You're already eating vegetarian!
Raised as a carnivore
Years ago, when I met my first vegetarian, I asked a very dumb question: What do you eat? I couldn't imagine what would be on his plate if he didn't eat meat of any kind. During my upbringing, meat protein took centerstage at every meal. Vegetables were side dishes. The guy understandably grew annoyed with my ignorance although his response didn't enlighten me about the vast range of vegetarian cuisine. Too bothered to eat let alone cook, he often stuck in a few unpeeled carrots into a brown paper sack for his work lunches. Needless to say, my first impression of vegetarianism was not an appealing one.
I likened it to the elective poverty lifestyle of a monk. After all, only the poor couldn't afford meat, I was told. Herbert Hoover's 1928 presidential campaign used the slogan, "A chicken in every pot" to promise the return of good times during the Depression and in later years, a Sunday roast was the epitome of middle class prosperity.
Opening my mind, listening to my body
As I met new people from different backgrounds in college which expanded my life education beyond the conservative suburbs, I came to understand the various cultural and religious reasons that advocated for vegetarianism. I admired people for their devotion to what they believed and to the extent to which they sacrificed many life experiences for those beliefs because to me, vegetarianism meant sacrificing what I had come to know as good eating.
A few would challenge my meat-eating ways with logical debate: "Do you love animals? How can you say you love animals when you eat them and thus support an industry that treats them with routine cruelty and abuse?" I grew up eating meat and had become accustomed to it. "If you were taught as a child to drink and smoke or even commit crimes, would you continue as an adult now knowing that to do so is harmful to your body or to others?"
I had no rational answers. Instead of reflecting on my choices and beliefs, I just avoided vegetarians! But I do love animals. So much so that I fell in love with some chickens. (You can read my Hubpage article about this experience here: .) And suddenly, animal flesh did not taste so great. But I continued to eat meat until I experienced a serious medical crisis that caused my body to completely empty itself and I was left with an empty, but clean, vessel. My body refused to allow me to eat anything that wasn't easy on my digestion system.
That's when my new lifestyle of vegetarian (ok, it's more like flexitarianism. I will eat eggs and a little cheese now and then) began. At first, I felt intimated by all the limitations until I began to make a list of all the fresh and wholesome vegetable dishes I already enjoyed. That's when I recognized how much of a vegetarian I already am. And I highly suspect that many others are the same. Days will go by and my family never notices that their menus have been vegetarian. They don't miss the meat.
Different types of vegetarians
Which type fits your lifestyle?
- Flexitarian. Mostly vegetarian. Will occasionally eat meat, fish, dairy and cheese.
- Lacto-ovo. No meat but will eat eggs and dairy.
- Pesco vegetarian. No meat, dairy or eggs but will consume fish and seafood.
- Vegetarian. Only vegetables.
- Vegan. Strictly only vegetables and will avoid animal byproducts of any kind (gelatin, eggs, milk, fur) in cosmetics, clothing, medicines, etc.
Vegetarian dishes you already love
Here are some vegetarian dishes that you probably love and don't identify as being vegetarian, although not all are vegan.
- Olive Tapenade
- Fried Zucchini and Mushrooms
- Spinach and Artichoke Dip
- Bean Dip
Too many to list
- Tortilla chips
- Nut butters
Any stand alone vegetable can star in its own soup (cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, etc.) but here are some vegetables that combine to make spectacular soups:
- Kale-Potato Soup
- Vegetable Minestrone
- Corn-Lima Bean Succotash Chowder
Toss anything into tomato soup to change it up in creative ways: tomato-chickpeas, tomato-basil-carmelized onion, tomato-spinach, tomato-cucumber-onion (hot gazpacho), tomato-zucchini-peas, tomato-chutney-mango, tomato-rice. You get the idea.
- Bean burritos
- Quesadillas (lacto-ovo veg)
- Red Beans and Rice
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Pasta Primavera or Marinara
- Manicotti (lacto-ovo)
- Mushroom Ravioli
- Spinach Lasagna
- Stuffed Baked Potatoes
- Vegetable and Potato Fritters
- Vegetable Tempura
- Vegetable Curry
- Black Bean Chili
The list is truly endless, and I encourage you to pick up some vegetarian cookbooks for more ideas. Make a list of your vegetarian favorites. The longer your list, the better. Then, focus on eating your favorites list and you may be surprised to find that weeks and maybe a month will go by without your missing animal meat.
Would you consider eating more vegetarian?
What is the level of vegetarianism that suits you?
Learning more about vegetarianism
If you've decided to embark on a fully vegetarian lifestyle, please read more about the important dietary needs of a vegetarian. Depending upon your food choices, you may need to supplement your vitamin, mineral and amino acid intake however some knowledgeable ingredient combining can cover all of your needs with plant-based foods. For example, beans and rice together form a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids found in meat.
You needn't radically overhaul your eating habits to be kinder to your body. Chances are, you're already eating a lot of plant-based dishes and relishing them. I encourage you to continue while slowly diminishing your intake of animal protein. It's better for your body, better for the planet, and most definitely better for animal welfare.
What do you think of this recipe?
Red Beans and Rice
Many recipes for Red Beans and Rice are not vegetarian because one of the common ingredients is sausage. But with all the herbs and spices, this recipe doesn't miss the meat at all.
It seems that many cuisines have their version of beans and rice. In Japan, the adzuki bean is a smaller, sweeter red bean that is mixed with short grain to make the pink-tinted Sekihan which is eaten on special occasions. Puerto Rican Rice and Beans features black beans on white rice. In the American South, black-eyed peas in rice is called Hopping John.The kidney bean is the typical red bean of choice for this American Creole dish.
Experiment with different types of beans including chickpeas (garbanzo bean).
If you like heat, feel free to add more cayenne pepper or serve with your favorite brand of hot sauce at the table.
- 8 oz. dried kidney beans
- 1/2 small white onion, diced
- 1 medium rib celery, diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 large dried bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp. red cayenne pepper, to taste, optional
- 2 cup long grain white rice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
- 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
- Place the dried beans in a large pot and fill it with clean, cool water. Swish the beans around with your hands and remove any beans that float. Pick out any debris.
- Empty and refill the pot with water until the water level is at least three inches above the beans. Set this over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Cover the pot and turn off the heat. Allow the beans to soak for a minimum of one hour. They will plump up and triple in size.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet. Saute chopped garlic, onion, celery and carrots until translucent. Add bay leaf, oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper (optional). Remove from heat and set aside.
- Drain the beans using a colander. Place the beans back into the pot and refill with water until the level is about one inch above the beans.
- Return to stovetop over medium heat. Stir in the herbs and vegetables. Bring to a simmer.
- Stir occasionally to be sure beans don't stick to bottom of pot and add 1/2 cup of water as needed to keep water level barely above beans.
- Cook until beans are tender soft but not soggy or mushy.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Is using a rice cooker, cook rice according to appliance directions. If using stovetop, melt butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add rice and stir until grains are coated with butter.
- Add vegetable broth or water and stir. Bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
- Turn off heat, and let rice "steam" for 10 minutes. Place the hot rice in a large serving bowl. Top with the cooked red beans and the liquid in the pot. Garnish with sliced green scallions.
Alan Joseph's Video of Different Types of Beans
Many types of beans
This brief Youtube video has pictures of the most common beans used for culinary purposes.
You're almost there!
It's easier to eat vegetarian than you know. Give it a try to see how long it takes before you miss the taste of meat.