Introducing Vegetarian/Vegan Meals into the Week’s Menu

2.5, Infinitely-Variable, Large-Bowl Meals 

by Margaret B. Adam

Well over 25 years ago, my family made the transition from an omnivorous diet to a vegetarian diet. It took about 4 years of effort on my part, because I wanted them not only to become vegetarians, but to want to become vegetarians. I had the advantage of an agreeable (if initially unconvinced) husband and small children susceptible to my intense propaganda campaign. But, my primary strategy was food-based. I modified our menu very gradually, by changing some ingredients and by introducing new recipes, until the family norm had shifted to all-vegetarian.

Now, the kids are grown and gone, and I have a new project of transition. My husband and I are headed in the direction of a vegan diet. It seems to be taking longer than that first transition, and we might not ever reach vegan perfection, but I’m ok with that. I consider myself an aspiring-vegan vegetarian.

Gradual transition is still the only way I know how to make dietary changes, and one promising strategy is to add a new meal into the weekly rota (instead of trying to replace a much-loved favourite). If it totally flops the household taste test, you can set aside (and maybe try it again in a month, with or without variations). If it seems acceptable, you can try it again in a week or two, and then adopt it into the list of regular meals. This way, you can slowly, surely, and stealthily increase the percentage of meat-free meals, with minimal rebellion.

Here are some ideas with so many possible variations that you can pass them off as multiple, unrelated meals.

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Presentation matters.

Many people are accustomed to seeing three items on their dinner plates: meat, starch, and vegetable. Any variation on that theme may prompt feelings of loss or chaos, impending doom or rising rebellion. If you would like to cut back on your consumption of animal products without causing dinner plate anxiety, you might want to try presentations that highlight abundance. Here are two and a half meal ideas that feature a single base, with multiple toppings. You can serve these meals with additions piled on top or artistically distributed around the base. Or you can serve the base and let the diners select their own toppings from an array of dishes laid out on the table. Try serving the base in a large bowl or an odd-shaped plate, to underscore that this is not a lesser replacement for the previously established meat plus two dinner. Instead, this is an extra special dinner experience, a cornucopia of tasty delights!

Don’t make all of the possible toppings for one meal! Enlist family members or guests in the selection, preparation, and setting out of their favourite toppings. Or, choose only your own favourites to prepare and enjoy. Next week you can make the base again with a totally different selection of toppings. Add and subtract items as you please.

Baked Potatoes and Toppings (US) aka Jacket Potatoes and Toppings (UK)

  • Start with one large baking potato per person.
  • Stab with fork and bake in a preheated oven (high temperature) until done (45-60 min).
  • Slice open and pile on toppings.
  • Topping Suggestions (infinitely expandable and variable): 
    • Baked Beans (out of the can, warmed on the stove)
    • Hummus
    • Cheese (dairy or vegan), grated or sliced
    • Cheese Sauce (dairy or vegan)
    • Nuts, Vegan Bacon Bits, Nutritional Yeast, Salsa, Salt and Pepper, Herbs, Butter/Vegan Spread, Grated Carrots, Sliced or Chopped Peppers
    • Cooked: Onion slices (sautéed); Garlic (minced or sliced, added to sautéing onions midway through); Mushrooms (sliced and sautéed), Portobellos are especially tasty; Broccoli (lightly steamed or stir fried); Cauliflower (lightly steamed); Thin green beans (lightly steamed)
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Risotto

The rice part takes 20-30 minutes. You might want to prepare some toppings first and rewarm them in the microwave as needed when the rice is done. Or, if you are an optimistic multi-tasker, you might try to do it all at once.

Bring to a boil: 4 cups/1 litre vegetable stock (bouillon powder or cubes with water). Cover and keep warm on the stove.

In another pot, heat 3 T olive oil. 

