Three Cheese Tortellini

The fact that I haven’t posted anything for a few days doesn’t mean I fell off the wagon. There’s just been little to report. Leah, Melinda, Courtney and I are still holding strong to Meatless August, a little over 1/3 of the way through the month. I haven’t had any meat cravings, though yesterday morning was a challenge. Nancy has been such a good sport about eating whatever veggie meals I make that I decided to cook some bacon for her breakfast. Those crispy slices, gleaming with fat, giving off the delectable odor of meat was almost too much. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that I would have had to report my failure here, I probably would have caved in.

Three cheese tortellini  

Three cheese tortellini is my new go-to favorite. I’ve tried it with broccoli tops, squash, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and spinach (thrown in at the end just to wilt it). Saute the veggies in olive oil until they are crisp-soft then spoon them over the tortellini. Drizzle a little more olive oil over everything just to give it some moisture and sprinkle on grated Parmesan cheese. Good stuff!

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Get Creative

I’m discovering that Meatless August is requiring a bit of creativity. I too often think of veggies as just something to take up part of the plate, next to the meat, which is the real dish. So vegetables don’t have to be pretty or particularly tasty or even cooked any differently than they usually are; they just have to be there. But when vegetables become the main dish, you have to start thinking of different ways to prepare them.

My daughter, Melinda, demonstrated that last night with her sweet potato enchiladas. Who would think to put sweet potatoes in enchiladas? Beans, sure. But sweet potatoes? That’s coloring outside the lines. She sent this picture. They look delicious and her report was “they’re pretty great!”

Sweet potato enchiladas
Melinda Chambers

Meeting Friends for Dinner

Grilled vegetable sandwich

Another area that causes vegetarians angst is where to go when dining with friends or family who eat meat. That happened last night as I met our son, Brad, and his family for his birthday dinner. He had said his family wanted to try Buffalo Wild Wings and I was OK with that, for reasons I’ll explain below. But we ended up at Sabores restaurant in Logan, another great place. Brad had chicken curry, Melanie had some kind of sandwich that she said was too hot (spicy) and the kids split a club sandwich. I chose a vegetarian option, grilled vegetables with pesto on ciabatta bread, with French fries. Which again raises the point that eating vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean eating healthy.  French fries and fry sauce are definitely not on the good list.

I said I would have been OK with Buffalo Wild Wings and I would have. I was actually hoping they’d go there because it sounded really good. This brings me to a point I want to make about any diet, whether it’s low carb, gluten free, vegetarian or whatever. The rest of the world doesn’t have to accommodate you. Don’t play the “oh I can’t go there — they don’t have [whatever it is you need for your diet]” card.  It’s not endearing to your friends. It makes them constantly adjust to you. Either live with whatever limited choices you have where they want to go or politely decline. Just realize if you politely decline too many times you might come off their list of invitees. But that was your choice, just as the diet or meal plan or lifestyle or whatever you want to call it was your choice. So, if we had gone to Buffalo Wild Wings, I would either have gone hungry or eaten chicken (and those who know me know that going hungry is not an option). Simple as that.

Meatless Mongolian BBQ

Meatless Mongolian BBQ

It’s an oxymoron: meatless barbecue. But that’s what I had for dinner. On the road in Logan tonight I did’t want to cook but I also didn’t want a salad. Enter Hu Hot Mongolian BBQ. All I had to do was skip the bowls of meat and load up on noodles and veggies.

Today is one full week that I have been on the meatless August challenge. On Sunday, Melinda, Leah and I talked about the week. Leah says she feels more tired without meat. My guess is that’s because she was eating really clean to begin with. As for me, I feel like I have more energy. I felt stronger in both my Friday and Monday (today) workouts, which consist of 15 minutes of warmup on the elliptical trainer, where I do some intervals to get my heart rate up to 80-85% of my maximum heart rate, followed by a cool down and then weight training. Today I did upper body: chest, back, biceps, shoulders and abs. Friday I did legs, triceps ad abs. Both days I finished stronger even with increased weight than I had previously.

Leah made a good point, that vegetarian doesn’t automatically equal low calorie. She feels like she’s eating more and more junk food since she cut out her main source of lean  protein, chicken breasts. As for me, though I’ve cut out meat I’m still eating occasional junk food like potato chips and candy and my daily portion of diet Coke (which isn’t just a 12-oz. can). By the way if you want to see my daughter in beast mode, check out her Instagram account, eatright_lovelife.

When I weighed myself this afternoon I was down 3 lbs., but since that was right after my workout I suspect it’s mostly water loss. I’m still taking in too many Calories. Tonight was a good example. It’s an all you can eat buffet, so of course I couldn’t stop at the one plate shown above. I went back for a second, though it wasn’t nearly as large as the picture. Still, it was more than the “portion” that is recommended for adults.

Anyway it’s on to Week 2.

Shakshuka

Shakshuka

Sunday dinner was bound to be a challenge. At our house, Sunday dinner revolves around some sort of meat: pot roast, chicken, pork chops, steak, whatever, and vegetables are a side dish. So Saturday I turned to the Internet and found a recipe for shakshuka. I’d never heard of it but it sounded delicious.

