(pictured above: Retro Potato, 1950's vintage ad)
"Ugh! After-school playdate today! Tommy, Sally and Wendy are fine....it's that little Marsha who is a vegetarian. I guess she won't eat my spicy mustard turkey wraps. Such a pain! What does her mom feed her anyways!"-Typical mom, Anytown USA
"Table number eight has requested no chicken on the Mandarin Chicken Salad. Just more veggies she said. What a pain." -Typical chef, Anytown, USA
"Mom, I'm a vegetarian now. I can't eat that hot dog!" -Little Sally experimenting with a veg lifestyle.
Her mom's response: "Don't you dare go vegetarian! What ARE you going to eat then?????"
....There is a secret angst among moms and chefs everywhere who do not entertain a vegetarian lifestyle themselves...
"VEGETARIANS ARE A PAIN!"
...and for the most part, I agree with their situation. Really.
Read on for more on the controversy...
As a vegetarian and vegan for most of my life, I have become an EXPERT at being able to eat just about anywhere: a buffet-happy Royal Caribbean cruise, Le Bernardin's tasting menu, a BBQ joint, any Mexican restaurant, PARIS (and that was tricky!), polish relatives Thanksgiving dinner, a typical Pittsburgh wedding with only one meal option (chicken), Morimoto and all sushi, trekking across parts of Europe and even fast food such a In and Out Burger (one cheeseburger--hold the cheese and burger please!)
..but for the average mom or chef its not so easy. I am too often asked,
"WHAT DO YOU EAT ANYWAYS???"
or more importantly to the frustrated... "WHAT DO I COOK YOU ANYWAYS?!"
I can only envision the ignorant minded picturing me scarfing down plates and plates of veggies and bread. Maybe a rice pilaf on the side, or even a bowl of beans or lentils. Trust me. I eat much better than that. In fact I always CRINGE at the option of a steamed veggie plate at a 'nice restaurant'. To me, to have that as the vegetarian option is simply tremendously ignorant--and frames the chef in a very poor and passe light.
So what's my secret hint to the frustrated chefs and moms out there?
The secret to successful vegetarian cooking: CURIOSITY AND CREATIVITY.
Our world has eaten MEAT and FISH for millions of years....and thus these tried-and-true main course dishes have evolved quite thoroughly. Everyone knows how to make a yummy hamburger, tuna fish salad or a delicious turkey bacon sandwich. These are time-tested American classics that most eaters admire and praise. But a good veggie burger??? That's tricky. I delicious tofu-pesto sandwich? Where would I begin?....
CREATIVITY AND CURIOSITY
Here in New York City, there are over a dozen very excellent vegan restaurants. And hundreds of amazing vegetarian restaurants. The chefs have learned to get CREATIVE with ingredients like SEITAN, QUINOA, BROWN RICE, TOFU, TEMPEH, SPROUTED GRAINS, BUTTERNUT SQUASH, CHICKPEAS, BASIL, HERBS, SPICES, EXOTIC VEGGIES and FRUIT and more....
Here are a few of my favorite vegan entrees from NYC places:
Cauliflower Risotto, Counter
Butternut Squash Risotto, GoBo
Tofu-Pesto Sandwich, Caravan of Dreams
Seitan Skewers with Spicy Mustards, GoBo
Salt and Pepper mushrooms, GoBo
Port Wine Seitan, Blossom
Porcini Crusted Tempeh, Candle 79
The Veggie Burger, Cafeteria
...Now after reading these entrees I can understand your frustration as a mom or chef. But what do I feed the little veggie kid at the after-school playdate? Or the vegan relative at a holiday dinner. And where do I get some seitan in Middletown, Kansas.....?!
..And this is where CREATIVITY must meet CURIOSITY!! Great chefs and even moms, should be curious to experiment with new and different types of foods. There is a huge variety of proteins and grains that most people do not know how to prepare. You can buy seitan and tempeh at most grocery stores now a days...and google online "tempeh recipe" to find a plethora of ideas.
I can only hope that in proper time, our society will evolve to include vegetarian options in mainstream American cuisine.
IT TAKES TIME (BUT ITS WORTH IT)
Yes...it takes extra work and energy to try new menu ideas. And a lot of moms and chefs simply don't have time! But its worth taking a try. In one Saturday afternoon you can experiment with some amazing seitan, tofu, lentil, tempeh and exotic veggie food dishes. And soon those seitan, tempeh 'bacon' wraps will become just as easy as those cheese-hot dogs...
HEALTH TRUMPS ALL, OR SO I HOPE
LASTLY....the most important point to consider is that a lot of the veggie food options are light years ahead of traditional meat-fare when it comes to nutrition. Meat contains a lot of chemicals and preservative--and heart clogging SATURATED FAT. Switching over to tofu-dogs form traditional dogs would be a huge improvement on anyones health.
HOPEFULLY THIS WILL CONVINCE YOU TO TRY A TASTE-TEST......
YVES VEGGIE DOGS
protein: 9 g
fat: 0.5g (no saturated fat)
BALLPARK HOT DOG
fat: 16g, 7g saturated fat!!!!!