  • Add: 1/2 chopped onion. Sauté and stir 3 minutes.
  • Add: 1 cup/190 grams arborio rice. Stir 2 minutes.
  • Add: 1 ladle of hot stock. Stir gently with wooden spoon and then let the rice absorb the liquid.
  • Repeat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Add: salt and pepper and desired herbs.
  • Topping Suggestions (infinitely expandable and variable)
    • Pine nuts
    • Sliced almonds
    • Edamame (fresh or frozen)
    • Grated cheese (dairy or vegan)
    • Nutritional Yeast
    • Raw or from jars: Peppers (chopped); Carrots (grated); Fresh tomatoes (thinly sliced or small chunks); Olives; Sun-dried tomatoes
    • Cooked: Peas (fresh or frozen); Mushrooms (sliced and sautéed), Portobellos are especially tasty; Broccoli (lightly steamed or stir fried); Cauliflower (lightly steamed; Asparagus (lightly steamed); Thin green beans (lightly steamed); Fresh Spinach (sautéed)

Easier Brown Rice Version

Cook some brown rice (small, medium, or long grain) with bouillon and 2 T olive oil. Add salt and pepper and herbs. Add Toppings, as above. Try mounding the rice in the centre of each bowl and then placing small plops of toppings in artful designs around the edges.

You can do this! If you are in a hurry, pick just a couple of ingredients and buy them already prepared or at least already prepared to steam or warm.

Each meal with fewer or no animal products helps make another one possible.

Each step you take to reduce the consumption of animal products sends a message to industrial farming, models change to friends and family, and witnesses to hope-filled confidence that Christ’s restoration of all creation is coming.

Six Tips for Hosting a Vegan at Thanksgiving

by Sarah Withrow King

You’re hosting the holiday meal this year and have the menu all planned out when you learn one of the guests is vegan. Hospitality is important to you. You want to share the gifts you’ve been given, welcome people with open arms, and create a space where all of your guests feel warm, safe, and seen. But you’ve been making the same dishes for the last twenty years and have no earthly idea what vegans eat or whether they’ll take one look at the table spread and scream, “Murderer!” (<---they’re not going to do that)

These Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze from  One Happy Table  will impress all your hungry guests! So much yum.

These Vegan Pumpkin Scones with Maple Glaze from One Happy Table will impress all your hungry guests! So much yum.

I’m here to help. I haven’t always been kind or compassionate to plant-based eaters. I hosted a birthday party once and fed my one vegetarian friend a salad while we chowed down on burgers. I laughed at another friend who was trying to be vegan. Then I learned some of the reasons why my friends left meat, dairy, and eggs off their plates and decided to follow suit. Guess what I was served at the very first event I attended as a vegan? A plate of lightly steamed summer squash. I had it coming.

If you’ve got a vegan or vegetarian coming to dinner and want to welcome them with open arms and a full plate, here are six top tips:

  1. Ask What Kind of Food Your Guest Likes. Some vegans looooove meat substitutes like Gardein Chick’n or Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs or Tofurky’s Holiday Roast. Others just like straight-up vegetables. Some vegans are in it for the health benefits and others relish a meal that’s rich and decadent. It’s okay to ask. It’s good to ask.

  2. Make Easy Substitutions When Possible. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock; substitute Earth Balance and a plant-based milk for butter and dairy; make a chia or flax egg to help that casserole bind. If you would normally sprinkle cheese over the top of a dish, leave it to the side and let people add their own if they choose. Here’s a good substitution guide to help get you started.

  3. Offer a Vegan Dessert. If your guest is very health-conscious, fruit or sorbet is fine. But if they love pumpkin pie and other sugary treats, you’ll be a hero if you present them with a baked goody. Seriously. A cape-wearing hero. Not sure how you can make a pie crust without lard or a cake without eggs? Seize the opportunity to learn some new tricks. You might just find a new favorite! Maybe the family tradition is a plate of Uncle Dave’s killer brownies? Pick up a vegan brownie at the local grocery store so your guest can indulge, too!

  4. Offer a Vegan Protein. If you’re not sure what kind of protein your guest likes, just ask! Let them send you some of their favorite recipes. I promise we will put a great deal of thought into ensuring that the suggestions we provide are affordable, practical, and universally delicious.

  5. Let Your Guest Help You. I don’t mean, “let your guest bring all their own food.” That’s no fun. Of course you can ask them to bring a dish that they love (and be sure to give them first dibs at that if there aren’t a lot of veg options), but let them help you figure out what’s available and easy-to-do. We are eager to answer questions, to help you find substitutes, to offer up recipe suggestions. One long-time vegan says, “I find there's a dungeon-master forcefield around hosting and a lot of people feel that if they involve their guests, they're somehow not hosting well. No! Ask the vegan! They've been figuring out what egg subs work best for years! Team Host-Guest FTW!”

