Ever since Matt and I became vegetarian, we’ve been faced with a lot of questions.
“How do you get protein?”
“Are you doing it for health or for animal rights?”
“Aren’t you hungry all the time?”
But my favorite question, and probably the most frequently asked is, “what do you eat every day?”
I’ve always found it amusing how people become really concerned about your diet once you tell them you don’t eat meat. Some people are just genuinely curious, which I love, while others act like you just told them we are denouncing the human race and living the rest of our lives as jungle cats. And quite ironically, most of the time the crazy defensive people usually are the ones eating fast food for lunch. But somehow, I’m the crazy one!
But for those that are simply curious or intrigued – or thinking about the switch themselves! – I will go on for hours about what we eat every day, how I prep weekly meals and just how amazing I’ve felt since making the switch to a meatless life. And yes, being vegetarian requires a bit more time in the kitchen, but if you just spend an hour or so in the kitchen once a week to prep your weekly meals, it makes life a whole lot easier – and not to mention freaking delicious.
Sunday is always my prep day. Growing up, I spent countless Sundays in the kitchen with my Ma, making sauce, rolling meatballs, setting the table, etc., so spending the day in the kitchen makes me feel like I’m back home. Minus the meatballs.
Although we usually make one or two dinner recipes over the weekend that could serve as leftovers for the week..I live with an ultra runner. Meaning that the knockoff Chipotle sofritas recipe we made last night will easily be demolished by noon today, if not earlier. So, instead of focusing on one or two big recipes, I now spend my time on Sunday prepping a variety of veggies, legumes and sauces that we can throw in rice bowls, wraps or salads during the week.
An easy vegetarian rule to follow for balanced meals, courtesy of “No Meat Athlete” Matt Frazier, is “a grain, a green and a bean.” From there, you can jazz it up as much or as little as you like. But since I prefer to be jazzy, (I actually stopped typing for a second to do jazz hands) I start with those three basic ingredients and then basically throw a big veggiepalooza. The headliners vary from week to week, but there is definitely a rotating set of my favorites.
Here are the usual suspects:
Rice & Quinoa:We alternate between brown rice and quinoa every week, usually throwing about 5-6 cups (dry) in the rice cooker. And for those of you who do not have a rice cooker, I would highly, highly suggest investing the $50 towards one. I grew up thinking I hated rice because it was gummy, sticky and totally flavorless. Turns out, while my Ma can make a manicotti shell that will melt in your mouth in the middle of a snowstorm, she ain’t so good with a bag of rice. So, when Matt first suggested a rice cooker, (and by “suggested” I mean he already bought on Amazon) I turned my nose. But, as with most things in life, he was on to something really great. I am forever indebted to that damn machine and its magical, fluffy rice powers. Oh, and yea quinoa works great too! I nearly hugged our rice cooker when I found out it would cook quinoa, as I absolutely ruined it on the stove, every time. (Further proving that I am becoming my mother.) Just use a 2:1 water to quinoa ratio.
Broccoli: I am ashamed to say that until this past summer, it never dawned on me to simply boil broccoli in a big pot of water. I somehow always thought I needed to steam it, and every time I steamed it I wound up forgetting about it and steaming it until it freaking turned yellow…so I stopped making broccoli altogether. Then, when my sister-in-law Kim was in town and helping me make dinner, she chopped up a head of broccoli and boiled it on the stove for five minutes, resulting in perfectly cooked little broccoli trees. No sure if I was in a stupor over the fact that it only took five minutes to boil broccoli or that I seriously never thought about this method before. Either way, I always buy huge bags of fresh broccoli at the store every weekend and boil those little babies up a few times a week, since we usually end up eating half of the florets while they cool in the strainer.
Sweet potatoes: I hail to these little orange spuds of heaven. With loads of nutrients and a flavor profile that works with everything from cinnamon to cumin, these beta-carotene beauties are one of my very favorite things to cook with. While I do love making these sweet potato fries along with homemade veggie burgers, or using them to make a robust taco filling (via Edible Perspective), recently I’ve just been cutting two of them into cubes (skin or no skin), tossing with a tablespoon of olive oil and a handful of spices (usually a mix of cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder and salt & pepper) and roasting in the oven on 400 degrees for 25 minutes. I also love throwing on a little corn meal to match the crunchiness of my favorite sweet potato fry recipe, via one of my favorite health/wellness blogs, My New Roots.