Shakshuka is a tradition North African dish. It’s a one dish meal, though we had it with bread, green salad and eggplant Parmesan.  Here’s the recipe:

One onion, diced; one red bell pepper, diced; one green bell pepper, diced; one jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped; 1 C sliced mushrooms (optional); one medium yellow squash (in place of mushrooms if desired), chopped; olive oil; two cloves garlic, chopped; 28 oz. diced tomatoes with juice; 1 tsp. salt + more to taste; 1 tsp. cumin; 1/2 tsp. paprika; 1/2 tsp. turmeric; pepper to taste; 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped; 2 oz. crumbled feta cheese; 1/2 C water; six eggs.

Cook onion and mushrooms (if using) in oil until onions become translucent and mushrooms turn golden brown. Add peppers and squash (if using). Cook about five minutes until peppers begin to soften. Add all spices and stir thoroughly. Cook another five minutes or so.  Add tomatoes and water and stir. Let simmer 25-30 minutes until water reduces, stirring occasionally.

Smooth the mixture with a spoon and make six indentations. Crack one egg into each indentation. Break yolks if desired. Cover and cook until eggs are almost at desired doneness. Sprinkle feta cheese and cilantro, remove from heat, keep covered until cheese melts and eggs are done to your liking.  Serve in bowls, one egg to a serving.

This recipe made six servings. They were probably a “portion” as that term is used by the food gurus, meaning it isn’t enough for the normal appetite. But with eggplant Parmesan, bread and salad, it made a great meal.

Here’s a link to Chef John’s video. It’s worth a watch to hear Chef John’s corny delivery and his save as he explains that it’s essential not to crack the eggs directly into the vegetable mixture. Instead, he says, crack it into a ramekin and then into the mixture. This will guarantee that the yolk doesn’t break. Just as he makes that pronouncement, the yolk of the second egg he adds from his ramekin breaks. But Chef John is a pro and doesn’t miss a beat.

I followed Chef John’s recipe for the most part. I omitted the mushrooms because we have some non-mushroom eaters in our family. I wanted something with the texture and bulk of the mushrooms to replace them so I added squash. I think it turned out well. I omitted the cayenne pepper of Chef John’s recipe, also in deference to the palates of our family. Finally, I added garlic because everything is better with garlic. This is a definite do-again recipe.

 

Dining Out

Pad Thai

Eating out can be a challenge for vegetarians. For the most part, in the United States restaurants center their meals around meat. There might be a vegetarian dish or two on the menu but your choices are restricted in most restaurants.

Oriental cuisine is one type where it’s possible to enjoy almost everything on the menu as a meatless dish. Last night we went to a Thai restaurant, Nuan’s Thai, where I ordered my standard Pad Thai. This time instead of having it with shrimp I chose tofu.  It was every bit as delicious as the meat version. By the way, let me give a shout out to Nuan’s Thai in Cottonwood Heights. Great food at very reasonable prices.

So I’ve completed three days of Meatless August, 10% down. I don’t feel deprived but I am starting to think about bacon. Wednesday night we had an ice cream social at our ward. A few of the guys were standing around talking about grilling and smoking and were passing around their phones with pictures of juicy meats cooking. All of a sudden my friend Travis said, “Oh, sorry Steve! I didn’t mean to torment you.” I had to laugh at that.

Black Bean Tostadas

Black bean tostadas

Day two of Meatless August was pretty uneventful. Breakfast was yogurt and granola. Lunch was last night’s leftovers, spaghetti with broccoli and squash in garlic cream sauce. Mid-afternoon snack of a protein shake. Dinner was black bean tostadas.

One of the concerns people often express about plant-based diets is their fear they won’t get enough protein. In recent years, protein has become the darling of the three macro-nutrients: fats, carbohydrates (carbs) and protein. Some thirty years ago when I was doing triathlons, the pre-race regimen was carb depletion followed by carbo loading. The notion was, for the week leading up to the race you deprived yourself of carbs for five days. Then on day six you stuffed as many carbs as you could into your belly. Pancakes, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, with the (theoretical) result being that your glycogen stores (the fuel you use in endurance sports) were pumped up to overflowing, which would power you through the race.

In the past 10 years, further research has shown that carbs are best utilized when protein is present. The carb depletion followed by carbo loading to the exclusion of protein was shown false. Also, too much carbohydrate intake has been shown to cause or exacerbate a number of problems, including diabetes and high blood sugar.   As a result carbs fell out of favor as evidenced by a number of low carb diets such at Atkins, South Beach and others.

From all of this, protein has emerged as the king of nutrients to many people. Since meat and protein are nearly synonymous, lack of meat is equated with protein deprivation. Therefore, a plant based diet is unhealthy.

That reasoning is false because there are a number of non-meat foods that are high in protein. On one website that I found, of the top five protein sources, only one, oysters, was meat. Tofu, which is made from soybeans, was number 1. Oysters came in second, followed by cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and eggs.

There is no reason that a plant based diet will fail to deliver enough protein. The key is to choose food wisely. But, of course, that is the key to anything you eat.