The benefits of eating a mostly plant-based diet are well proven. Compared with their meat-eating counterparts, vegetarians are 25% less likely to develop heart disease…and they tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels and a reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. Still, adopting this diet is daunting if you rely on meat and dairy to fill out your meals. Many people worry that they won’t feel satisfied without meat. Not true! Famed chef and cookbook author Mark Bittman began this dietary shift more than 15 years ago. Consider these tips to help you go meatless—without going hungry.
Savor your favorite flavors. You can keep many of the characteristics of a favorite dish—the spice profile and the sauces—and create a recipe that’s just as satisfying as its meaty counterpart. Common sources of plant protein include chickpeas, lentils, peas and tempeh.
Aim for variety. You can have the same dish—beans with a whole grain—every day but use different beans or grains, different spice profiles and different vegetables to add variety. For instance, you can make it Caribbean style with cumin and garlic…or Mediterranean style with garlic, rosemary and lemon.
Plan ahead. Some beans and grains require advance soaking, but you can make a bulk batch of beans or whole grains to use throughout the week so that weeknight cooking is easier. Canned beans can be useful, too, in dishes where you don’t mind if they’re a little mushy.
Change slowly. Shifting from a meat-focused diet to one with more plants may affect your digestion if you are not used to eating beans and legumes. To minimize possible bloating or indigestion, change slowly. Reduce the portion size of meat at each meal, or cut back from eating meat at 10 meals per week to eating it at eight, then six and so on.
Here are three hearty recipes that are rich in flavor and texture without the meat. Each recipe makes four servings.
Instead of a Sausage Cassoulet, try…
LENTIL CASSOULET with Lots of Vegetables
Time: 50 minutes.
8 ounces Le Puy lentils, rinsed and picked over
¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
¼ cup olive oil
1 leek, trimmed, well rinsed and chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small celery root, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
Salt and pepper
¼ cup dry red wine or water
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ small head green cabbage (about 8 ounces), quartered, cored and cut into thin ribbons
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1. Put the lentils in a large pot with enough water to cover by about one inch, and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, cover and turn off the heat. Let the lentils sit.
2. Put the dried mushrooms in a small heat-proof bowl, and cover with the boiling water. The mushrooms will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to soften. When they’re ready, lift them from the soaking liquid carefully to leave any grit behind. Chop the mushrooms, and reserve the liquid.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the leek, carrot, celery root, mushrooms and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften, five to 10 minutes. Add the wine, and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the vegetable mixture to the lentils along with the tomatoes, cabbage and herbs. Carefully pour in the mushroom soaking liquid, leaving behind the grit in the bottom of the bowl. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the mixture bubbles steadily, and cook, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water if the mixture starts to look dry, until the vegetables are silky and the lentils start to break down and thicken the stew, 25 to 35 minutes. Stir in the cayenne. Remove the bay leaf. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.
Instead of Coq au Vin, try…
ARTICHOKES AND SHELL BEANS braised in white wine
Time: At least 90 minutes.
½ cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 or 4 lemons)
2 cups dry white wine
1½ pounds baby artichokes, 3 pounds large artichokes or 1 pound defrosted frozen artichoke hearts
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried
3 cups frozen beans (such as edamame, black-eyed peas, lima beans or green fava beans)
1 Tablespoon drained capers
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1. Put the lemon juice in a bowl with the wine, and sprinkle with a little salt. Trim the tops, bottoms and toughest outer leaves from the artichokes, but leave the stalk and light-colored parts intact. Quarter them, and scrape away the fibrous chokes with a spoon. As you finish each artichoke, toss it with the brine. (For large globes, trim the leaves and feathery chokes from the hearts and slice them. If using frozen, slice them into manageable pieces.)
2. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, transfer the artichokes to the pan with a slotted spoon or tongs. Save the liquid in the bowl. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they stop steaming and start sizzling, three to five minutes. Lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until the leaves are tender and crisp all over, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.
3. Add the shallot to the pan, and return to medium heat. Cook, stirring, until soft, three to five minutes. Add the rosemary, beans and capers, and strain the wine mixture into the skillet. Bring to a boil.
4. Cook, stirring often, until beans are warmed through and the sauce reduces by about one-third. Return the artichokes to the skillet, toss to coat, taste, and adjust the seasonings, adding some pepper. Garnish with the parsley, and serve.
Instead of Chicken Kebabs, try…
TAMARIND TEMPEH KEBABS
Time: At least three hours, largely unattended.
2 Tablespoons tamarind concentrate
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup mirin
¼ cup minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup good-quality vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
Salt and pepper
1 pound tempeh, cut into 16 pieces
8 long or 16 short wooden or metal skewers
1 large red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
16 cherry tomatoes
1 broccoli crown, cut into large florets (about 8 ounces)
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1. Stir tamarind, soy sauce, mirin, oil and ginger in a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Reserve one cup in a saucepan, and mix the rest with the tempeh in a shallow dish. Marinate for at least two hours and up to overnight.
2. Heat the oven to 425°F. If you’re using wooden skewers, submerge them in hot tap water in a rimmed baking sheet for at least 10 minutes. Drain.
3. Thread a few pieces of onion onto a skewer, then add tomato, broccoli, onion again and tempeh. Repeat on the same stick (or, if using small skewers, start a new one). Repeat with the remaining skewers, and put them on a baking sheet. Brush them all over with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Roast the skewers until the vegetables soften and the tempeh develops a crust, five to 10 minutes. Turn and roast another five to 10 minutes on the second side. Brush the skewers with the sauce, and return to the oven for five minutes to glaze the tempeh and vegetables. Turn and repeat at least once more, until the skewers are golden brown in spots and the vegetables are crisp-tender, another five to 10 minutes.
5. Add the vinegar, mustard and one-half cup water to the saucepan with the reserved tamarind sauce. Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and syrupy. Cool slightly, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the kebabs hot or at room temperature, passing the warm sauce at the table.
Reprinted from Dinner for Everyone. Copyright © 2019 by Mark Bittman. Photographs copyright © 2019 by Aya Brackett. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.