Asparagus: Ah, Matt’s new veggie of choice. He usually chops up a couple and throws them in his rice bowls raw, allowing them to cook a bit when he heats up the bowl in the microwave. But since I have a weird aversion to eating any uncooked vegetable besides carrots, (ironic to say that as a vegetarian, right?) I prefer to these skinny sticks as I do every other vegetable – roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.
Zucchini/Yellow Squash: These are my jam in the summer months! I haven’t had either in a while due to old man winter, but from May-September, I’m sure I eat three or four bushels all by myself. And always the same way: sliced, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano and roasted in the oven on 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I also throw sliced grape tomatoes and purple onion in the mix. A scoop of roasted veggies loaded onto a wrap, smothered in hummus and covered with baby spinach and just a drizzle of salsa? So flipping delicious. This recipe my sister-in-law Janice sent to me is also the bomb diggity.
Leafy greens: They require no prep, but greens like spinach, kale and collard greens pretty much take up a whole shelf in our fridge. We use a good amount of them in shakes (that’s where mod of my kale intake comes from, as I prefer to use spinach in wraps or rice bowls) but Matt recently has become obsessed with kale and spinach salads. Which always makes me laugh so hard when he talks about how good they are, as just a few years ago the boy wouldn’t touch anything but chicken and Chipotle burritos. Now he loves kale salads and runs 50 mile races. Go figure.
I also like to buy a big ol’ tub of mixed spring greens for quick bowls of salad when I get home from work.
Edamame: A slight newcomer to my food world, edamame has quickly become one of my favorite snacks/add-ins. Full of protein, fiber, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A (just to name a few) these soybeans have been a part of my weekly food roster for the past few months. Like lentils, they are easy to prepare (throw a bag in boiling water for five minutes with a bit of salt) and are versatile enough to be a complement to any dish. I started buying bags of shelled edamame (sometimes called mukimame), which makes it easier to throw on top of rice/quinoa. I also am head-over-heels in love with this edamame hummus I made via Angela at Oh She Glows.(Then again, I am head-over-heels for anything she makes!)
Lentils: I lova the lentils. Mind you, I’ve been eating them all of my life per growing up Sicilian, but up until going vegetarian I never had appreciated their all-around awesomeness. They are super simple to make (once you sort and rinse them, which always brings back childhood memories of being supervised by my little old Italian aunts while I took on the role of lentil sorter) and, once cooked, are the blue jeans of the vegetarian diet. Seriously, they go with everything. They can be the star of the show (think: skinny white denim on Memorial Day weekend) or be the subtle protien source hanging out in your pasta dish (as easygoing as your beloved pair of baggy jeans). When dressing up these legumes, my favorite looks are lentil taco meat (via Oh She Glows), hearty lentil soup (via Daily Garnish) and lentil meatballs (via Cookie and Kate).
Otherwise, I keep them hassle-free and enjoy them straight from the pot, mixed with rice or quinoa. Which reminds me – you can make quinoa and lentils TOGETHER in the rice cooker. 1 cup rice + 1 cup lentils + 3.75 cups water on quick cooking or “white rice” setting. This fact has changed ma’ life. I also am dying to make this garlic lentil and kale rice cooker goodness.
Beans: “Beans, beans the magical fruit…” Yes, I know. But beans are also great source of protein, are very versatile and…did I mention a can runs for about 89 cents? #winning! While black beans are MVP in this category, I just started roasting chickpeas...and they are uuuunreal! Great crunchy addition to any meal, plus a much better option to snack on when you get home from work. Check out this awesome list of 15 different roasted flavor combos from The Kitchn. I also adore kidney beans, navy beans and – my very favorite, butter beans – but, unlike Matt, I have to cook them first before I’ll eat them. Right up there with the raw veggie thing. Don’t judge.
Nuts: If I could live in the bulk section of Wegmans, I would. But I can’t, so I make sure to spend a goooood amount of time there, roaming around/buying at least a pound of peanuts/almonds/walnuts/pecans/peanut M&M trail mix at every visit. That said, I wind up spending a goooood amount of money there, too. But when you consider that we use all of these nuts (okay, minus the peanut M&M mix) to make things like almond milk, granola bars, creamy sauces, etc. as well as give a crunch boost to rice bowls and salads, it is money well spent. Am I right or am I left?!
I have no idea where to add tofu to this list, so it is going in its own category. While I was a tad bit freaked out at the stuff when we first made the vegetarian switch, I am now starting to embrace it. Mostly thanks to Chipotle, who just introduced its tofu Sofritas to its menu in select locations, including DC! Considering our already infallible legion of loyalty to Chipotle, its new peace offering to vegetarians/vegans has made us all but bow down in honor every time we walk in. Anyways, since we are trying to control our Chipotle expenditures (which is really difficult now, as one just opened a block away from us) we decided to try to make sofritas at home. Verdict? Absolute success. A bit spicier than Chipotle’s, meaning I sneeze at least 15 times while cooking the tofu and have to keep a box of tissues on the kitchen table while eating, but otherwise a fantastic copycat. I’m planning to post our method/pictures on the blog soon!
