Flex Cooking: Flexitarian Cookbooks

A new batch of cookbooks flex their chops to help you think more creatively about meal planning and learn how to use less meat to save money — and improve your health to boot.
By Tabitha Alterman
February/March 2011
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“The New Whole Grains Cookbook: Terrific Recipes Using Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Barley, and Many Other Delicious and Nutritious Grains” by Robin Asbell is one of the great new “flexitarian” cookbooks we’ve given our stamp of approval.

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Lessons from Becoming Flexitarian

I’m becoming a flexitarian (eating some meat), and learning from it.

The undisputed best way to save money and enjoy a healthier diet is to cook your own food. Beyond that, learning to plan meals strategically and use less expensive but still healthful ingredients will help you save the most money while bolstering your diet.

“Flexitarian” is a new term that refers to people who enjoy a predominantly vegetarian diet, eating much less meat than typical omnivores do. When they do eat meat, they usually opt for healthy, humanely raised selections, and may make exceptions for special occasions or when dining as someone’s guest. Flexitarians are creative in finding ways to use less meat in normally meat-centric dishes.

We applaud all kinds of “flexible” eaters who are conscious about food issues and are making wise choices for themselves and the environment as they find new ways to define complete, healthy meals.

Reducing the amount of meat you eat, opting for smaller amounts of more responsibly produced meat, and eliminating meat entirely are all great ways to start saving and make room for the addition of more whole grains, beans and veggies. If cooking with this kind of flexibility doesn’t come easily, it can help to bring in reinforcements. Consider arming yourself with some of these top-notch resources, all of which are available through MOTHER EARTH NEWS Shopping.

The Flexitarian Table by Peter Berley

Having cooked for New York City’s vegans at the popular restaurant Angelica Kitchen, as well as for his family of vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, Berley knows flexibility. His inspired recipes and if-not-this-then-that ideas will help you find ways to use less meat or more veggies at the right time to put together practical, tasty meals. The book is organized according to the seasons, which is the first step toward flexibility in the kitchen — eat what you can find. And each chapter features a fun hybrid recipe, such as Crispy Pressed Chicken/Tofu With Garlic and Mint; Smoked Salmon/Sun-Dried Tomato Croque Monsieur; Portobello Mushrooms/Steak With Bread Crumb Salsa and Salad Niçoise With Many Possibilities. But don’t worry, there’s no shortage of straight-up vegetarian recipes to make your mouth water, too. How does Creamy Root Vegetable Soup With Honey-Crisped Walnuts sound?

Almost Meatless by Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond

Learning to rely less on meat as the superstar of every meal will require at least a little “behavior modification,” as these authors will tell you. Their mission is to help you make the necessary adjustments in thinking that will free you to create satisfying meals with all kinds of other players. Their recipes don’t eschew meat entirely, but will help you learn how to use it more sparingly and build rich, meaty flavors into hearty and complete dishes. You’ll see how you can make a little meat go a long way by adding whole grains or veggies to meatballs, sloppy joes and chicken salad, for example.

Good Meat by Deborah Krasner

If you want to continue to enjoy some meat on your dinner table but still hope to save money, consider replacing meat with grains, beans and veggies several days a week and opting for healthy, humanely raised meats the rest of the time. Good Meat will teach you how to locate those better options, and get you set up with the techniques you’ll need to prepare them. Grass-fed animals produce leaner meat that can be texturally different than factory-farmed, grain-fed options, so you’ll need to learn how to deal with it properly. Plus, you may find that you can purchase different cuts, such as tongue, heart and short ribs, that are incredibly tasty but much cheaper than what you’re used to seeing at the grocery store. Krasner’s book is resource-packed and heavily technique-focused, which is what you want if you’re new at cooking sustainably raised meat, but she provides plenty of tantalizing recipes, as well, organized by animal and type of cut. Try Braised Pork Belly Glazed With Basil Honey; Marinated Lamb Shanks With Pomegranate Molasses, Tomatoes and Fresh Mint; or Roasted Rabbit With White Wine and Black Olives — yum, yum!

The New Whole Grains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

It’s easier than ever to find a wide variety of delicious, nutritious and inexpensive whole grains in your local grocery store. In The New Whole Grains Cookbook, healthy cooking guru Robin Asbell brings you more than 75 wonderful dishes featuring a buffet of super-good-for-you grains, such as farro, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, barley, millet and buckwheat. She also provides nutrition info and helps you figure out how to choose, prepare and store all those tasty grains. Her recipes run the gamut from sweet to savory and side to main dish. If Quinoa Shrimp Chicharrones or Chocolate Chunk Buckwheat Cookies sound fabulously fun to make, this book is for you.

New Complete Vegetarian by Rose Elliot

In her newest cookbook, an update to 1985’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, the UK’s bestselling vegetarian author provides something for everyone, and we’re talking everyone — this book is BIG. Having so many recipes packed into its 400 pages means you can search by what you have on hand — one of the easiest ways to reduce your outlays of cash and time. This cookbook is heavy on recipes and light on photos and other bells and whistles, but you’ll appreciate the smattering of technique-specific content. Don’t skip the overviews on making sauce and soup, tips on sprouting seeds, and the guides on cooking vegetables and preparing fruit.

The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes by Judith Finlayson

Employing a slow cooker is one of the best ways to save time in the kitchen, and it can be a great way to save money, too. The author shows you how to stretch inexpensive vegetarian ingredients into scrumptious meals, relying on the chemistry of slow cooking to produce rich, comingled flavors, such as those in Red Beans and Greens, Cheesy Fennel and Leek Bake and Slow-Cooked Polenta. An in-depth section on the basics of slow cookers will help you make the most of your equipment. You may be surprised to know that slow cookers can also turn out fabulous delicate desserts: Try the Buttermilk Lemon Sponge or Stout-Laced Chocolate Gingerbread.

How Do You Save $$$ On Meat?

Join our online conversation about flexitarian cooking to share your money-saving ideas and your own vegetarian and almost-meatless recipes and with our community.

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