When you’re making your own meals at home, it’s easy to have complete control over every aspect of your eating. You stocked the pantry, you planned the menus, and you’re whipping up tasty meatless meatless entrees for you and your family. But unless you’re completely housebound, you have to go out in the world some time – and often, that requires eating in restaurants.
That doesn’t mean you have to toss out all your vegetarian principles. More and more, restaurants offer vegetarian options, and even fast food outlets have food you can eat. Depending on where you are, you can find something to eat. The reason restaurants have become more sensitive to the needs of vegetarians has nothing to do with social consciousness – it has to do with money. Vegetarians (and friends of vegetarians) have money to spend, too, and restaurants that don’t cater to meatless eaters lose business when those folks want to eat out.
Even if you end up in a restaurant that doesn’t have anything vegetarian on the menu, you can always request something special. Remember, restaurants want your money – and they get that money buy selling you food, and preparing it in a way you like! Salads can be made without the chicken or salmon that’s listed on the menu. You can even ask your server if the chef can prepare something vegetarian just for you. Chefs often get a little bored making the same things day in and day out, and yours may welcome the opportunity to whip up something new! Just be polite, ask nicely, and your request will be seen as perfectly reasonable.
If you live in a big city, you’ll probably be able to find vegetarian restaurants in your town. If you can’t find any on the Internet or in the phone book, look for a natural foods store in your town – the employees there will be able to point you toward restaurants that are vegetarian-friendly. If both of those searches come up short, think ethnic! Chinese restaurants are great for vegetarians, offering delicious vegetable entrees, rice and noodles. Just take a moment to quiz your server about how the dishes are prepared – some dishes that sound vegetarian on the menu may contain meat or eggs. Tell your waiter that you don’t eat meat, and they’ll make sure your meal comes the way you want it.
Indian restaurants are terrific for vegetarians, too, although not all cities have them. The Indian diet has a rich tradition of vegetarianism, and restaurants offer a selection of vegetable curries and dishes made with chickpeas, which are an excellent source of protein (and delicious). If you’re new to Indian cuisine, you have a delightful adventure ahead of you – try dal, a traditional, spicy lentil dish, and samosas, delightful little pastries stuffed with meat, vegetables and spices (just make sure you don’t order the ones with meat!) If you’re avoiding dairy, though, be aware that many Indian dishes are prepared using clarified butter, called ghee – just ask that your meal be prepared with vegetable oil instead.
If your co-workers or family announce a trip to the Olive Garden or another Italian restaurant, don’t fret – Itailian restaurants are another great option for vegetarians, especially the ovo lactos. Pasta with meatless marinara sauce is a staple menu item, as it pasta primavera, which is loaded with vegetables. Many Italian soups, such as pasta fagioli, gets their protein from rice and beans (just make sure that they use vegetable broth, and not beef or chicken). At the big chain restaurants like Olive Garden or the Spaghetti Factory, you’ll find salad bar/bread stick combination meals that are perfect for vegetarians and easy on the wallet. And if the gang heads out for pizza, ovo lactos have lots of options, too. Plain cheese pizza, or even a cheeseless pizza topped with vegetables, are just as tasty as the meat-loaded kind.
Other ethnic options are excellent choices for vegetarians, as well. Hit a Greek restaurant and load up on hummus, dolma (stuffed grape leaves), baba ganoujh (a delicious eggplant spread), spanikopita (spinach pie) and salad made with a grain called tabouli. If you like Mexican fare, you can have gazpacho (a cold vegetable soup), chiles rellenos (green peppers stuffed with cheese, the breaded and fried) and bean-and-cheese versions of all the usual favorites – burritos, enchiladas, tostadas and tacos.
Eating with the common folk
If you’re an ovo lacto vegetarian, you’ll be able to find lots of things to eat at family-style restaurants, no matter what time of the day you visit them. At breakfast, you can enjoy waffles or pancakes, omelettes and egg “scrambles.” Other times of the day or night, there’s grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, french fries, egg salad and other items. It gets harder, however, if you’re vegan. In fact, despite the size of the menus in these restaurants, vegans will find little that they can eat. This is where it pays to be creative and flexible. Ask your waitress if the kitchen will top a baked potato with steamed vegetables, or ask if you can just side dishes and have a small salad, some veggies and rice. It may not be the most delicious meal you’ve ever had, but it’s an adequate meal until you can get something tastier.
As mentioned earlier in the chapter, your better restaurants will have menu items designed with vegetarians in mind – and even if there’s nothing that’s just what you want, the chef will probably be amenable to customizing a dish to your liking. Most of the time, though, you’ll find delicious vegetarian appetizers – you can even make a meal out of two or three of those if there’s no entrée that appeals to you. But you’d be surprised how creative a chef can be when asked to come up with something new on the spur of the moment, and your meat-eating friends will be jealous of the special attention you receive!
