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.

Picnic Basket Rice Salad

By Margaret B. Adam Three parts:

         1) Rice

         2) Vegetables and Beans

         3) Dressing and Seasoning

1) Put rice and water on to cook (enough for 4-6 servings, give or take)

2) Gather and prepare some of the following:

½ onion, diced small 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed 1-2 carrots, grated 1 sweet pepper (red, yellow, green), chopped cherry tomatoes, whole or halved any other raw vegetable 1-2 courgettes/zucchinis, very-lightly steam or boil small chunks, or stir fry very thin half moon slices 1-2 bunches broccoli, very lightly steam or boil florets and chopped stalk bunch asparagus, very lightly steam or boil bite-sized pieces a bowl of mushrooms, sliced and sauteed a bowl of skinny green beans, very lightly steamed bite-sized pieces any other cooked vegetable some frozen corn, cook by adding to the pot of one of the above vegetables, for the last minute or so some frozen peas, cook as the corn 1-2 cans of beans, drained (mix and match as you like)

3) About 1/3 of a bottle of your favourite salad dressing (give or take)

Mix all ingredients together, with plenty of salt and pepper and herbs (basil and thyme or your choice) to taste. Serve room temperature or cold (if you've made it the day before and refrigerated it.) This works with any kind of rice, one veg or ten, any seasoning theme. Good for last minute picnic, barbeque, potluck offerings, as well as clean out the fridge days.