I’m an ambivalent carnivore. These days I do eat chicken, pork, seafood, and okay, the occasional incredible Brooks hamburger, but I’ve seen Food, Inc., read Michael Pollan, and understood the disconnect between the neatly-packaged chicken breasts in the grocery store and the crowded factories from which they come. I was a conscientious objector for several years in high school and college, but my vegetarianism ended when my family came to visit and took me to a nice restaurant in Newport, RI. I ordered filet mignon and haven’t totally given it up since.
Despite my inability to commit to vegetarianism, meat isn’t something I crave. When the new federal dietary guidelines recently came out, I started to think about ways I could make my diet fresher, with less preservatives and salt, and just generally healthier. The answer was clear and simple: eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat more things that come from the ground and less things that come from the can...
I embarked on my menu planning with excitement, and the results were so good that my boyfriend barely noticed the lack of meat in our diet. There were lots of salads, and a fresh tomato soup from Ina Garten that I quickly realized shouldn’t be made out of season. I have been making a chickpea and spinach curry for years, and it’s always a hit, even with brown rice rather than the basmati I usually use.
Beyond the usual, I struggled with how to add more vegetables to meals without sacrificing taste and how to create satiating dinners without adding tons of carbs. I read the health magazines, and I know all the tricks: add cauliflower to mashed potatoes, sneak spinach into tomato sauce, have fruit for snacks. I improvised and used the tricks where I could.
For breakfast, I baked this incredible tomato tart with a brown rice crust that was absolutely gorgeous, and I put every single vegetable I could think of into a ratatouille that I pared with whole wheat pasta. The most ambitious dish I made was a vegetable Biriyani, with two layers of brown rice separated by heaps of zucchini, raisins, chickpeas, eggplants and other vegetables sauteed in rich, smokey spices.
The best part of the week was perhaps when the teenage boy ringing me up at the grocery store looked over the eggplants, onions, spinach, tomatoes, apples and various other produce in my basket and asked, “Are you a vegetarian or something?”
The truth is, I didn’t miss meat at all. I didn’t feel deprived or hungry or without choices, as I might have in my college dining hall. No, my house isn’t completely meat free these days, but I realize that fruits and vegetables offer just as much opportunity for healthy, hearty meals without the hard to pronounce ingredients in packaged foods. I’m still experimenting, so let me know if you have some recipes or tips.