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.