Vegetarian Cooking – Three Basics

For any of the many reasons people choose to eat
vegetarian food – religion, politics, finances, or health –
one thing in common is that everyone prefers food that
tastes delicious and provides good nutrition. There are
some basic techniques to vegetarian cooking which will
accomplish that.

There is a range of vegetarianism. From the vegan to the
person who eats meat on rare occasions. Some people
consider themselves basically vegetarian if they never eat
red meat, but do eat fish and chicken once in a while.
Other vegetarians eat animal products like eggs and dairy,
but never the animal itself. A vegan is at the far end of
the continuum, rejecting animal products entirely. Vegans
won’t eat mayonnaise because it’s made using eggs, for
example.

Wherever you are on the continuum of vegetarianism, you
want your food to taste good, be satisfying, and provide
good nutrition. Here are some methods for cooking
vegetarian to meet those basic requirements.

To begin, if you are making some dish that is actually a
meat-based recipe, such as chili con carne, stop
substituting textured vegetable protein for the meat and
leaving the rest of the recipe unaltered. The result never
tastes quite right, and you’ve been robbed of the pleasure
of good food: it’s neither meat nor properly vegetarian.
Furthermore, you haven’t gained in terms of health or
economy. Soy is the primary ingredient of textured
vegetable protein, tofu, and tempeh. These are usually
high in fat, high in processing, and fairly high in cost.
Not much better than organically raised meat, if at all.
So if chili con carne is what you want, buy organic meat
and enjoy it! Otherwise, cook a delicious soup using red
beans that doesn’t pretend it’s chili con carne.

The key to good vegetarian soup is to use oil. Even if
you prefer low fat, your body does require fats for healthy
metabolism. And it definitely enhances the quality and
flavor of any vegetarian soup when some of the vegetables
(onions in particular) are saut~ed. Use an oil that’s
liquid at room temperature, such as olive, vegetable, or
grape seed.

The next critical ingredient of vegetarian food that
tastes fabulous is really simple: use sea salt. Although
any kind of salt will enhance the flavor of most foods, sea
salt is best. It naturally contains minerals, while it
doesn’t contain the nasty chemicals of regular processed
table salt. Important to note~ use salt *during* the
cooking instead of waiting until after serving the food.
This makes a difference in the final quality of the dish
because cooking is chemistry. Remember back to your high
school chemistry classes: the order of combining the
elements, and the application of heat to the mixture could
make a tremendous difference to the results of the
experiment!

The third tip for vegetarian cooking is obvious, yet needs
emphasis. Use lots of vegetables! You can’t over-do
vegetables in your diet – the greater the range and color,
the better. Use leafy veg (lettuce, spinach, and chard),
root veg (yams, carrots, potatoes, turnips), and the stems
and seed carriers of veg (for example celery, eggplant,
peppers, zucchini). Buy organic veg if you can because
they really do taste better, and of course they provide
better nutrition because they are gown in healthy, ‘clean’
dirt.

Take any vegetable and bean soup recipe, and follow these
three simple principles: saut~ the veg in the right oil,
cook the beans in sea-salted water, use a variety of
organic vegetables, and you’ll have a rich delicious soup.
These simple tips make a big difference. Take my word for
it, or do a little test. Use the same list of ingredients,
but don’t saut~ in oil, add the salt at the table, and use
conventionally grown veg. The result will be inferior –
still nutritious, but bland rather than satisfying, and
that’s a shame because the few simple techniques described
here can make your vegetarian cooking consistently
terrific.

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