It’s been 9 months since I became vegetarian. It was a slow progression, but over that time I have eaten less and less meat. And my desire to consume once loved foods like bacon, salami and burgers has also diminished greatly. I’ve realized that you can find substitutes or alternatives that take the place of all these things. Although part of me will always miss these foods, and I may slip from time to time (all bets are off on vacation), I have to say that I am much happier on my new clean eating program. I also find that I’m discovering new flavors, ingredients and cooking methods that have improved my overall cooking a ton! My husband, friends and co-workers will all concur on that. My mother still thinks it’s weird that I eat lentils, but I’ll make something that will win her over one of these days.
So that brings me to a conversation I had this morning with my co-worker about how when you cook vegetarian you can’t rely on the meat to flavor your dish, you have to do it through spices. It used to take me ages to go through one of those little spice jars; getting to the point where I was basically cooking with dried flavorless dust. Most people don’t know that the shelf life of dried herbs and spices is really not more than a year or two at most. Not very economical if like the old meat eating me, you only go through a tablespoon of allspice annually when making your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
But the new me is going through spices like crazy, so much so that I notice my spice jars are often running on empty. My kitchen is global, so I don’t really lean towards one type of cuisine over another, but I find the spices I’m using the most these days are: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, cumin, coriander seeds and chili powder. Other items have also recently become essential in my fridge/pantry that used to seem foreign to me, such as: jalapeno peppers, capers, anchovies (yes, I am aware they are not vegetarian), creme fraiche, miso paste, ginger, tahini, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, and roasted peppers (the latter two items I always make myself).
Maybe it’s because I’ve broken out of my shell, or I’m older and more confident now, but I feel like nothing can hold me back in the kitchen anymore. I’m not afraid to try new flavors, experiment with a crazy recipe, or go completely off the rails and try something that’s all mine. My successes far outnumber my flops, and nowadays I’ll even make something I’ve never done before for a dinner party, which is about as risque as I get.
I’ve raved about Deb Perleman’s blog Smitten Kitchen a ton, but I’ve recently discovered Sprouted Kitchen, which is equally as wonderful. Both offer a ton of vegetarian recipes, or give you the option to add or omit meat which I love. So giving full credit to these amazing ladies who I would love to have in my kitchen one day, here are some of my recent favourites.
From Smitten Kitchen: Miso sweet potato and broccoli bowl, Kale salad with pecorino and walnuts (goes great with a simple pasta), One pan farro with tomatoes (which I modified, my version here), Warm butternut squash and chick pea salad, Deb’s Three Bean Chili.
Unfortunately most of the Sprouted Kitchen recipes I’ve been trying are from Sara Forte’s book, so I can’t share them with you, but buy her book, you won’t regret it! I did make a big winner from her blog last night though: Pasta with fennel, arugula and lemon.
And lastly, for a bit of middle eastern flavour try Yotam Ottolenghi’s mejdara, a mixture of lentils, rice, caramelized onions and divine spices.
These are all things that a year ago I would have probably considered making, but would have never pulled the trigger on. I’d have thought, oh my husband won’t get enough protein from that, or I don’t know how to use miso, or even, fennel…I’m not sure I like that. So my advice to you is to try new things, you don’t have to become vegetarian to experiment with new flavors. And over time you’ll start to learn what flavors go (or don’t go) with others, what you like and what satisfies you…and then your spice jars will be empty too!