Vegetarian 101

Posted by Ellen Dashwood

I describe myself as an enthusiast omnivore. I love eating meat and seafood, but I also love trying new things, and experimenting with vegetarian dishes and meat alternatives. I have enlisted my lovely sister's culinary prowess to write this introductory article to vegetarian cooking - Lauren.

Having chosen a vegetarian diet for over three years, I was asked to write a few words about cooking without meat. Vegetarian cooking is an important skill for a number of reasons, whether in attempt to eat less meat oneself, or to please a friend who doesn't eat meat. Among many advantages, meatless meals are easier for the body to digest and are healthier for the planet since fewer resources are consumed in plant production than in meat production. Depending on the individual, vegetarian cooking can also include the omission of animal products such as eggs, milk, and cheese.

Many people wonder how to even begin making a meal with so few options. On the contrary! The options are endless; there are so many fabulous types of beans, nuts, seeds and tofu to discover out there. And the cooking is not as hard as it might appear. The key to making flavorful and relatively easy veggie meals is to find substitutes for the meat so that a typical "meat and potato dinner" doesn't become one consisting only of potatoes and green beans. It must be said that this cannot be done by simply cutting a slab of tofu to replace the meat. The right ingredients and recipes must be on hand, along with a healthy spirit of adventure. Essential items to add to the grocery list include: all types of beans (personal favorites include garbanzo and black beans), lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, local vegetables, and a variety of spices.

When cooking with beans, canned beans are the most convenient but must be rinsed well. Lentils may be bought dried as they cook relatively quickly, but also come canned. To yield the most flavor and nutritional value, buy vegetables that are in season and have been grown locally. From here, begin to experiment with recipes. Add chick peas or grated tofu to your favorite pasta sauce. Sprinkle sunflower seeds over a salad. Make a soup with lentils and brown rice. Before you know it, you'll be cooking delicious vegetarian meals in a snap.

This Lentil and Nut Loaf really celebrates vegetarian cookery. It combines nuts, lentils and veggies with a hint of curry. It's wonderful on it's own, served with a salad for a mid-week meal, or dressed up and served as part of a feast. This loaf is a great and essential place to start your travels in vegetarian wizardry.