The diet industry rakes in the enormous profits that it does for one simple, yet ingenious, reason – the diets they promote don’t work. Whether it’s meal replacement shakes, prepackaged microwave meals, appetite suppressing pills or the elimination of one major nutrient category (usually fat or carbohydrates), they all have one thing in common. That is, that while they’re designed to take off weight in the short term, they aren’t a lifestyle that you can adapt for the rest of your life. Sooner or later (usually as soon as about half the weight you wanted to lose has melted away) you go back to eating real food instead of shakes, pills, bars or boxed dinners, and the weight all comes back. Then you pronounce that diet a failure and jump on a different one!
This merry-go-round makes the diet industry very happy, and they’re thrilled when a new fad comes along that they can exploit. When it was diet shakes, a hundred companies made diet shakes. When the boxed-meal diets became popular, five more “programs” opened franchises. The same company that was making low-fat meal replacement bars five years ago also turned out low-carb bars when the Atkins diet was all the rage – and switched back to making low-fat bars as soon as the fad started to fade. If the next big fad turns out to be an all-fish diet, you can bet those same companies will be manufacturing Cod Munchies and Halibut Delight Cookies.
The secret to successful weight control – the secret that the diet industry doesn’t want you to figure out – is eating a moderate amount of a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Because if you’re eating whole foods, there’s nothing for them to sell you! And the ideal weight control diet is a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians are, overall, thinner than meat-eaters, despite eating everything that the diet programs forbid.
Rethinking the concept of dieting
Going by conventional wisdom, it doesn’t make sense that vegetarians can be slender when they eat potatoes, pasta, bread, beans and rice. Which is the first clue that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Popular fad diets insist that starchy foods will pack on the pounds, and insist that you limit carbohydrates to a small green salad and maybe one piece of fruit each day. But vegetarianism is a naturally slenderizing diet, and one that makes sense when you understand just how it fuels the body.
If you want to lose weight permanently and stay off fad diets forever, the first step is to jettison everything that the diet gurus have told you. Starvation diets – and really, that what all fad diets are – don’t keep weight off in the long term.
A realistic diet is one that contains whole, healthful foods and doesn’t involve buying special products and supplements. You don’t need to count calories or “points” or talk to a diet counselor every week. You just need to change the way you eat, replacing bad old habits with good new ones.
Face it – if you’re fat, it’s because of the way you eat. And the only way to change that is to revamp your diet and have some patience. It took a long time to gain all that weight, and it’s going to take a long time to get it off. If you want to lose weight and keep it off for the rest of your life, you have to find a way of eating that you can live with even after you’re at your ideal weight. There are no quick fixes – not if you want permanent results.
Ever visit the kitchen of an avid cook? It’s organized, clean, well-stocked and ready for whatever creative menus strike their fancy. Eating well isn’t just about the food you eat – it’s also about having the tools you need to make great meals. Organization, planning and cleanliness will make cooking in your kitchen a pleasure rather than a chore.
Managing your workspace
Whether you enjoy spending hours in the kitchen chopping, stirring and mixing or just want to get in, get out quickly, it pays to make your kitchen somewhere that you enjoy spending time. That means that it’s clean, organized and has the equipment you need to do the job.
Step one to organizing your kitchen is to go through your cupboards and get rid of all the accumulated stuff that you don’t have any use for. That means broken appliances (and the ones you got as Christmas gifts that you’ve never used), old paper plates from kids’ birthday parties, half-full bottles of hot sauce that you’ve had for six years and those empty jars that are gathering dust on the top shelf. If you’re not going to use it, toss it out, give it away or sell it online – just get it out of your workspace.
Take your kitchen, one section at a time, and clean off the shelves. Wipe them down with cleanser, maybe lay down some fresh shelf paper. Do the same with your drawers. You don’t have to do it all in one night – take it a little at a time with the goal of getting all your shelves and drawers sparkling clean. Scrub down the stove and clean your refrigerator – inside and outside. Throw away food that’s gone bad or have just been sitting there for ages because you’ll never eat it. Toss out the foods in your cupboards that are going to waste, too.
Right now, there’s probably a haphazard plan, at best, to the way your kitchen is organized. Your pots and pans are a jumble in one cupboard, your wooden spoons, spatulas and knives all tossed in the same drawer, and your cookie sheets are leaning against the wall. The dry goods on your shelves – cereal, pasta, and the like – are probably stuck on the shelves with no regard for organization. It takes time to find things when you want to use them, and there’s an attitude of disrespect when you treat your food and your tools this way – your new lifestyle is about healthy habits, right? So develop good organizational habits, too!
Start by organizing things by type. Put all of your fats, oils, salad dressings and condiments together. Pasta, rice and other uncooked grains should be together, too. Think of how they’re stocked when you go to the grocery store – there’s an intuitive design behind the methods that grocers stock their goods. The same rules make sense in your kitchen, too. Organize your spices, as well. You don’t have to be quite so anal retentive as alphabetize them, but you can find an organizational system that works for you, like putting the things you use the most in the front, or separating the herbs and the spices.
Handling the hardware
There are tools that you’ll need to cook with, but not as many you might think – and possibly not even as many as you already own. If your countertop is cluttered with a coffeemaker, a mixer, a blender, a toaster oven and microwave, be honest about how often you use these items. Do they need to be there all the time? If you rarely bake, store the mixer under a counter until you need it. Ditto the blender. If you only make a pot of coffee on the weekend, think about store it out of sight during the week. This will give you more space to work and make your kitchen look less cluttered.
