Friday, February 1, 2013

Vegetarian Week #1

When I laid out my cooking goals for 2013 (which you can read all about here), going vegetarian for one week per month was the one that excited me the most. I would get to eat healthier, be a friend to animals and the environment, and cook new things. What's not to like about any of that? I still have no problem with eating meat and I enjoy doing so. For instance, life would not be complete without the incredible pork cheeks I had at Citizen Public House two weekends ago. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about them.

Last Saturday I realized that the month was almost over and that I needed to get a move on with my vegetarian goal for January. As I mentioned in my cooking goals post, the great Martha Stewart and her team at Martha Stewart Living get put out the vegetarian cookbook to end all vegetarian cookbooks; Meatless. My plan was to go to Barnes & Noble and leaf through it. If I thought I would make at least fifteen of the recipes I would buy it. My mind was made up by about page 10. This book is gorgeous! Anything and everything you could ever want to make without meat is in here. And there is a photo for every recipe! Believe it or not, not every cookbook does that. So here is my new bible for one week per month for the next year.

Now on to the meal planning. My breakfasts are almost always vegetarian so that wasn't an issue. My default lunch is usually a salad with chicken or tuna so I knew I had to come up with something else. I was attracted to the grain salads because I've made them before and I definitely like them. These also helped make that decision:

Is there anything Trader Joe's can't do? They could only be better if they were covered in chocolate. I'm kidding. Sort of. Cooking grains like barley and farro can be a pain because they take so long. Enter Trader Joe's 10 minute grains. Time saving, yummy, and convenient. I love you, Joe.

I ended up making Martha's Farro, Chickpea, and Feta Salad for my lunches this week. Here's the recipe:

2 1/2 cups cooked farro (the Trader Joe's bag makes about 3 cups cooked)
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Once the farro is cooked, toss it with the lemon juice while it's still warm. Combine with the chickpeas in a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and olive oil, toss to combine and let it come to room temperature. Stir in the feta, tomatoes, mint, and onion. Season with salt and refrigerate until you're ready to serve. This makes 4 servings and comes with an impressive 17.41 grams of protein per serving.

This is super yummy and you get quite a bit in one serving. The farro and the chickpeas are chewy so they feel substantial. And there's really no way to go wrong with feta cheese. I eat it with a spoon sometimes. That was a secret up until now. I ate this with a whole grain tortilla and it was a perfect lunch! I was just as full and satisfied as I am with a salad containing chicken or tuna.

For dinner I knew I wanted to make a soup. I'm a soup junkie and I already had a lot of the ingredients for Martha's Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew on hand so my mind was made up. This has great Indian flavors so if you're a fan of curry, then you will love this.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
2 cups dried lentils
1 lb sweet potatoes cut in 1/2 inch dice
9 ounces fresh green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Plain yogurt, for serving

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and curry powder and cook, stirring, about one minute. Add 7 cups of water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and continue to cook, covered until lentils and sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in green beans and tomatoes with juice. Cook until warmed through, 2-4 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Add the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves.

This is completely delicious! I think that calling it a stew is a little inaccurate, though. It's not thick like a stew as it has a little too much liquid. I think it's possible to leave out up to a cup of water that the recipe calls for if you'd like a more stewy consistency. I think you could easily substitute vegetable broth for the water. This is also very heavy on the curry flavor so if you're not crazy about curry then only go for a teaspoon. I happen to love curry so I added the full amount. I loved finishing this off with yogurt too. It adds a creaminess and a tangyness. Two thumbs up for this one! And for the 19 grams of protein per serving (it makes 6).

I'm pretty happy that my first week of vegetarianism was successful. I was just as full as I am with meat dishes and I definitely didn't miss it. How encouraging! I can't wait to cook my way through Meatless and to finally tackle the dreaded alternative proteins. Next month: tofu!

Do you have any vegetarian recipes you think I should try?

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