Sunday, February 03, 2008

NOMEATPO WEEK - The Verdict!

When I was 16 years old my best friend made an awesome pasta dish for me. Since I loved cooking and baking, I decided to recreate this dish for my family one night at dinner. I slowly soaked sundried tomatoes, lovingly roasted sweet red peppers, delicately chiffonaded (??) fresh green basil, simmered a homemade tomato sauce and cooked pasta to perfection. I proudly set the beautiful plates in front of my family to enjoy, imagining the praise that was to come at the deliciousness that was our meal.
My father, hunter to the core, immediately asked "Is there meat in this?", to which I responded in the negative, confused as to why that should be an issue. He then stood up and rustled around in the refrigerator until he found what he was looking for: a container of leftover venison which he promptly nuked and tossed into my creation. To him, a meatless meal means the family was not provided for adequately enough - the word "vegetarian" is a Native American word for "bad hunter". When my husband jokingly complained that I wasn't feeding him any meat this week my father, startled, asked if we were out of venison and offered us the contents of his freezer.
Although my husband is also a hunter, thankfully he tolerates my attempts at a healthier diet, as do my children who aren't old enough to know better. The five days of vegetarianism have turned out as well as they could have under the circumstances, which proved to be less that perfect.
Dinners were a non-issue. I always plan the week's meals in advance so I had five recipes - some old, some new - ready for the making. Our breakfast are also generally meatless, usually consisting of cereal, eggs or pancakes so that wasn't a problem either. However, when it came to lunch we hit our first speedbump. I had very little time, a fridge void of meatless leftovers, and a cupboard full of tuna and canned chicken and beef soups. My first thought was pasta, but we were having pasta for dinner and I'm anal about not having the same thing twice in a day, even if it's in different forms. Yes, I'm a OC weirdo. That first day we ended up having cereal for lunch, not that the boys minded in the least. (As a sidenote, children in diapers DO NOT need All-Bran, no matter what they say.)
Our second problem appeared when we were stranded in Ottawa for a couple of days due to a huge snowstorm. When you're a houseguest you can't exactly dictate what's on the menu so we ended up having chicken at dinner. But I closed my eyes and pretended really hard that it was tofu. Really. We also had to share meat-filled ravioli for lunch the next day, but I was trying to be good so instead of making the second can of ravioli I opened a can of meatless baked beans instead. *silence while I await my pat on the back*
Overall I think the week went well. We managed to stay meatless otherwise, even when my husband made breakfast and proudly announced that he COULD HAVE made bacon, but didn't. The meals that were made were very tasty, and we didn't even miss the meat. I even tried some new foods, like veggie ground (a soy product that is supposed to taste like ground in my vegetarian chili. One thing I did find was that there tends to be more preparation when it comes to decent vegetarian meals and that's not necessarily a good thing when you're in a hurry to get dinner on the table.
I'll definitely try to add an extra vegetarian meal into our weekly meal plans, and ultimately I'd like to be having at least three meatless nights a week. This week showed that, with a little thought and preparation, it is possible.

Our Vegetarian Dinners:

Spicy Sesame Noodles

1 lb spaghetti, cooked (we used brown rice spaghetti)
1 cup peanut butter (preferably oil, salt, and sugar free)
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup 7 Pepper Vinegar (this is an Epicure Selections product - not sure where else you'd find it)
1 tsp garlic powder
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
salt, to taste
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 medium cucumber, sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional)

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.
In a large bowl, whisk together sesame oil, vegetable oil, soy sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, garlic and crushed pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt.
Add cooked spaghetti and toss well with green onions and cilantro. Top with cucumber.

Vegetarian Pad Thai

1 package rice sticks
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp each soy sauce, lime juice and brown sugar
1 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp crushed red red pepper flakes
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced red onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup bean sprouts
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup each chopped green onions and chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/2 package extra-firm tofu

Cook rice sticks according to package directions (for stir-frys)
Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and set aside.
Combine ketchup, soy sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Cube tofu and add to sauce. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook and stir until onions are tender, about 3 minutes. Add sauce and tofu and bring to a boil. Add cooked noodles, sprouts, carrots, green onions and cilantro. Heat through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with peanuts.

Vegetarian Chili

1-1/4 cups chopped onions
1 cup each chopped green and red pepper
3/4 cup each chopped celery and carrots
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
1-1/2 cups quartered mushrooms
1 cup cubed zucchini
1 can (28 oz) chopped tomatoes, undrained
1 can tomato paste
1 can (19 oz) each black beans and chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can (12 oz) kernel corn, undrained
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1-1/2 tsp each dried oregano and dried basil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hotter)
1 package veggie ground
1 large handful (or more) baby spinach leaves
Salt, to taste

Spray a large saucepan with nonstick spray. Add onions, peppers, celery, carrots, garlic and chili powder. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until veggies are softened.
Add mushrooms and zucchini, cook and stir for 4 more minutes. Add rest of ingredients, except veggie ground, spinach and salt. Stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add veggie ground and spinach and stir well until heated through. Salt to taste.
Top with shredded cheddar cheese.

Cumin Carrot Tofu Patties

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup grated carrot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 package (350 g) extra firm tofu
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup pasta sauce
1 tsp grated lemon rind
Pinch cinnamon

In nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp oil over medium heat. Cook onion, carrot, garlic, pinch of cumin, and cayenne, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
In food processor, blend tofu with tahini. Add onion mixture, half of the parsley, bread crumbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. Form into eight 1/2 inch patties.
Heat remaining oil in clean skillet over medium heat. Cook patties in batches until golden about 4 minutes per side.
Meanwhile, in saucepan, combine pasta sauce, lemon rind, cinnamon, and remaining cumin and parsley; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Serve over patties.

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