Sometimes your family reminds you of how silly you can be.
One of the last times I was at my mom's for a visit, we were sitting around the dining room table for a typical hours-long meal (I like to think this is the French in us), when the conversation turned to my sister's recent dietary changes. Then, before I knew it, I became the focus of the discussion.
My grandmother gave one of her endearing, disgusted looks and said, "Melissa, I remember when you were a vegetarian and you were SO SICK. Your mother had to take you to the doctor. EGGHH." We all kind of looked at her funny because this never actually happened. There was no convincing her otherwise. Then someone else chimed in, "I remember when you told your mother you were going to be a VEE-gaan." And then, "Oh yeah, Liss, remember your 'free meat' policy?"
Well, when you put it that way, I sure do seem flaky.
I have had a pretty tumultuous relationship with meats. It probably started when I was 14-ish and came home from a Naturalist summer-camp-boat experience on the Chesapeake Bay - Voyage of the Mimi, anyone? One of the counselors was the coolest woman ever. She wore Teva's and they left awesome tan lines on her feet. She didn't shave her legs. She didn't eat meat. Neither did the cutie-patootie Captain of our voyage. Ahh, Captain Drew. Obviously, I came home and foreswore all meat. I subsisted on a diet of Wonder Bread and oranges instead. This lasted somewhere between one week and one year - who's to say?
Throughout high school and the first part of college I sort of flirted on and off with being a vegetarian. I thought I made a life-long commitment when I was 20 and heard about all of the ways that Big Meat destroys land and forests and the environment and people's lives. I would say things like, "I just don't really want to be a part of that economy."
I think that sentiment is eventually where "free meat" came in. In the beginning of the end, if I was offered meat that, in my mind, was going to go to waste anyway, I would eat it. This was partially to not be rude in certain social situations, and partially because I was excited to find a loop-hole in my economy schema. I just didn't want to buy the stuff myself. It was a matter of conscience. This policy fully took effect when I moved to central Pennsylvania. Then I could go to someone's house and eat something other than a piece of bread and some iceberg lettuce. I know that real vegetarians everywhere are rolling their eyes at me right now. “Free meat” was the gateway, and getting married, I think, was the final nail in the coffin.
For the record, I never told my mom that I was going to go vegan. There was a "vegan experiment" once, when my roommate came back from a trip west and sat next to a vegan on her plane ride. It sounds like he was pretty evangelical about it and asked her if she ever thought about the fact that only humans drink the milk of other animals. She brought that same question to us, her roommates, and frankly, that thought had never occurred to me. It kind of grossed me out, if only momentarily. So the experiment was born - two weeks to see if we could be vegan. At this point my memory fails and I don't know if they joined me or if I just like to tell myself that other people did this with me. What I learned was that you can eat Keebler grasshopper cookies as a vegan and that soy milk isn't so bad.
Now that we do, in fact, eat meat, my favorite cookbooks still tend to be all of my vegetarian ones: my collection of Moosewood cookbooks and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Here's a tangent for you: I love Ithaca, New York. We visited for a couple of days as part of our honeymoon and have been drawn back two more times since. We stopped there originally because of my infatuation with the vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant, but discovered the gorges, the vineyards, the hippies, oh my!
So, it's been a rocky road, and when I meet true, honest-to-goodness vegetarians, I sometimes feel a twinge of guilt. On the whole, though, I am mostly happy with my solution to the vegetarian dilemma that seems to plague me. We try to buy meat directly from a farmer. We try to eat 2-3 vegetarian meals a week. And of, course, my favorite - I mix bulgur, quinoa, or lentils into everything. You should try it; it's sneaky and fun!
Wow, I've droned on about this. So, I will give you two recipes for sticking with me. If you ever start to feel guilty about the amount of meat that you eat and all of the rainforests you may or may not be destroying and the giant hole in the atmosphere that you are contributing to, not to mention that the cows or chickens you are eating probably ate newspapers and soy while they were being "raised," make these black bean burgers instead. I will temper this guilt-trip by telling you that today I froze 10 of these veggie-burgers, but I also formed 2 pounds of ground beef into about 10 patties and froze them as well.
