Flash in the Pan

Unapologetic veg


I’m confused by veggie burgers, vegan cheese, margarine and all other substitutes for animal products that seek to imitate the very thing the eater wishes to avoid consuming. 

Have you ever seen a meat eater attempt to reconfigure a T-bone steak to look like a pile of beans? I’m guessing not. So, why must vegetarians turn beans into burgers? It reinforces the idea that eating meat is somehow more normal.

The food culture on the Indian subcontinent is the opposite. There, it’s common to see restaurants proudly display outdoor signage that announces “veg and non-veg” in large type. This delivers the message that veg is normal and non-veg is the alternative. Given that India will soon overtake China as the world’s most populous nation, this dietary preference is fortunate for the Earth and essential for India’s food security. Vegetable production is much easier on the climate than meat production, and a vegetable-based diet feeds more people from a given amount of land.

Indian chefs have many tricks for making their food so satisfying, utilizing spices, sauces and lots of chopping. They don’t use imitation animal products, yet Anthony Bourdain, as committed a flesh lover as anyone, once said that India is the only place where he could be a vegetarian.

Vegetables are beautiful, delicious and more interesting than most animal products. A meat-free lifestyle is a beautiful thing, so don’t apologize, vegetarians! Don’t try to play someone else’s game with your dry, wannabe sausages. Be proud of your choices and flaunt your lifestyle. 

A vegetarian friend of mine named Matthew has been texting me some of his favorite unapologetic vegetable dishes. He’s lucky enough to live near the West Windsor Community Farmers’ Market in New Jersey, pound-for-pound one of the nation’s best, which gives him access to a year-round diversity of produce and fungus.

Mushrooms deliver meaty satisfaction without trying to be something they’re not. They pack a decent amount of protein alongside their dark, rich flavors. Matthew adds fungus to his meals the way I add bacon bits to mine. Each week, he brings home some combination of maitake, oyster, shiitake, black pearl, trumpet, enoki, lion’s mane and more. 

Here are two of his favorite recipes. First, a simple dish of broiled Brussels sprouts with mushrooms. Next, an Indian-inspired meal of chickpeas with turmeric and lemon.

With so many benefits and a never-ending supply of flavor, why pose as a meat eater? Embrace your lifestyle, vegetarians, and give it a squeeze.

Brussels sprouts with mushrooms

This recipe calls for maitake mushrooms, which look like a dense head of curly hair, but any mushrooms will work. Since fancy fungus comes with a high price tag, one frugal trick is to use normal mushrooms like button, cremini or portobello to augment a smaller portion of exotic varieties. The cheaper ones will absorb the flavors of their pricey cousins. Either way, it’s going to be cheaper than meat.

1 pound mushrooms (fancy, pedestrian or a mix), chopped

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all the ingredients in an oven-safe pan and broil for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the outer leaves of the Brussels sprouts get crispy.

Lemon chickpeas

The raspy flavor of the turmeric, the piercing bite of the lemon, the herbal aroma of the cilantro and the earthy flavor of the spinach combine for a dish that’s both simple and complex.

If you’re wondering why I added baking soda, it’s to soften the chickpeas. This trick works on all beans and can save you hours of simmering if you don’t like them crunchy.

Serves 2

1 medium-sized onion, chopped, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon red pepper powder or flakes for color and heat

1 16-ounce can of chickpeas

1/4 teaspoon baking soda (optional)

2 cups chopped spinach

1 bunch chopped cilantro

In a heavy-bottom pan, sauté the onions, garlic and ginger in the oil. When the onions become translucent, add the salt, lemon juice, garlic powder and red pepper and stir everything together. After five minutes, add the chickpeas, including the water in the can. Add the baking soda if you want softer beans. Adjust seasonings to taste as it simmers. When you’re satisfied and the liquid is gone, add the spinach and cook until it has melted into the beans. Turn off the heat.

Fill the serving plates with generous heaps of chopped cilantro. Scoop the chickpea mixture on top and garnish with chopped onions.


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