So I’m still trying to continue this part-time vegetarian kick. It’s gotten harder lately, especially when going out to eat. I realize how much meat I really used to eat– chicken sausages for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, then some sort of meat dish for dinner. It really doesn’t seem necessary to me to have meat at more than one meal a day, but this is easier said than done.
One of the main problems I have with vegetarianism in America is the whole attempt at “fake meat”. If you substitute something in for meat into dishes you already loved with meat, you’re pretty much always going to be disappointed. At least, that’s how it is for me. Take a dish that you already love and take out an integral part of the flavor and replace it with something with a completely different or weaker flavor– it’s just not going to work out.
My approach has instead been to try making dishes where I have no preconception of them needing meat, and also learning to appreciate the flavors of other protein sources– especially legumes. The second part of this approach has been looking for vegetarian recipes from other culinary traditions that I don’t have much experience with so that I won’t be so disappointed with the lack of meat.
You might see that this sort of pointed me in the direction of Indian food. India has a very long culinary tradition of vegetarianism, unlike America. This tradition has had a long time to refine itself and as a result it has many fabulous dishes that work without meat in them. My friend who grew up in a household that made heavy use of Indian cuisine suggested checking out Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen . This book is packed full of information and is quite well-written; it’s very honest and it almost feels as if the author is speaking very candidly and openly to you. She even offers suggestions for western substitutes for ingredients in some cases. It has a ton of recipes for all sorts of things, but the one thing it is significantly lacking is pictures. It does have detailed descriptions of all sorts of Indian ingredients, but pictures would be helpful to be able to identify spices and ingredients easily. Thank god for Google.
Indian cuisine is fairly easy, it seems– if you have all the ingredients. That’s the kicker. We have lots of ethnic markets around this area, but it’s hard for me to make it 10 miles to hit up the Indian grocery. Also, my shelves are already packed full of so many spices that it’s hard to find room for say, 15 additional spices (cumin, asofedita, coriander, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cardamom, tumeric, fennel seed, dried mango powder, chili, kari, tamarind, cloves, and so on… for more info, Julie Sahni has a good reference for spices.) that I wouldn’t normally use. I picked up some spices at a natural foods store, but when I went to make something it seemed I was always lacking in some other spice. Each Indian recipe seems to require at least 5 different spices. It’s kind of daunting… so anyway, I’ve just taken Indian food as an inspiration and started winging it. The results have been decent and get me to eat legumes more often. I just won’t feed any Indian friends anytime soon, because I’m sure my food would make them wince.
I’ve also been looking into other vegetarian ethic cuisines. After some Amazon.com searching, I picked up Delicious Jamaica by Yvonne McCalla Sobers . I’m not a big fan of this cookbook. Maybe it’s just because as far as I know, I have absolutely no source of Jamaican ingredients nearby. I think I’ll have to peruse the spice aisle at the grocery store and see if they have allspice. This cookbook is also lacking in photos or drawings, but it does have calorie/nutrition information and a lot of unique dishes that seem like they have great potential for being delicious. It also has some tidbits about Jamaican culinary history which are sort of interesting, but a little dry. Overall, though, I don’t really seem to sense any particular organizational system to the book. It sorta just seems to be a bunch of recipes thrown together, willy-nilly.
See, now my problem with cookbooks is that I actually almost never cook from the recipes…I only use them for inspiration. I wonder if anyone else has this problem. Hopefully I’ll actually make use of some of the recipes, but if not, I only spent like $10 total on the two used books.
I hope to have some more recipes and photos for you all soon, but until then…be leguminous!