a microwavable dish with a lid and nuke, covered, for 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes and fluff with a fork. Toss with butter, chopped nuts and roasted mushrooms and serve with asparagus.

Makes about three big servings.


P.S.: Here are days 19-24 of my Lent project. I figured you were tired of T-shirt pictures, so I just stacked them all up in a single shot.

Most of these don't fit any more. Also in the stack: a pair of souvenir singlets I bought with good intentions and promptly forgot I owned.
Most of these don’t fit any more. Also in the stack: a pair of souvenir singlets I bought with good intentions and promptly forgot I owned.

Belated Vegetarian Friday: Seven-layer nachos

As usual, my week got away from me. I’ll do an Eco-Saturday and a catching-up-on-Lent post shortly. In the meantime, here’s a good recipe for a quick meal on a busy night. Not exactly health food, but probably better for you than the version you’d get at a Mexican restaurant, and it comes together easily. I’ve listed amounts only for the refried beans (which double easily if necessary) because the amounts depend entirely on your personal taste and the number of people you need to feed.

2 tbsp. olive oil
Small onion, diced
Can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
Can of tomatoes
Taco seasoning
Tortilla chips
Shredded cheddar or colby-Jack cheese
Lime juice
Sour cream
Sliced black olives

Saute the onion in olive oil until clear. Add pinto beans, tomatoes and taco seasoning to taste and mash together. Cook, stirring frequently, until thick and bubbly.

Mash avocado. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of salsa, a tablespoon or two of lime juice and a healthy sprinkling of taco seasoning.

Layer tortilla chips, a scoop of beans, and a handful of cheese on plates. Microwave each plate 20 seconds to warm the chips and melt the cheese. Top each plate with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and olives and serve immediately.

If you want an extra protein boost, stir some taco seasoning into a handful of frozen TVP, microwave until hot and layer between the beans and cheese.

Not quite the same as Del Taco’s “Macho Nachos,” but probably as close as I’m going to get between now and my next vacation.


Vegetarian Friday: Mushroom-asparagus pasta

My mother-in-law makes a terrific pasta dish with mushrooms and asparagus. Her version contains ham and is a bit more labor-intensive than this vegetarian variant I pulled together one night while trying to use up some asparagus I picked up at the farmer’s market.

1/2 box linguine
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut into bite-sized chunks
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 stick butter, cut into pats
1/4 c. heavy cream
Half a cup or so of grated Parmesan

Prepare linguine according to package instructions, drain and toss with butter to keep the noodles from sticking together. While pasta cooks, put asparagus and about a tablespoon of water in a casserole dish, cover and nuke for five minutes or so. Ideally, you’ll end up with asparagus that’s bright green, crisp-tender, and not shriveled up. If you don’t live on my in-laws’ farm, you’ll probably have to use some tired old asparagus that’s been sitting around the grocery store for a few days, as I obviously did — hence the slight shriveling you see in the picture. It still tastes OK, but the fresher asparagus is, the better.

Saute mushrooms in olive oil and toss pasta with mushrooms, asparagus, cream and Parmesan.

Makes four reasonable or two ginormous servings.


P.S.: Here are days 8 through 10 of my Lent project:

Theoretically a space-saving way to burn calories without leaving the house or spending a lot of money on a stationary bike. In practice, this doesn't work well on hardwood floors, so we ended up buying a real exercise bike and assembling it in the basement -- but this might be just what someone living in a carpeted apartment needs. Onto the giveaway pile it goes.
Day 8: Theoretically a space-saving way to burn calories without leaving the house or spending a lot of money on a stationary bike. In practice, this doesn’t work well on hardwood floors, so we ended up buying a real exercise bike and assembling it in the basement — but this might be just what someone living in a carpeted apartment needs. Onto the giveaway pile it goes.
I think the author of this book wants to be Jenny Lawson when she grows up. I don't think she's going to succeed. Maybe somebody else will think she's funny.
Day 9: I think the author of this book wants to be Jenny Lawson when she grows up. I don’t think she’s going to succeed. Maybe somebody else will think she’s funny.
I really like this fruit basket and its built-in hook for keeping bananas unblemished, but it took up a lot of real estate on my counter, so I replaced it with a set of hanging baskets a couple of weeks ago. It'll look great on somebody's kitchen island, though.
Day 10: I really like this fruit basket and its built-in hook for keeping bananas unblemished, but it took up a lot of real estate on my counter, so I replaced it with a set of hanging baskets a couple of weeks ago. It’ll look great on somebody’s kitchen island, though.

Vegetarian Friday: Pesto pasta

From the “faster and better than McDonald’s” files: I swiped this idea from the late, great Piatto in Tulsa.

This isn’t as nice as Piatto’s version, because they made their pesto from scratch, but as usual, I’m giving you the 15-minute version. If somebody will remind me in June, when I’ve got fresh basil taking over the garden, I’ll make a batch of homemade pesto and post the recipe. In the meantime, the kind you buy in little jars at the grocery store will work just fine for a quick dinner that still tastes better and costs less than whatever you were going to buy from a drive-through.

