Embracing meat-free meals requires a simple shift in plate balance.
The country's collective culinary focus is shifting from the meat to the potatoes (and kale, quinoa, and cauliflower). Chefs, many of whom have spent the past decade in a bacon-fat-fueled haze, are waking up to the pleasures of all things vegetal. Home cooks, whether driven by environmental or economic reasons, are also fueling the Meatless Monday momentum. The plant-centric plate is having its day—and that is a very good thing for anyone who enjoys cooking and eating.
"We're learning to stop looking at the plate as a big hunk of meat and three little side dishes," says Ivy Manning, this month's Healthy Habits Hero and author of several cookbooks, including The Adaptable Feast: Satisfying Meals for the Vegetarians, Vegans, and Omnivores at Your Table.
Manning's affinity for meat-free plates comes from a diverse culinary background, as well as a more personal place: her home. "I'm Mrs. Pork Chop, and I married Mr. Tofu," she says. "Everybody said we wouldn't work because he is a vegetarian, and I can do amazing things with pork." At first, she cooked two meals each night, one for her and one for her husband. But that couldn't last. "I got really tired of being a short-order cook," she says.
Over the years, she began devising cook-savvy ways to make meatless dishes easier and equally appetizing for all—and none of them involve whipping up entirely separate plates. "I try to keep flavors similar. If I'm doing a tri-tip with a Mediterranean rub on the grill, I'll brush the same garlicky cumin oil on eggplant, tomatoes, and zucchini, and everyone shares the same sides, like a high-protein grain salad, so the meal feels cohesive for everyone," she says. "When you're including a vegetarian, you want them to enjoy the wine and food in the same way, instead of having it be like 'We're having Mediterranean, and you get mac and cheese.'"
Today, Manning has made peace with being meatless most days. "Meat to me now is more like a condiment—it's only one part of the meal," she says. And there's a bonus to thinking in this veggie-centric way: "If you use vegetables at their peak, regardless of what the season is, you're doing less work to get great flavor."
Ivy's Ideas for Going Meatless > MANAGE YOUR MESSAGES. "If you tell your kids they have to eat meatless because it's right for the planet, they may not be excited about it. But if you tell them it's pizza night, and they love pizza, they will be. It's so easy to make a delicious pizza that doesn't contain meat."
> EXPLORE MORE. "Eating meatless is pretty easy when you start looking around the globe for inspiration. Look at countries like India, where a huge percentage of the population does not eat meat for both religious and economic reasons. Mexico is a bean, rice, and corn culture. Middle Eastern food has some lamb, but they also have many delicious chickpea- and fava bean--based dishes."
> AMP UP UMAMI. "A food's texture, or mouthfeel, goes a long way toward satisfying you. I always keep dried shiitake mushrooms and reconstitute them. They're chewy, and they have lots of umami. So do cheese, brewer's yeast, and ripe tomatoes. These foods give you the kind of big, round, gutsy flavor that meat typically provides."
Put Ivy's tips into action with her Quinoa-Stuffed Heirloom Tomatoes with Romesco.