I have also thrown a block of tofu in the blender to amp up the protein count in sauces, like with this tofu marinara from Edible Perspective.
Since Matt and I are both those people who love everything smothered in weird amounts of sauce, (we bonded early in our relationship over our shared distain for restaurants that give you a little cup of syrup with pancakes or ketchup with your fries. After I politely ask for more twice, just GIVE ME THE FREAKING BOTTLE!) we always have a plethora of salsa, hummus, bbq sauce and hot sauce on hand. While we still buy certain varieties from the store (and by store I mean Wegmans, because Wegmans brand items are the next best thing to homemade) we have started to make our own sauces/dressings. They are quite simple to make and result in a much tastier product. Plus, when you cover your food in as much stuff as we do, (my all-time favorite topping is hummus and salsa, mixed together) it is nice to just break out the blender and make another batch in ten minutes. (It also helps that Matt is plain obsessed with using the Vitamix every chance he can get.) Here are a few recipes that we’ve been whirling up lately:
- Buffalo hummus (with genetic attachment to Buffalo sauce and my undying love for hummus, this recipe has a chokehold on my tastebuds)
- Edamame hummus
- Store bought alternatives: I love Wegmans’ roasted red pepper hummus and Whole Foods’ Greek hummus. Be wary of Sabra, which is undeniably delicious but packs much more calories and fat into each serving.
- Queen of the Night salsa
- Just-like-Chipotle corn salsa
- Store bought favorites: Again, Wegmans’ medium salsa is my go-to, (and it comes in huge club-size containers!) along with Garden Fresh’s Jack’s Special
- Buffalo Asian sauce
- Black bean crema
- Cauli-power vegan Alfredo sauce
- Peanut sauce
- Raw-nch dressing (and four more!)
- Vegan Alfredo sauce
Along with vegetables, fruit takes up a good quarter of our 700 square foot apartment. Thrown in smoothies, in salads and/or eaten by the fistful… I could honestly eat nothing but fruit for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy. Depending on season, here are the kingpins of the fruit crate:
- Avocado (we go through at least one a day)
- Apples (where my heart lies)
- Bananas (an absolute must for smoothies and cereal bowls over here)
- Clementines (perfect for snacking!)
- Grapes (I usually bring a container of these mixed with cut up pineapple to work)
- Oranges (A great addition to smoothies and sauces)
- Peaches (In August, I buy fresh peaches by the ton. But for the rest of the year, I buy them frozen and throw them into my morning smoothie)
- Strawberries (Same goes for strawberries – I try to only buy in season, but always get huge bags of frozen berries for smoothies)
As you can see, I also worship a few vegetarian/wellness blogs for inspiration in and out of the kitchen. My seasoned favorite ones include Oh She Glows, My New Roots, Daily Garnish, Edible Perspective, Cookie and Kate, Sprouted Kitchen, Naturally Ella, Plant-Powered Kitchen and No Meat Athlete. I also am obsessed with sites like Foodgawker to not only help answer “what should I make for dinner?” but also more specific ingredient wonders like “what can I make with all this freaking kale?!” as you can search by ingredient.
While this type of “vegging-out” might seem a bit daunting, I promise it is a lot easier than it seems once you get in the swing of things. I have also found that by simply giving up meat, I have gained so many other foods in my daily diet, at first by necessity and now by preference. I eat so much more now than I ever have in my life! And, surprisingly without any guilt. I mean, it is really hard to get worked up over having another scoop of
Some find it difficult to not be able to mindlessly throw together a turkey sandwich or throw a burger on the grill. You have to give thought to everything that goes into your breakfast, lunch and dinner. To which I argue…shouldn’t thought be the first thing that goes into your meals anyways? We’re not talking about your car or your house, which thought it always given to – we’re talking about your body here, people! The one and only body you have. You depend on it your entire life, so in return, it depends on you to treat it right.
Whether you’re a meat eater, a vegetarian or a vegan, I really hope this insight into our kitchen helps you add more healthy foods into your weekly diet, explore different sources of nutrition and discover the real euphoria that comes with eating real, whole foods. And if you want me to come to Wegmans with you…I’ll be waiting in the car.