Meatless Meals Made Simple

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Photo courtesy of Renato Pequito

People who have to cook a meatless or vegetarian meal are often stumped about how to get past the mentality of 'meat and three veg minus the meat'.

Let me make some suggestions:

Ditch the idea of a Western style dish. There are tasty vege sausages, vege burgers, lentil loaves (instead of meatloaf), and meat substitute products such as TVP (use instead of mince) and various mock meats usually gluten based, BUT...

The real variety of meatless meals

is in ethnic cuisines that have a long history of meatless dishes already. Oriental, Indian, Mexican etc. Go cornicopia. 


Each ethnic cuisine has a couple of signature carb bases, usually grains, but I'm counting potato here too. What starch/grain do I feel in the mood for? Potato, rice, pasta, polenta, bread, noodles, barley, wheat, oats, millet, quinoa....noodles, noodles, noodles (ok I have a mild obsession).

Choosing the base usually narrows down the cuisine options. Pasta lends itself easily to an Italian dish, noodles to an Asian dish etc. What cuisine am I in the mood to eat? 

Do I want spicy or creamy or soupy or dry? Baked, fried, stirfried, stewed etc. Answering this sometimes helps narrow down the options.

What do I have in the fridge already? Failing that, what is in season? Handy tip, what's in season is highest in nutrients and is usually the cheapest to buy. Can't go wrong with that combination!

Then it's a matter of putting it all together. Hmm, a potato based dish from South America using capsicums and tomatoes. Hmm, a noodle based dish with lots of bamboo shoots probably means Chinese something. Hmm, rice with a creamyness probably lends itself to an Indian korma which is great to use up all those odds and ends.

And then go searching for inspiration. There are so many recipe sites online it's not funny.
Here's an idea on how to search; modify these terms to suit and head for Google:
cuisine recipe grain other identified ingredients (and sometimes putting vegetarian on the end helps)
For instance:
Chinese recipe noodles bamboo shoots
Chinese recipe noodles bamboo shoots vegetarian

Depending on the cuisine, if you want to use a substitute for meat in a recipe you've found, either tofu (Oriental) or beans (South American, Indian) will work very very well. Sometimes an appropriate cheese is great (Greek, Italian, Indian). I think because the meat is not the centre of many of these dishes, it is a lot easier to replace or remove it than in Western style I-have-a-hunk-of-steak-and-some-unidentified-greenery-on-the-side meals.

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