  6. Let’s Talk About Being Vegan...After Dinner. The vast majority of vegans I know want everyone at the table to have a good time. We don’t think mealtime is the best place to share the details of what we’ve learned about factory farming and slaughterhouses. Let’s do that over drinks or while we’re washing dishes.

I do hope you will ask your guest about their preferences, but here are a few of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes that might get your creative juices flowing.

One last word. I eat with meat-eaters all the time. I don’t love to see meat, I don’t love to watch people eat meat. I’ve seen and read too much to be able to turn off my heart and brain, but I’ll still sit down at a table that includes meat. That said...if, like me, your vegan guest is vegan for animals, they might appreciate if a big meat dish wasn’t the center of the table. They might appreciate the cutting/carving/serving being done away from where the eating happens. Or maybe not. It’s worth having the conversation. It’s always worth having the conversation.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”

Fourth of July Church Vegan Barbecue

by Carol J. Adams

My spouse, Bruce, has been the Associate Pastor for Community Ministries at a church in Dallas for 30 years. When we first arrived we learned that the Fourth of July event hosted by the church’s senior activities group was “a must.” To us northerners it was more than strange that anyone would choose to be outside in 100° temperature on July 4. On top of it, and to my dismay, the event was centered on chicken.

Ten years into Bruce's ministry here the people who hosted the event had aged and were unable to host it any longer. For a few years, the event rotated between other elderly members, and then no one could host it. The event went dark for a couple of years. I said to Bruce, “If all they need is a backyard in which to have their celebration, we can do it!”

But there was the issue of the chicken. This needed to be addressed. So I began serving vegan drumsticks. I bought them from my local vegan Chinese restaurant. She stocked them in bags of 80. They are little pieces of seitan on a cane sugar stick. I would slather barbecue on half of them and olive oil on the other half, bake them and serve them. They were a huge success and a curiosity.

But the Chinese restaurant went out of business. So I decided to make my own barbecue. First I use frozen tofu. One year I used tofu, tempeh, and seitan in barbecue sauce. (It’s the barbecue sauce that really matters!)

Everyone adjusted to the change in the main course and the request to bring vegetables or fruit (and no meat). What I was preparing became a matter of interest.

This picture shows my most successful barbecue—barbecued unribs!

The author with her popular BBQ unribs!&nbsp;

The author with her popular BBQ unribs! 

This recipe is a little labor intensive, but while preparing them I make a point to listen to an audiobook about US history. At church the week following the serving of these unribs, I saw some of the matriarchs of the church. One said, “When I was asked how the barbecue was, I reported I had the best ribs ever!”

A faster BBQ recipe uses jackfruit instead of seitan. You hardly need any time at all!

Vegan BBQ Jackfruit

Vegan BBQ Jackfruit

A barbecue is incomplete without macaroni and cheese, and I created the most luscious, richest, outrageous vegan mac and cheese recipe. I added a little kale just to prevent its complete descent to decadence.

Decadent Vegan Mac &amp; Cheese

Decadent Vegan Mac & Cheese

One friend, a nonagenarian, and very proper Southerner, went back for thirds! You can find the recipe here.

Of course, some cole slaw is necessary.

Use a vegan mayonnaise and you don’t have to worry about the eggs in the mayonnaise going bad in the sun! (Veganism has so many side benefits.)

Finally, we always end with a Texas sheet cake.

If I mention ordering a cake, there are protests: this is the cake that must complete the bbq.

As people are finishing their meals, Bruce brings out his miniature cannon and sets it off. But that is another story. The vegan bbq has found its place in the hearts and stomachs of at least one Texas congregation. Why stop there?

Happy eaters!&nbsp;

Happy eaters! 

Carol J. Adams is the author of numerous books including The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, now in a Bloomsbury Revelations edition celebrating its 25th anniversary. She has written several books on living as a vegan, including Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Vegan Diet (with Patti Breitman and Virginia Messina), Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Guide, and How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One.

She is the author of Woman-Battering (1995) in Fortress Press’s Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series. With Marie Fortune, she edited Violence Against Women and Children: A Christian Theological Sourcebook (1995). She is the author of the training manual, Pastoral Care for Domestic Violence:  Case Studies for Clergy - for Christian Audiences - Training Manual (2007) published by the FaithTrust Institute. She has a Masters of Divinity from Yale University. www.caroljadams.com