Box of linguine
Small jar of pesto
Carton of gorgonzola or bleu cheese crumbles

Cook linguine according to package instructions. The big challenge with linguine is to stop cooking it before it turns to mush. I find al dente linguine a bit tricky, as it tends to cook very slowly compared to other pastas, but the line between “not done” and “overcooked” comes down to a matter of seconds, and there’s so much variance from one brand to the next, you really have to start tasting it about 8 minutes in and keep tasting every 30 to 60 seconds until it’s done. (I’ll own the possibility that this is simply lack of experience on my part; if I made linguine as often as I make capellini, I’d probably find it as easy to work with.)

Drain pasta, toss with pesto immediately, divide into bowls and top with cheese. Makes four hefty servings.

In unrelated news, here’s Day 3 of my giving-things-up-for-Lent project:


I love the Blue Swallow. And I love most of my Blue Swallow-themed merchandise. But this particular shirt — which I got several years ago — doesn’t fit quite right, so into the giveaway bin it goes. (I’m always happy to release Swallow merchandise into the world so other people can see it and find out about the coolest motel on Route 66.)


Vegetarian Friday: Caprese salad

I’m not sure this even deserves to be called a recipe, but it’s a good, high-protein meal you can throw together in under ten minutes.

Carton of cherry or grape tomatoes
Package of fresh mozzarella, drained
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh basil, snipped into little shreds (if fresh isn’t available, just skip it; dried doesn’t taste right)

If you can find ciliegine — the bite-sized mozzarella balls packed in water — you can save a step here, but if you can’t, just buy a log of fresh mozzarella and cut it into chunks, as I did in the picture above. The important thing is to make sure you buy fresh mozzarella from the fancy-schmancy cheese display and not the drier stuff that comes in vacuum-sealed bags in the dairy case.

Toss the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil (if using; I forgot to bring in a plant before winter and was too cheap to buy fresh basil at the store) in a big bowl, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and serve.

Vegetarian Friday: Lasagna

If you’re trying to go vegetarian, and some concern troll in your immediate circle of friends or family starts fretting that you’ve doomed yourself to a life of culinary asceticism, a plate of lasagna is really the most gracious way to shut him up.

Where I come from, a pan of lasagna is also widely considered the most gracious way to extend condolences after someone dies, celebrate the birth of a child or help a family in the wake of an emergency.

My version involves plenty of mushrooms, onions and mozzarella and is both grownup and teenager-approved. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Red Fork Hippie recipe if it didn’t lend itself well to improvisation, and this one certainly does.

The basic ingredients:
1 box lasagna (do NOT get the no-boil kind)
2-3 cups of your favorite marinara sauce*
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
2 small onions, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
2 big bags shredded mozzarella
Grated Parmesan

Things you can add if you want:
Any kind of white cheese you like (ricotta, Asiago and Romano are traditional, but if you’re feeling decadent, swap the ricotta for manouri or grate a little myzithra over the finished product)
Fresh or sun-dried tomatoes
Sliced zucchini

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Boil noodles according to package instructions. While the pasta cooks, saute the mushrooms and onions in olive oil until the onions are clear. Add garlic, saute for 30 seconds, and remove from heat.

Layer ingredients in the pan as follows: pasta on the bottom, then vegetables, then sauce, then cheese. Repeat until you reach the top of the pan.

Cover baking dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (double that if you’re using no-boil noodles). Remove foil and bake another five minutes to brown the edges if you like. Serve with an I-told-you-so smirk and plenty of grated Parmesan.


*I usually cheat and use the store brand from Viviano’s Grocery in St. Louis, because it’s as good as anything I’m likely to make, but there are plenty of good marinara recipes online. Just don’t trust anything too complicated. Marinara sauce should be a simple affair, with no more than a handful of ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, basil, oregano and a little red wine and olive oil. (Too much time in New Mexico has taught me the merits of red chile wine, which is an excellent base for arrabbiata sauce if you like a bit more kick.)

Vegetarian Friday: Deviled eggs

Everybody has a deviled-egg recipe, but let’s be honest: Most of them suck. That’s unfortunate, because deviled eggs are a good, cheap protein source that can be made ahead of time and paired with salad for a quick, low-carb meal.

If a deviled-egg recipe calls for mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, throw it out. Seriously. That is a horrible thing to do to perfectly good eggs.

Here’s a very basic deviled-egg recipe that lends itself well to experimentation.

Six boiled eggs
1/2 stick butter, softened
1/2 c. mustard
Fresh chives (optional)

Peel the boiled eggs*, slice them in half lengthwise, and dump all the yolks into a bowl. Add the butter and mustard to the bowl and mash everything up together with a fork. At this point, you can add a few snipped, fresh chives, a dash of hot sauce, or whatever else floats your boat. My parents are fond of adding a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce to a batch of deviled-egg filling, but Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, which obviously aren’t vegetarian. I’ve seen people put weird stuff like capers or olives or pimentos in their deviled eggs, but I can’t vouch for any of those additions.

