By: Derek Beres
The last time meat went into my body was in 1997 -- not counting fish, which I ate casually before cutting that out roughly four years ago. While America has become an infinitely more vegetarian-friendly country during that time, one comment I have heard relentlessly is, “So what do you eat -- tofu?”
I rarely eat tofu. There are two situations when I concede: Pad Thai, as that is usually the fallback option at Thai restaurants, or when I travel to a Japanese spot and order miso soup. I never cook with it and don’t especially enjoy the taste or the fact that soy is purposefully overgrown, and thus oversold, by our farmers. (This has to do with subsidies -- not the topic of conversation here.)
Luckily, there are plenty of other alternatives to meat. They’re called vegetables (and even fruit). Personally, I’m not a fan of mock meats, regardless of what they’re made of. Soy, tofu and wheat gluten all pose health risks, especially if eaten too much. Tempeh is safer as it’s cultured, but “fakin’ bacon” is not something I rush to include in my weekend brunch. The foods below are great for people who crave the texture and/or weightiness of meat. Yes, they require a little more preparation and patience, but the time is well-spent. One of the best things about being in the kitchen is developing a relationship with the food you prepare. Here are four of my favorites:
Every person I’ve ever introduced to jackfruit thinks I’m kidding when I say it’s a great meat alternative; the first time I tried it, I too was certain I was chewing on meat. But alas, it’s not meat; it’s fruit -- the largest tree-born fruit in the world, in fact, with each piece weighing up to 80 pounds and growing to 36 inches.
If you’re ever in Culver City, Calif., I urge you to stop by Samosa House and try jackfruit, their renowned specialty. Otherwise, look for it at an Asian grocer and cook it yourself. (Here’s a great recipe to get you started.) Depending on the spices you use, you can easily fool yourself into believing a plate of chicken masala sits in front of you -- though jackfruit is even more delicious. I’ve eaten it canned for years as dessert as well.
Americans are mostly familiar with the variety used in eggplant parmesan. And yes, that classic Italian dish is an alternative for people passing on chicken -- and when done right, it’s splendid. But that’s not the only way to use it. In fact, this versatile vegetable is used globally in an incredibly diverse variety of dishes. If you’re looking for a hearty, delicious recipe, I suggest the scrumptious bhurtha (sometimes spelled bharta).
Anyone who says that vegetarians don’t get enough protein is still operating under false assumptions from two decades ago. One of humanity’s earliest cultivated crops -- chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) have been eaten for at least 7,500 years. They are also my favorite legume because they’re hearty, easy to eat, contain very little fat and don’t have the slippery texture of other beans. My go-to dish is certainly Chana Masala. This delectable meal leaves no one hungry, yet everyone asks for more.
This is my favorite green. When most people try it, they love it -- my good friend Jill Ettinger’s article on the subject has over 92,000 “likes” on Facebook. As Jill says, kale provides us with plenty of iron, calcium and fiber, helps boost our immunity and has anti-inflammatory properties (a good antidote to meat, which has a tendency to cause inflammation). My favorite way to eat kale: The Veggie Grill’s All Hail Kale Salad, which you can also make at home. Personally, I get it with the blackened tempeh, a delicious and textured addition that plays off the ginger papaya vinaigrette.
is Completely You’s Getting Unstuck blogger. A journalist, yoga instructor and DJ/music producer, he has written for such publications as Departures and The Huffington Post. He teaches yoga at Equinox Fitness and Yogis Anonymous, and is one-half of the music production team EarthRise SoundSystem. For more info, visit DerekBeres.com.
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