Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A vegetarian diet - how to start?

A question from a reader: "In years past I ate a mainly vegetarian diet, I don't think I did this in a proper and well balanced manner. I would like to go back to a vegetarian diet but not sure where to start or how to make sure I am doing this in a well balanced way to recieve all the proper nutrients."

A vegetarian diet can be healthy, delicious and satisfying, but it requires a certain bit of creativity and open mind. We are often so set on the meat-starch side dish-vegetables on the side-type of meal, that when we take out the meat component, we feel helpless and don't know how to proceed.

Meat isn't irreplaceable, but if it is currently the main source of protein and iron in your diet, you will need to think of other variations in your menu. Eggs and dairy products are a good source of protein, if you plan to continue including them in your menu. Legumes such as different sorts of beans and lentils contain protein, iron, and a good amount of dietary fiber. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive, which is why they are often included in my menu plan.

For a meal, especially a main meal, to be truly satisfying and nourishing, it shouldn't be based on an excess of carbohydrates (like too many vegetarian dishes are), but should include both carbohydrate and protein and preferably some healthy oil. The combination of protein, carbohydrate and oil will keep you from getting hungry again for a long time.

Here is an example of a very rich meatless soup I made last week (makes a large amount, since it's just the two of us we still have a lot of it):

1\2 cup of dry red beans, placed in water overnight
2 tbsps of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp of ground turmeric
8-10 cups of water
1\4 cup chopped parsley
1 cup canned chickpeas
1 carrot, chopped
1 potato, chopped
1\4 cup of red lentils
1\2 cup of oats
2 tsps of salt
1\4 tsp of black pepper
Some fresh mint leaves

Pour the oil into a large pot, add chopped onion, and cook until soft. Add red beans with water and turmeric, bring to boil, and cook for 30-40 minutes. Add carrot and potato and cook for another 20 minutes. Then add chickpeas, oats, and lentils, together with salt and pepper, and cook until soft. Decorate with mint leaves and serve.

A dish of this type supplies both protein and carbohydrate, and a fair amount of dietary fiber. Served with some hot bread and a salad of fresh vegetables on the side, it makes an excellent, simple, filling meal. I'm sorry I don't have a digital camera available at the moment and therefore can't post a picture, but it looked good!

You can get plenty of ideas for delicious vegetarian meals out of cookbooks and from the internet. You will probably also depend on what your local market offers during each season, and at which prices. The recipe above is a slightly altered version of the one in an Israeli vegetarian cookbook my dear husband got for me recently.


UvA said...

Hi Anna,

thank you so much for sharing so much about Orthodox Jewish Culture and vegetarianism with your readers. It is always good to get new ideas about veg. recipes. Do you know a nice recipe for making falafel at home ? I once tried to make it, but it did not work out.Do you know any other nice typical Israeli vegetarian recipes ? I have some Israeli friends here in Amsterdam and I would like to surprise them with a nice typical Israeli dinner.

Mrs G. said...

Shalom, Anna,
Thank you so much for your blog. You are so kind and gentle in your writings.
Re: vegetarian cooking...I'd like to recommend the Moosewood Cookbooks. They can be found on-line, used, inexpensively. The reason I enjoy using them is they do not use exotic ingredients, relatively easy to make (some require some time), and most of all, they taste delicious! The first two books, The Moosewood Cookbook and the Enchanged Broccoli Forest are all hand written and illustrated by the author, Molly Katzen. She weaves in stories and you feel like she is in the kitchen with you.
Mrs. G

JME said...

Thank you for sharing this. I think that was one of the things I did wrong with vegetarian eating, too many carbohydrates. You feel hungry sooner and you add more calories than needed.

Harespring said...

Lovely recipe. I'm going to try it, and particularly like the addition of the oats, but wonder if they are pinhead (coarse), medium or porridge oats? Also, and I'm sure you know this Mrs T, but others may not, if the 'red beans' are what we call red kidney beans, they need to be cooked on a rolling boil, whatever else you do with them in a recipe. They can be poisonous otherwise - something to do with the skins, possibly part of the red pigment.

Mrs. Amy Brigham said...

How could you forget quinoa, Anna?! :P Such a tasty source of complete protein with a higher amount of calcium than the often poorly assimilated calcium found in diary products. And if this were not great enough, quiona comes in many different colors, each offering a bit of different taste. Goodness, I sound like a sales girl! Sorry about that! ;o)

Louie said...

You could use canned red kidney beans to avoid the risk of poisoning! Quicker too, as it needs no overnight preparation. This is an interesting recipe that lends itself to plenty of variations and/or additions.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Amy, I love quinoa and it's a wonderful source of protein and minerals, but it isn't very affordable here in Israel, that's why I didn't mention it.

Mrs. Amy Brigham said...

Oh no! :o( Too bad I couldn't send you some through the internet waves, or else I'd be happy to share some of my "stash" with you, Anna! Sean & I just bought a big stockpile of various grains, including three different types of quinoa, and will be purchasing some legumes & other goodies later on this month. (I'm hoping to limit my grocery shopping mainly to fresh items when Sean is gone "world traveling" to make life a bit less crazy, hence the "food hoarding." Now I just need to find way to store it all! LOL.)

Christine said...

Hi Anna,

I am allergic to dairy and soy, and I am wondering if a vegetarian diet is possible given these restrictions. I am also allergic to wheat, so I don't get any protein from bread, either

Laura Brown said...

Hi Anna,

I was interested in the measurements used in your recipe. Do Israeli recipes normally use American measurements (cups, etc.)?

It looks delicious, BTW!