I am in no way, shape, or form a vegetarian. However, it is exceptionally simple to understand why people choose to become vegetarian. Many make this choice for ethical reasons regarding the treatment of animals. Educating yourself on the barbaric practices of factory farms will do it. Factory farms raise livestock in confinement at high stockpile bulk. The main products of this industry are meat, milk, and eggs for human consumption. Confinement requires antibiotics and pesticides to combat the distribution of disease made worse by the tight living quarters. Does this sound like anything you would put in your body? How about feeding it to your young, innocent children that depend on you for sustenance? I can sum up factory farming in three words: grotesque, heartbreaking, and pitiless.
Another reason for turning to vegetarianism is better health. Vegetables contain plant proteins that reduce cholesterol, in comparison to animal proteins that have the opposite effect. The main health benefit is reducing the risk of heart disease. Some of the other benefits include lowering blood pressure, controlling diabetes, facilitating digestion of food, and eliminating toxins from the body. Congratulations on choosing to become vegetarian: your prize is possibly a longer life. On the other hand, forget about eating out because restaurants really do not care about you. Get ready to eat some crunchy, bland rabbit food. Does it have to be this way? Can vegetarian food be interesting, creative, and sexy?
Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. The problem is that lazy cooks take the easy way out when it comes to meatless dishes. They spend so much time obsessing over the filet mignon, the foie gras, or the pan-seared veal chop that they cannot be bothered with alternative courses. Luckily, the blogosphere is rife with inventive sorcerers ready to take veggies to another level. My cousin, Nancy Martinez Batts, co-author on our blog Lazaro Cooks!, is vegan and a remarkable cook. In 2009, she came across The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Nutrition Study Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long Term Health by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., and it changed her eating habits forever. We have had the misfortune of losing many relatives and loved ones to diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Nancy strives to prove that healthy food can be yummy food.
The dish pictured above is her vegan spin on Tortilla Soup, a Mexican classic. In this recipe, she uses a flavorful faux chicken bouillon base that you would never know is vegan. Traditionally, crumbled Cotija cheese or shredded cheeses are added to the soup. However, in order to keep the fat intake low, she uses multiple freshly chopped herbs and vegetables to garnish the soup. Complete the dish with organic corn tortilla strips and your guests will be back for seconds.
Do you require more convincing? How about Michelin star-quality vegetarian presentation? Feast your eyes on this light, seasonal, summer fling. The artist responsible for this masterpiece is Silvia Gregori, a personal chef from San Francisco. Zucchini tagliatelle with edamame, pictured above, should be in a museum. Here zucchini ribbons, sliced thin on a mandoline, play the role of tagliatelle pasta. All the while, a balanced and harmonious flavor profile of shallots, garlic, ginger, and rice wine vinegar create an explosion in the palate. This course is smart, inventive, tasty, and visually striking, everything you want a dish to be.
Personally, my creative juices get challenged by the idea of making veggie food sexy and satisfying. The dish pictured above is a vegetarian take on an enormously popular scallop course I serve. The mock “scallops” are firm tofu that I cut out with a biscuit cutter. The tofu rounds are then seared on a pan at very high heat. Topping each mock “scallop” are pieces of crispy caramelized soyrizo. Soyrizo is a soy based meat alternative that has the delicious flavoring of a chorizo sausage. Rounding out the plate are dollops of avocado puree crowned with edible flowers. Do any of these dishes seem boring to you?