Thursday, February 2, 2012

Make It Modular: quick and easy vegetarian meal ideas

Most of the time I want food that looks good (lots of color!), tastes good (fresh ingredients!), is good for me (mostly plant based!)--and takes just a few minutes to fix. If it takes hours to prepare, I'm probably not going to eat it very often.

This is why I tend to ignore most of the vegetarian cookbooks on my shelves. Their authors seem to think I want to spend all day hunting for odd and expensive ingredients, then bringing them home to peel them and chop them and grind them into powder with my mortar and pestle.

Now and then that can be fun, but there's a much easier way to eat vegetarian: Go modular.

Figure that your meal will need three basic elements:

1. A grain. This could be made of wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, quinoa...  Ideally, it will be a whole grain, which means it will probably be brown.

2. A source of protein. Instead of meat or fish, go for nuts, cheese, yogurt, beans, or eggs.

3. Fruit and/or vegetables, the more the merrier. Go for color. Go for texture. Go wild.

You can arrange the three elements on a plate: a mound of beans, a mound of rice, a mélange of finely chopped tomatoes, avocadoes, corn, and jalapeño peppers. You can combine the grain and protein (bean burrito, cheese pizza, peanut butter sandwich) and eat a salad or a bowl of fruit on the side. You can turn your grain, protein, and vegetables into minestrone soup. Those are all good, quick meals.

What I most like to do with the three elements, though, is stack them--grain on the bottom, protein next, fruit or vegetables on top--or mix them all up together. Here are some sample combinations:

peanut or almond butter
applesauce or other fruit
lettuce, tomato
beans, cheese
lettuce, tomato, avocado, chili peppers
bell peppers, tomato
spaghetti or linguine
parmesan cheese
tomato sauce
farfalle or rotini
goat cheese
chopped broccoli, zucchini, carrots, etc.
waffle or pancake
yogurt, sliced almonds
pie crust
eggs, milk, and cheese
spinach or broccoli
chopped walnuts
chopped broccoli

Three elements--that's all you absolutely need, though you'll probably want to accessorize. Add a little salt and pepper or herbs or spices or onion or garlic or lemon juice or vinegar or anything likely to make your meal tastier. Experiment. Make up your own combinations based on whatever's in season or in your refrigerator. By late spring, you'll be an accomplished vegetarian cook. And then the farmers' markets will open and the fun will really begin.

1 comment:

David Neff said...

So this was my lunch today: tortilla topped with beans and rice, topped in turn with guacamole and corn salsa and sour cream. A perfect example of the modular vegetarian meal.