Tuesday, January 18, 2011

a reluctant vegetarian

beans for lunch
tho' i'm not much of a maker of new year's resolutions, nearly every january, i am inspired to embark on some new healthy eating campaign. i think it's the overload of sweets and heavy, fatty food from christmas that does it. often, what i think is "we're going to eat a lot less meat around here." and this year was no different. between christmas & new year's, i went online and changed our weekly organic box delivery to the vegetarian box. it comes with enough non-meat goodies and recipes for four meals. it's a good mix of fresh vegetables and beans or pasta and tofu or goat cheese. it's different every week and they're very good at providing inspiration with new ingredients (for example, something called a "silver beet" (directly translated) that is a winter green of sorts) and staples (potatoes, carrots).

i don't want to be a vegetarian per se, but i would like us to eat less meat and thereby enjoy the meat we do eat that much more. i'd rather buy the occasional organic chicken for a sunday roast (and afterwards, a good pot of chicken stock) than eat manufactured, water plumped chicken breasts from chickens that led a dismal life, three times a week. it's a factor too that the production of animals for human consumption is, in general, one of the hardest things on our environment and one of the biggest contributors to climate change. so, we try to eat less meat.

but having grown up in the midwest, the urge is strong to think that no meal is complete without meat. i can stir up a pot of beans or a veggie soup or a stir-fry, but nearly every time, at the last minute, i think, "hmm, some bacon would be quite nice in this." even the beautiful marriage of flavors that is potato leek soup often gets a bit of crumbly bacon on top when served around here. it's hard to fight your upbringing.

however, i recently did fight it and with great results. so great, in fact, that i utterly failed to photograph it. i made a truly vegetarian lasagne. no last minute bacon or any other kind of meat! and it was delicious!

veggie lasagne

3 carrots, grated
2 parsnips, grated
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, diced
1 zucchini, grated
3 leeks, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or pressed - i've grown to loathe my garlic press, because it's so hard to clean, so i just bash the garlic with the side of my knife and chop it up as best i can)
1 eggplant, thinly sliced, salted, left to stand for 5-10 minutes, then rinsed
1 fennel, thinly sliced
1 jar/can crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 veggie bouillon cube
chili flakes
whatever herbs you have around (my thyme is still growing strong, even tho' it was covered with snow for a month)
bread crumbs for topping
lasagne pasta (if you use fresh, you don't need to boil it first, if you use the dried kind, do give a boil to al dente)

1 recipe of bechamel sauce (i'm linking you because i always make husband make this and haven't got the slightest idea how it's done.)  i only know that to that recipe, i would add a cup of grated cheese (we use prima donna - an aged gouda) and a good grating of fresh nutmeg, because that's what husband does.

sauté off your leeks and garlic in a good glug of olive oil. add the grated carrots, zucchini and parsnips. after they begin to soften, add the chopped tomato and the can of tomatoes, plus bay leaf, bouillon cube and herbs. salt and pepper to taste. if it doesn't look liquidy enough, you can add a bit of water - i usually rinse the can and just toss that half a can of water in with all of the goodness that remains on the can. simmer the sauce while you thinly slice the eggplant and fennel. use a mandolin if you dare (after my recent adventures in felting, which resulted in quite a lot of needle-related injuries, i stayed away from the mandolin this time).

next, layer your fresh lasagne pasta in the bottom of a pan you've buttered or given a coat of olive oil, on top of that, a layer of thinly-sliced eggplant and about half of your sliced fennel. spoon the tomato sauce over it, then another layer of pasta, eggplant, fennel and tomato sauce. ladle the creamy, cheesy bechamel over the top of it, using a knife to encourage it to sink down into all of the nooks and crannies. top with bread crumbs and bake in a 180°C/350°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour - until it's simmering and bubbling and you simply can't stand to wait for it any longer.

serve it with a simple salad. it tastes even better the next day, but you may not have leftovers.

* * *

i'm often home alone when it comes to lunchtime (such is often the fate of the independent entrepreneur). i find it easier to do a vegetarian meal for myself when my family's not around. (i wonder why that is?) but just because you're alone, doesn't mean you can't make yourself something healthy and delicious.

beans for lunch: a solitary lunch

400 grams of dried beans (pinto, black, white, red - whatever you have on hand)
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 parsnip, cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
10-12 whole peppercorns
1 handful of fresh (or dried) thyme
1 small onion
3 cloves of garlic
salt & pepper

1 avocado
1 small red onion, diced

soak the beans overnight and discard the liquid, rinsing the beans. place them in a pot with fresh liquid and throw in the rest of the ingredients. cook them until the beans are tender (45 minutes - 1 hour).

dice your onion and avocado and combine it with a few spoonsful of the cooked beans. you can either include the carrots and parsnips as you ladle the beans into your bowl, or not, depending on your taste. i used a slotted spoon to avoid the "soup" the beans are in, as i wanted a hearty lunch, not a soup, but you could leave the liquid there and have more of a soup.  there will be plenty of beans left over for another use...a salad, or for lunch tomorrow, or to be mashed into refried beans for tacos later with the family.

you could put on a dollop of yogurt or creme fraiche and eat it greedily for your solitary lunch. and it would be even easier and quicker with a can of beans.

* * *

for more goodness, check out this new food blog by mari, she's got a couple of vegetarian recipes wherein she (mostly) resists adding bacon.

and some properly vegan recipes that inspire here.


Elizabeth said...

Thanks for you veggie lasagna. Love lasagna but always make it with cheese. Since husband isn't allowed to eat cheese any longer I had to leave my lasagna behind. Until now!!!!

Bee said...

I LOVE a bowl of spicy pinto beans . . . what Texan doesn't? I like the way you've greened them up with chunks of avocado.
Black bean soup, with liberal amounts of chopped carrot, celery and onion, is also a favorite around here.

The veggie lasagne sounds delish, J. I will definitely give that a go in the next week or so.

But my favorite veggie lunch? A baked potato smothered in sauteed mushrooms (garlic, butter and thyme).

Anne said...

Like Elizabeth, I am intrigued by the cheeseless lasagna! And I'm with Bee--though I might not be a Texan, beans are a favorite of mine.

It's funny how one's eating habits evolve, isn't it? In high school I was determined to be vegetarian, but frankly, I didn't care for most vegetables. That phase passed, and I went back to being omnivorous, but fast-forward to recent years and I've gradually been eating less meat again. It's only partially a conscious effort; most of the time I just don't feel like eating meat. Strange, but true.

For what it's worth, I think there's a world of difference between using a small amount of meat to add flavor to a dish (the bacon garnish, or cooking some greens in a bit of bacon fat) and regularly sitting down to a meal centered around a steak.

Anne said...

Aaaand I've just realized that a post I thought was from this year is from last year. Apologies if the blast from the past in your inbox is confusing!


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