These are really easy with a food processor, but you could also mash up the ingredients by hand. I haven't tried to add other veggies, but I think the base recipe is pretty forgiving. You could shred some carrots and chop up mushrooms -maybe sautée them first - to throw in, or anything else that strikes your fancy.
Easy Black Bean Burgers (Adapted from Cooking Light)
2 pieces of whole wheat bread, torn into pieces
3-4 green onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup frozen corn (optional - my kids are crazy for corn)
salt, herbs, spices
Process the bread pieces until breadcrumbs form (If you are not using a food processor, maybe toast the bread first and smash it in a plastic zipper-bag with your rolling pin? Or just use store-bought breadcrumbs). Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large bowl. Next, pulsate the onions and garlic a few times until they are finely chopped, add the black beans and pulse a few more times. We're not looking for slurry, here. There should still be some whole black beans left. Transfer the ingredients to the bowl with the bread crumbs. Add eggs, and corn or other veggies, if using. Add seasoning. I added a bit of salt, a shake of cumin and chili powder. You don't have to make them southwest burgers - that's just what I tend to do with black bean things. Mix it all together.
I formed about ten patties – 4 grown-up size and 6 kid size - and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze for 1-2 hours, then wrap in plastic, label, date, and put back in the freezer. You're done.
We took the experimental group out of the freezer and left them on the counter for 30-45 minutes while I did some other things. Then we cooked them low and slow on our gas grill, but you can probably pan-fry them. We lined the grill with foil for fear of a black bean mess. It worked out well - they turn out a little soft, but with a crusty roll (I have a homemade bun recipe coming) and some burger toppings, they were good.
Actually, my kids asked if we could please eat these every night. No, weirdos.
I will never, ever tell you they taste "just like meat." They don't. They taste just like black bean burgers.
This blog is becoming so carby and freezery, so I have to tell you what I had for lunch today. You have to promise not to put it in the freezer, though. I don't think that would work out favorably.
I went to a Memorial Day picnic at a friend's house and someone brought a delicious raw kale salad. I've been thinking about it ever since. If I had a little more "foody" in me, I probably would have been more inventive with the ingredients. I just threw together what I had on hand instead. This is what I would eat for lunch everyday if I actually were vegan. Maybe I'd add a side-dish of grasshopper cookies too.
3-4 cups kale, torn into pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 cup raw snow peas
3 green onions, sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbs. peanut butter
A few hits of Siracha
1-2 Tbs. sunflower seeds or other nuts/seeds
Whisk together the peanut butter and soy sauce in the bottom of a large bowl. Add half of the lemon juice. Add Kale and stir to coat the leaves with the sauce. Add the rest of the lemon juice and stir. Throw in the rest of the ingredients and toss. The longer the kale marinates in the sauce, the more tender it will become. I ate this for lunch today with a handful of dried apricots. It helped me to not succumb to my afternoon ritual of eating a bowl of ice cream the size of my head.
If, like me, you have a penchant for buying kale and Swiss chard and spinach every time you go to a farmer's market and there is no way you can possibly eat it all before it turns to mush, you can freeze it for use in soups and sautées. Just de-vein it and blanch it in boiling water for 2 minutes (probably more like 1 minute for spinach), drain in a mesh sieve, cool, and freeze in plastic bags or containers. Bam! Kale salad segues to freezer-tip.
Black Bean Burgers (per 1/8 of mixture): Calories – 156; Fat – 3g; Sodium – 538mg;Fiber – 6g; Protein – 10g; Iron – 17%
Kale Salad (per ¼ of salad, about 1 ½ cup serving): Calories – 130; Fat – 6g; Fiber – 4g; Protein – 6g; Vitamin A – 220%; Vitamin C – 180%; Calcium – 10%; Iron – 11%