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Vegetarian 101

May 3rd, 2012 by Andrea L

One of my closest friends who is also a chef came into town last weekend for a little visit.  Laurel, a true blue confidant and fellow chef just spent the last year in LA cooking for a family privately, and has now set up residence in Michigan where she works on a farm collective, tilling the land taking the food into harvest where it will be distributed into CSA boxes or co-op fruit and vegetable boxes going out to hundreds of local residents that participate in this farms program.  When I lived in Portland, OR I knew many people that would get these kinds of co-op boxes.  Many times they would get weird vegetables like lochness cucumbers for example, unidentifiable unless you had Google so you could figure out how to eat it.  Laurel informed me that her farm specializes in normal fare, onions, broccoli, etc.

While out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants Krisp, the inevitable happened.  “Andrea, so I have some news” she says to me.

“Yes”, I said as I tore into my chicken leg…

“I am going to try out being a vegetarian for a while.”

I rolled my eyes right into the very back of my head. ”Oh Christ, why? Oh is this why you are only eating salad and we are at Krisp,?”  I moaned.  Good thing we didn’t go to Tango Sur like I had suggested earlier.  She told me later she couldn’t bring herself to tell me then so she brought a public place where I would be distracted with chicken wings which she believed would be a better way to break the news to me.

She was right.

Now for those of you that are vegetarians, please forgive me.  I respect anyone’s right to eat whatever and however they want…. it just never really occurred to me that someone I have shared so many meals centered on no restrictions, especially meat induced, would be saying this to me.  See food with us has always been a no holds barred, free and creative experience, the idea of taking my favorite form of protein out of the equation was unfathomable.

She went on to explain to me she came to this decision after working on a farm and first, because she is not paid much money, she found other ways to get more out of her dollar.  Also, with long treks on her bike to get to the food shops (remember she lives on a farm), transporting meat was just cumbersome.  Also, hello!  She lives on a farm, so eating what you grow from the ground is pretty much a given way of life.  She slowly began to subtract meat from her diet in a smart way, incorporating more vitamins and grains such as Quinoa to replace those amino acids you lose in an all-vegetable diet.  She said she started to feel better, lighter, and I have to say she looked great.  So I got to thinking about my judgmental ways, and let me reiterate, it is just me as I don’t speak for all chefs, and decided to spend the weekend and eat how Laurel does to try to gain more insight and maybe even broaden my food horizons.  Over the next few days we cooked A LOT and here are some of the great things we made.

Day 1

We went to Stanley’s Produce Market, one of my favorite places on the earth, and spent $40 and got a small mini U-Haul’s worth of fruit and veg.  The first thing I learned about being a vegetarian is how far your dollar goes when you aren’t purchasing more expensive proteins.  We got our purchases home and made the first of one of my favorite things… Greek Quinoa Salad.  In a word, DELISH; and filling!

Greek Quinoa Salad

  • 3-4 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (you may use any flavor you prefer)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice from one lemon
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, sliced if desired
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a medium-large saucepan, cook the quinoa in vegetable broth for 15-20 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil.

Gently toss the quinoa together with the remaining ingredients, except feta. Pour the olive oil mixture over the quinoa.

Add more salt and pepper to taste and gently stir in the feta cheese

Day 2

All I wanted was a burger.  Being a Midwest transplant girl, I needed some beef; I needed a nice chewy roll, and some spicy ketchup.  I wanted it all, I wanted it now, I work hard, and damnit I deserve it!  But then I remembered I was expanding my mind, growing as a person, and then I asked Laurel how we can make a burger out of beans.  I thought that this was joke, but she did inform me there was a way.  Black bean burgers… made from scratch!

“This better be good!”  I told her.  And it was!

Laurel’s Homemade Black Bean Burgers

  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 can black beans, well drained
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 slices bread, crumbled
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cumin and spicy paprika to taste
  • oil for frying

Sautee the onions till soft, about 3-5 minutes.

In a large bowl, mash the beans until almost smooth. Add sauteed onions and the rest of the ingredients, except the oil, adding the flour a few tablespoons at a time to combine well. Mixture will be thick.

Form bean mixture into patties, approximately ½ inch thick and fry patties in a small amount of oil until slightly firm. Make veggie burgers and enjoy!

Yep it is that easy folks and super yummy!  My weekend taught me that there are many plusses to incorporating meat free decisions into my diet.  First of all, everything we ate was yummy, filling, and it did help me meet more of my daily vegetable requirements.  It also taught me how to think and cook outside of my comfort levels, and learn about spices I would not normally cook with.  I encourage you meat lovers to try eating this way if not just for a couple of meals a week!

Happy Eating!

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Andrea Larson is a lover of all things food and wine. She is a culinary graduate of the Illinois Institute of Art Chicago and has worked at such local restaurants as Uncommon Ground, Spring and Custom House. Currently she is working on her local dream of eating her way around Chicago and probably spends more money on dining out than she should!

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