If an egg doesn’t peel right, or the white breaks apart instead of making a neat little bowl to hold the filling, don’t panic; there is no shame in using the yolk and feeding the white to your dog. You’ll just end up with a higher proportion of filling to white in the finished eggs, which can only improve them.

Spoon the filling into the whites (or pipe it in with a pastry bag and a big star tip if you’re fancy), garnish with a sprinkling of paprika and maybe a few snipped chives or some fresh parsley, and serve.


*Protip: Fresh eggs are hard to peel, as are overcooked eggs. For boiling, use eggs that have been sitting around in the refrigerator for several days, and don’t overcook them. The trick is to shut off the burner and cover the pan as soon as the water comes to a full boil, then take it off the heat and let it sit for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, drain off the hot water, run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking, and let them cool to room temperature before you try to peel them.

Vegetarian Friday: Mushroom stroganoff

As a child, I was an insufferably picky eater, but one of the few things Mom could get me to eat reliably was beef stroganoff.

When I went vegetarian in college, I was delighted to find packets of instant mushroom stroganoff on sale for $1 apiece. It wasn’t quite as cheap as ramen, but it tasted better, especially if I doctored it up with a dollop of sour-cream dip and a squirt or two of mustard.

Prefabbed pasta mixes laced with MSG and God knows what else were fine 20 years ago, but these days, I really appreciate being able to pronounce everything that’s on my plate, and homemade mushroom stroganoff goes together so quickly and easily, there’s really no need to buy the prepackaged kind.

3 c. egg noodles
3 tbsp. butter
1/2 medium or 1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
Ground thyme
1 c. sour cream
1/4 c. mustard
2 tbsp. ketchup

Bring water to boil. While it heats, melt butter in a big skillet and saute onion until clear.

Mmmm ... mushrooms.
Mmmm … mushrooms.

Add noodles to water and simmer 7-10 minutes until al dente (tender but not mushy). While noodles cook, add mushrooms to skillet and saute until they release liquid and start to brown.

Add thyme and paprika.
Add thyme and paprika.

Sprinkle mushroom-onion mixture with thyme and paprika to taste. Add sour cream, mustard and ketchup, stir well, and reduce heat to medium. (Feel free to taste as you go and make adjustments to suit your own preferences. I frequently leave out the ketchup altogether, but my mom always put some in when I was a kid. I like it either way.)

That poor old wooden spatula has stirred too many batches of stroganoff to count in the last 20 years.
That poor old wooden spatula has stirred too many batches of stroganoff to count in the last 20 years.

Drain noodles, add to skillet, and stir to coat with sauce. Serves 4.

This is one of the best vegetarian meals I've had.
This is one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve had.

I’m not sure how well this would veganize; mushrooms sauteed in olive oil would work fine, and you can get vegan sour cream that tastes pretty convincing, but I’ve never used it in a sauce and can’t remember how well it melts. If somebody wants to experiment and report back, I’ll be happy to share your findings.

If you want extra protein, you can nuke a couple of Boca burgers, cut ’em into bite-sized chunks and add ’em to the sauce, which I used to do in college — and omnivores, you won’t go wrong if you cut up a couple of breakfast steaks and brown them in the olive oil while the onions are cooking.



Vegetarian Friday: Easy veggie frittata

This frittata goes together quickly and is a great way to use up leftover vegetables. This is more a method than a recipe, as you can substitute any kind of cheese and any kind of vegetable you want and adjust your spices accordingly. If I were making it again, I’d leave out the squash in favor of mushrooms — which have a more assertive texture after an hour in the oven — and add some green chile. Mozzarella and pizza toppings would give it an Italian flavor.

About 3 cups of chopped vegetables (I used onions, celery, peppers, squash, tomatoes and cilantro)
Olive oil
Handful of any kind of cheese, shredded or crumbled (I used a Mexican blend I had on hand and added some homemade taco seasoning to give it a Southwestern spin)
Four eggs, beaten
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Coat an 8-inch cast-iron skillet or pie pan with cooking spray and set it aside. (I recently bought one of those sprayer bottles that turns olive oil into an aerosol, and it worked very well and didn’t impart any of the weird flavors you can get with commercial cooking sprays.)

Sauteed vegetables are the centerpiece of this easy, high-protein meal.
Sauteed vegetables are the centerpiece of this easy, high-protein meal.

Saute vegetables in olive oil in a wok or large skillet until onions are clear, adding delicate vegetables last. If you’re using any kind of spices, add them now.

Layer the cheese with the vegetables so it doesn't dry out or scorch on top.
Layer the cheese with the vegetables so it doesn’t dry out or scorch on top.

Put half the vegetables in the 8-inch skillet. Sprinkle cheese over vegetables. Cover cheese with remaining vegetables. Carefully pour eggs over vegetables and cheese and bake at 400 degrees until the top starts to brown and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean (about an hour).

Pour eggs over vegetables and bake.
Pour eggs over vegetables and bake.

Frittatas and quiches don’t microwave very well, but they reheat well in the oven for a low-effort meal on a weeknight.