Vegetarian Cooking: Recipes for Meatless Meals

Vegetarian cooking: Recipes for meat free meals, including spinach feta quesadillas, eggplant parmesan with polenta, vegetable curry with couscous, Southwestern beans and rice salad and nondairy banana cake.

| February/March 1996


Spinach-feta quesadillas


MOTHER's Kitchen: Whether you're an eco-soldier or your belt's just a bit snug, a break from meat cooking vegetarian style might make you feel better. 

Vegetarian Cooking: Recipes for Meatless Meals

The first tune I converted to a vegetarian lifestyle was in the early '70s, during my magical-mystery-tour phase. While others at that time may have embraced vegetarianism out of their concern for our furry friends, I didn't really care if Wilber ended up as a package of bacon. My self-centered quest was simply to feel and look better. This was an era of vegetarian dining in which tofu was king and alfalfa sprouts crowned everything. Since fat hadn't as yet become evil, most meatless dishes could be found somewhere under a mound of melted cheese. And a vegetarian over age 30? Extremely rare.

But times have changed. I'm more or less a vegetarian again, only now I'm on a middle-age-mystery tour ... and finding out that I'm not alone. According to Vegetarian Times magazine, there are more than 12 million vegetarians in the United States. So what's the definition of a vegetarian in this day and age anyway? Many folks calling themselves vegetarians are really semi-vegetarians, eating poultry or fish occasionally. (I fall into this category.) Then there are the ovo-lacto vegetarians, who exclude meat but include dairy products and eggs in their diet. Finally, there are the vegans, who don't use any dairy products but rely solely on grains and legumes for protein sources. Should vegetarians be concerned about getting enough protein? If they're eating a variety of foods throughout the day so that they're getting some complete protein, then it shouldn't be a problem. The average American eats twice as much protein as is needed for optimal nutrition. In this case more isn't better, because excess protein is linked to cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney stress, and a shorter life span.

Aside from the money saved by cutting meat out of the grocery bill, there are other reasons that motivate folks to make the switch.

· Diet and health: For maintaining your ideal weight, low-fat eating is easier if you subtract the meat, because most of its calories are fat calories. After finally waking up to the fact that our high-fat, meat-based diets were killing us, the U.S.D.A. did away with the famous "four food groups" in favor of the new "food pyramid." (But not without a fuss from the beef and dairy industries.) The pyramid advocates a diet based mostly on plant proteins, which aren't associated with any health risks except pesticides, but that's another story. Studies have shown that cancer deaths are 40 percent less common among vegetarians than meat-eaters. Vegetarians are also at lower risk for diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and kidney stones and gallstones. A high-fiber diet can also prevent (ahem) constipation.

· Food safety: The world is full of bacteria and bacteria loves meat. One third of all food poisoning comes from poultry and red meat. At least half of the poultry that's sold contains salmonella. Also, most of our country's meat is raised with the "help" of antibiotics and growth hormones. Because of this, deaths due to penicillin and tetracycline residues in meat occur every year. Sure, food-borne pathogens do appear on vegetables, but it's not as common. (The most recent outbreak was some apple cider with traces of E. Coli that was made from apples that fell on the ground.)

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