August 18, 2011

Aw, Dawn. I gave you a bum steer on the vegetarian cooking thing. But hopefully that can be a preventative lesson that can save other folks some time. Read on...

We were so excited to cook vegetarian that we opted for a weekend of vegetarian eating instead of just one day. We picked delicious dishes that harkened back to your pre-weight loss favorites, removed the animal protein and filled them with grilled veggies and protein.

And then, between rehydrating beans, stuffing enchilados and poblanos, the cooking seemed to go on forever. You usually spend a couple hours cooking on a weekend, but this vegetarian commitment took six hours. Now that is no way to introduce a brand new Healthy Habit.

So here are some thoughts, moving forward, to optimize and speed your vegetarian cooking:



1. LEFTOVERS ARE FOR STUFFING

Frittata, ravioli, enchiladas: what do they have in common? They are all dishes that taste best when another cooked ingredient is incorporated with them. Frittatas are much better with a little precooked caramelized onions, peppers, and roasted tomatoes. Ravioli, stuffed with a little roasted pumpkin, is just devine. Enchiladas, filled with queso fresco, grilled corn and zucchini? A modern marvel. But making those fillings turn a simple dish into a time-consuming one. When you make roasted vegetables, always make more than you need. Then use those vegetables to "fill" another dish. Starting from scratch make these simple dishes far more difficult than need be.

2. REHEAT BEANS ONE BAG AT A TIME

Dried beans are my choice for many reasons; economically, they cost less than canned. Their flavor can't be beat; a rehydrated bean is as depthful as your cooking liquid; I like to add sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, garlic, onion and bay leaves to mine. Rehydrating beans takes one hour after an overnight soak, but it's a back burner item. Simple.

But even so...it's easier to open a can. Unless you make a habit of rehydrating your beans, and always have them in the fridge. I made a bag of garbanzos last week; I turned them into a delicious bean dip, they supplemented my salad; I tossed them with pesto and roast peppers and enjoyed them as a main; even my fiance used them to make a soup, and even incorporated that delicious cooking liquid!

So if you're looking for good protein, keep some beans (in their cooking liquid) in your fridge. They're tasty, cost effective, and right there when you need them.

3. CASSEROLES: POPULAR FOR A REASON

Look, casseroles have lost their sex appeal in the last few decades, but "covered dishes" have been a staple for a reason. They feed a crowd. And if you're not cooking for a crowd, you can take the leftovers and freeze them. Whenever I cook, I cook far more than I need, and the next few days are a breeze as a result. And there is no better frozen food that the food you've made from scratch. If you're going to cook, make the next meal that much easier.

This week, Dawn is trying three new recipes: a superfast recipe from Cooking Light: Pasta with Sundried Tomato Pesto and Feta Cheese. But Dawn wants to add in a little something special, so she's going to try some charred eggplant, or some sugar snap peas. These can cook concurrently, adding no extra time.

She's also going to try this Lentil Salad. I'm a big fan of cold lentil salads in the summer, which Dawn has never tried, though she loves lentil soup. I think she's going to be smitten.

And last, Dawn is returning a pre-weight loss favorite to the repertoire: Ratatouille with Swiss Cheese. She moans just contemplating this old favorite. But the swiss cheese makes her nervous, calorie wise, which means it's time to visit a cheese shop and find their more assertive cheese; a little will go a long way, and she'll make the most of vivid flavor without adding too many additional calories.

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