Weekday Vegetarian: Practicing What I Preach

Most of the CNiC team is pretty good about practicing the cancer prevention tips we offer up, but last week’s “weekday vegetarian” post (link) got me thinking, and this week, I implemented the weekday vegetarian program in my house (well for dinners at least, and my own lunches). For those of you thinking about giving it a try, here’s how we implemented it.

Knowing that a week’s worth of new recipes was a lot of work and a big risk (there is nothing worse than trying a new recipe and having it be a failure and feeling like you’ve wasted all that time and money. Doing that two nights in a row is a non starter). So I pulled out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian knowing that the dinners of Bittman’s that we’ve made from How to Cook Everything are always winners (ditto on his Minimalist column recipes) and grabbed a couple recipes that looked good. I also pulled out one of my “go to” cookbooks with the intention of taking the meat out of a recipe we love. I selected a Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Italian, which holds a number of family favorites.

For Monday, I picked a baked rice stuffed tomato from Bittman’s book because I know we’ve had stuffed tomatoes and peppers before – so the concept wasn’t new and I know that my friend Natalie’s beef stuffed peppers are one of my husband’s favorites. The recipe calls for a rice or grain, some grated cheese, onion and garlic. I used a frozen bag of Trader Joe’s brown rice, some grated Gruyere, and added in ½ c of mushrooms hoping that the “meaty” flavor and texture would make the meatlessness of the dish less noticeable.

Verdict: a BIG (huge!) hit. We loved it. The stuffing was flavorful and delicious. I paired it with a simple green salad and that was a full and satisfying meal. Another bonus – I did all of the prep ahead of time – making the filling and stuffing the tomatoes – and threw them in the fridge. The only thing to do at dinner was heat the oven and bake!

On Tuesday, I turned to Everyday Italian and picked a pasta with turkey Italian sausage, mushrooms and peas recipe. It is a family favorite and the simple step of leaving out the sausage makes the dish vegetarian. I wondered if we’d miss it. Leaving out the sausage was easy and the dish came together well. I swapped in whole wheat fusili, because we tend to only use whole wheat and that’s just what we had. I also upped the mushroom content from 10 ounces to about 16.

Verdict: It is still a great pasta dish without the sausage. If I hadn’t known it was a “tweaked” recipe, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. The sausage definitely adds something extra so I will surely make it that way again (some weekend!), but this is a great (and easy) weeknight dinner.

Wednesday was the day to try out a “classic” vegetarian – black beans and yellow rice. Again, I turned to Bittman’s cookbook for both recipes. I selected his classic yellow rice – substituting short grain brown rice for the white rice. The recipe includes onion, red bell pepper and peas. It also calls for vegetable stock, which we didn’t have. So there was a small cheat – we used homemade chicken stock. Since this meant using all of the chicken we’d had for Sunday dinner a few weeks back, I didn’t feel so “ungreen” by doing this. I went with a beer-based black bean recipe that calls for onion and chili powder. On Tuesday night, I threw the black beans in the slow cooker and they cooked overnight. In the morning, I drained the beans and added them to the onion/beer mix. Once combined, I tossed them in a bowl in the fridge to reheat at dinner.

Verdict: Everyone was decidedly less enthusiastic about this meal. I thought the rice was fantastic, but I had underseasoned the beans and they were bland. I don’t know if everyone was worn out from vegetarian dinners, but the saving grace was pulling out the vanilla ice cream and homemade strawberry sauce at the end of dinner.

Thursday, I’d intended to serve up a lentil and cashew recipe I printed out from somewhere once and had in my recipe binder, but with plenty of leftovers from the pasta and rice and beans, I didn’t need to cook dinner. The real bonus here for me is that the main components of the dish I’d planned all keep for a long time in the pantry so I’ve got a dinner ready to pull together when I need one.

Friday. Friday is Mama’s night off from cooking so this week we ordered pizza – ½ cheese and ½ mushroom. No surprises here – pizza never disappoints. (provided you can find a good New York style pizza, which can be a challenge in the Midwest. Thankfully St. Louis has a couple great places).

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