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Vegetarian Small Plates

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In the past few months, my boyfriend and I have shifted from eating meat two or three times a week to eating it two or three times a month. The trendy term for what we are now is “flexitarian,” and its health benefits are pretty much on par with full-time vegetarianism (though the ethical aspect is yours to sort out on your own). This new goal has had the added benefit of broadening our horizons in terms of the vegetables and grains we eat regularly and inspiring us to try dozens of new recipes.

At first we were held back by the fact that many omnivore-focused cookbooks, magazines, and websites seem to have fairly similar vegetarian offerings. Even if they’re offered in large numbers, their scope is often limited to only a few categories: pasta dishes, omelets and other egg-based entrees, soups, pizzas. While there are tons of vegetable-based side dishes, the entrees to go along with them begin to feel repetitive.

Fortunately, we had a revelation in the form of Mark Bittman’s fantastic compendium How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Our problem wasn’t a dearth of recipes; it was in how we approached what makes a meal. The balanced dinners I and many other Americans grew up with had a definite shape: a meat and two sides (a veggie and a starch). Our meatless alternatives still often followed this model, just with different main courses and fewer side starches (since they’re often part of the main dish).

Bittman points out in his introduction that a good vegetarian meal often takes on a completely different shape, with multiple smaller dishes carrying equal weight. This has all kinds of benefits. For one, vegetarians typically have to eat more bulk than omnivores to get the same amount of calories, and a variation in textures and tastes keeps that from becoming boring. We have more opportunities to try new things — if something doesn’t work out, a whole meal isn’t ruined. Our lunch leftovers are more varied. And even more importantly, a whole new world of recipes was opened to us: all those side dishes I’d filed away for future dinner parties, but never bothered to make alongside big vegetarian entrees that seemed complete with a simple green salad.

In our new meals, side dishes are liberated from their supporting roles and become co-stars, each bringing something different in both nutrition and flavor. If a meal seems incomplete, a nice loaf of bread, some cheese, or an unexpected leftover can save the day. When my mustard greens came out not-quite-right, I grabbed some of the previous day’s spicy coleslaw to fill the gap. Leftovers take on new life as hot dishes become room-temperature dishes and standalone vegetables become salad toppings.

dinner

Here’s what we had for dinner the other night: diced Yukon Gold potatoes stir-fried with cumin seeds and garam masala, a warm tomato and edamame salad, and homemade kimchi. The next day for lunch, I took the remaining tomato and edamame to work and ate it over a small green salad; meanwhile, my boyfriend ate the potatoes, and more kimchi is in the refrigerator, getting tastier by the day and awaiting future meals in this wonderful small-plates style.

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About Caitlin Pike

  • http://rachelstein.tumblr.com rachel

    Awesome advice! And those potatoes look amazing!!!

  • http://lazarocooks.blogspot.com/ Lazaro

    Look at Caitlin getting nice with her article! Love it.

    As a person who’s tried to write and show people that vegetarian can be sexy and fulfilling, I appreciate your work.

    Unfortunately, we may have to have a Bittman discussion down the line.

    Two thumbs up!

  • http://cakelin.tumblr.com Caitlin

    Rach – We’ll make them for you sometime! Super easy once you get past dicing them. You can also grate them.

    Lazaro – Thanks for the support! :)

  • http://www.theardentepicure.com/ Magic of Spice

    Nice article…the dish looks simple and delicious:) I am a vegetarian that eats wild caught seafood…can not think of the social expectable term for it at the moment,lol. But you will not be disappointed by gearing your diet in this fashion. And as so many great chefs have proven time and time again, this does not mean a diet without richness of flavor:)

  • Penny

    This is a great article! I definitely agree with you – as a flexitarian mother myself. My kids don’t seem to notice when I replace a meat-based meal with 4 colorful, tasty veggie dishes. I love doing this, as it keeps things interesting and makes other meals easier to put together. I love doing mini-buffets, especially with ethnic food too. My family loves Indian food, and serving up a few vegetarian indian plates for everyone to take from is the best. My kids particularly can’t get enough of Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils and Jaipur Vegetables, which I serve with Naan and Peas Paneer. I trust the brand because all the dishes are vegetarian, preservative-free, all natural, low sodium/fat/calorie, and are made from simple ingredients. I definitely recommend the brand and can stand behind what this article has to say. Bon appetit!