If you don’t cook much, you may find yourself lacking some basic kitchen essentials. Most can be purchased inexpensively at stores like Target or Wal-Mart, but you can find a lot of them for almost nothing at thrift stores. The basics for any home kitchen include:
Measuring cups and spoons
Bowls in various sizes for mixing and serving
Baking pans and cookie sheets
Pots and pans in assorted sizes
Good, sharp knives – a paring knife, a chef’s knife and a serrated bread knife
Bigger items that you’ll probably want:
A mixer, either countertop style or handheld
Heavy duty blender
Slow cooker (usually called a crock pot)
There are tons of great recipe books for vegetarians – among the most popular are The Moosewood Cookbook and its sequels, and the classic The Vegetarian Epicure. It’s not difficult to find recipes, and you can always adapt your favorites to your new lifestyle.
Here’s some recipes to get you started. All of them are good for ovo lacto vegetarians – the vegan recipes are noted as such, and ovo lactos can enjoy them, too!
Old-Style Potato Pancakes
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled and coarsely shredded
1 medium onion, coarsely shredded
4 green onions, chopped
1 egg beaten (Although Rudy mentions eggs, vegans like me should use egg replacer or smashed tofu - Anouk)
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying
In a large bowl, mix the potatoes and onions. Wrap the mixture in cheese cloth or paper towels, and squeeze out the excess liquid into another bowl. The starch from the potatoes will settle into the bottom of the bowl – pour off the water and save the remaining potato starch.
In a large bowl, combine the potato mixture, green onions, egg, salt and pepper, and reserved potato starch. Coat a nonstick 12-inch skillet or griddle with a thin layer of oil, heat skillet over medium-high heat. For each pancake, press together about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture with your hands, place on skillet and flatten with a heat-proof spatula. Cook for about 8 minutes, turning once, until brown on both sides. Serve hot.
Savory Breakfast Flan
6 oz. grated cheddar cheese, plus two tablespoons
8 oz. frozen corn
10 eggs (Although Rudy mentions eggs, vegans like me should use egg replacer or smashed tofu - Anouk)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/4 cup skim milk (vegan milk)
3/4 cup half-and-half
Spray a 9"x13" baking pan with cooking spray. Spread half of the cheese in the bottom of the pan. Layer half of the corn on top of the cheese layer. Repeat with layers of cheese and corn. Combine all remaining ingredients except the 2 tablespoons cheddar, and pour over corn and cheese. Bake at 325°F for 1 hour, or until puffy and lightly browned. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar and return to oven for 1 minute. Run a sharp knives around edges to loosen, cut into rectangles and serve.
Mediterranean Tofu Scramble (vegan)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 package (14 oz.) firm tofu
4 oz. sliced mushrooms (I use half of a pre-sliced 8 oz. package)
1 small can (2.25 oz.) sliced black olives, drained
2 Tbsp. chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 tsp. oregano
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
Add oil to medium skillet over high heat. Crumble the tofu into the pan, add remaining ingredients. Cook about 10 minutes until mushrooms are soft.
Oatmeal Spice Breakfast Bars (vegan)
Makes about 10 bars
2-2/3 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup flax seed meal
2 med. bananas, mashed
1/3 cup canola oil
½ cup dried fruit, in any combination (raisins, dates, cherries and cranberries are good)
2/3 cup chopped nuts or sunflower seeds
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
2 Tbsp. sweetener, or more to taste (non-vegans may use honey)
Vegan egg substitute product to equal one egg
Combine all the dry ingredients and mix well. Add bananas, egg substitute, oil and sweetener; combine until blended and mixture is sticky. If the mixture appears to dry, add a small amount of water. Shape dough into 1/2-inch thick bars on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes.
Easy Vegan Pancakes
Serves 4 to 6
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 cups vanilla soy or rice milk
½ tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Combine flour, baking soda and baking powder. Add milk and oil, stirring until just mixed (it should still be a little lumpy). Heat skillet until a drop of cold water dances across the surface; grease pan with spray oil and drop 1/4 to ½ cup batter onto skillet for each pancake. When the edges look brown and the air bubbles appear on the top of the pancake, turn and cook other side. Serve with syrup or fresh fruit.
Carrot Breakfast Muffins (vegan)
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ tsp. Nutmeg
1/3 tsp. Ginger
2/3 cup grated carrots
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cup water
1/4 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and the grated carrots. Add all of the wet ingredients. Mix well. Pour the batter into a lightly oiled muffin pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Other breakfast options:
Breakfast Burritos: Eggs or extra-firm tofu scrambled with onions, peppers and chopped vegetarian sausage, topped with soy cheese and rolled up in a warm tortilla.
McVegetarian Sandwich: Place scrambled eggs (or egg substitute or tofu), vegetarian faux-Canadian bacon and soy cheese in a sliced English muffin. A great take-and-eat breakfast!
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