Wednesday, October 17, 2012

OMG a Recipe: Meatless... Wednesday?

Happy Meatless Wednesday! Doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Meatless Monday, does it?  Of course, the point is not to embrace vegetarianism specifically for Monday, but to pick at least one day out of the week to eat your greens and curb your animal consumption. And it's not just for consideration for food with a face, but on a larger planetary scale, given the fact that livestock requires a considerable amount of resources, something we all agree are in finite supply. By cutting back the demand, it reduces not only the draw on the planet's resources, it makes makes the notion of smaller farms a more attainable goal, so that when we do eat meat, they're raised in better, healthier conditions, which positively affects the eater, ie, us. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky, hippie-dippy idea, it's sound advice to consider, but the reason I'm doing a Meatless Wednesday post is because I think the key to any goal-oriented diet is very simple: Planning. So note to self: you have several days to get inspired over what you'll be eating this upcoming Monday, and I hope this is it!

The delicious meal where you won't miss a thing, especially flavor - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Vegetarian isn't a bad word, despite Anthony Bourdain's railings, rants and wailings. Agreed, I'm not going to just sit in an ashram and eat birdseed until I stumble upon Nirvana or the blood sugar crash of the century, but I don't see any issue with choosing ingredients for a meal that didn't once roam or swim the earth, prior to making its way into my kitchen. I'm the first person to say we were inducted into the Cult of High Protein Diets, where if there wasn't something meaty on the plate, it wasn't something worth eating. But one can't subsist on bacon and steaks alone, sorry to burst your Man-Dream Bubble. I will say embracing a love of eating meat and making it a point to get more protein in my diet was a good thing -- if anything, I learned how unbalanced my meals were, prior to the change, having meals of too much refined carbohydrates like pasta and bread. But a pendulum swings both ways -- I've had meals where you're in a food coma, stricken with the dreaded meat-sweats, wondering why your pores are weeping bacon grease. Middle ground, let's find that, shall we? 

Going meatless for one day out of the week isn't such a chore -- you've probably done it many times, just not realizing it. Some oatmeal for breakfast, a simple salad for lunch and maybe a cheese pizza or grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup for dinner -- not a face on any of those foods. Granted, not vegan, but nobody's perfect. The biggest challenge for going meatless is choosing the right balance of ingredients so you're not just eating grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries, as tempting as that sounds. I've been relying on beans and whole grains like quinoa and pearled barley. I've pretty much changed over to brown rice, only getting short grain white rice once in a while if I'm making the marvelous thing that is Spam Musubi -- gotta have sticky rice. The problem with a lot of classic American and European dishes is that they're built on the notion of an omnivorous meal.  By taking out the meat, you cripple the dish considerably -- roast chicken and vegetables is a little lackluster with just roasted vegetables. So I get inspiration from other places, specifically Indian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Indian food, especially, as vegetarianism is a way of life, and their dishes are so rich with flavor and spices, you could put cardboard in a marvelous curry sauce and it would taste like a dream. Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine is similar in that their seasonings are intense and they use a lot of citrus and garlic to heighten flavors. The enjoyment of a meal is not focused solely on the ingredient, but how it's prepared and the way flavors are manipulated.

Don't fear your vegetables, they are your friends! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So this led to my Marvelous Meatless Monday Meal that I'm Sharing on a Wednesday: chickpea and quinoa patties topped with a minted yogurt and cucumber sauce, served with salad greens and toasted pearl barley mixed with roasted vegetables. This is not the sadface herbed pasta primavera that gets served to the one vegetarian from standard restaurant menus. This is the dish you want to eat, you crave it because of what it is, and not what it's missing.

The "meat" of the dish is of course the chickpea and quinoa patties, inspired by falafel, a traditional Middle Eastern style of chickpea or bean-based fritter. This version is fairly simple, with the addition of quinoa to add more protein and a nice bite, as chickpeas can be quite creamy when mashed. I used some cornmeal as well, mostly for added texture, plus it gives it a little sweetness as well. I used an egg to bind, but if you're making this vegan-friendly, consider adding a little tahini paste to help tighten the mix and make it easier to form into their shape. I made these as little patties, versus little round meatballs. It's easier to pan-fry and they cook faster with the widened surface area. I topped them with plain yogurt mixed with citrus zest and juice, chopped cucumber and shredded mint, but the patties are delicious on their own, you don't really need anything, as I was snacking on them plain, without complaint.

Chickpeas, quinoa and seasonings ready for HULK SMASH - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The side dish of toasted barley with roasted vegetables was inspired by a One Night Only Dinner with Chef Josh Henderson, where barley was cooked, and then toasted in the oven to give it a little extra crunch. That was a great touch, and the method stayed fully locked in my mind. I roasted a mix of vegetables -- squash, broccoli, whatever I had available. I cooked the barley on the stovetop and let it cool and chill before spreading it on a baking sheet and letting the broiler crisp it up a little. I put everything together with a light drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Very simple, the seasonings can vary, as can the vegetables, but the key was the cooked and toasted barley. It's a more nutrient-rich alternative to pasta and it will give you that sated, full feeling more than brown rice. I admit, I was never much of a barley-eater, it was something I'd find in soups or stews as a filler, but it's really delicious as a side dish, and the way its texture can be played with, it makes for a fun ingredient to work with.

Celebrate the season and try new ingredients you've never used before - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I'm sharing the chickpea fritter recipe, as the barley and yogurt sauce are pretty self-explanatory -- when you buy barley in a bag, it will come with basic cooking ingredients, and I trust you to figure out which vegetables you wish to roast. This should be a dish of your favorite vegetables so that you get excited about this meal and not feel like it's your civic responsibility. It's dinner, not jury duty.

Chickpea and Quinoa Fritters
(servings vary on how large or small you want to make 'em)

1 can of chickpeas (15 oz)
1 cup of cooked quinoa (follow the preparation on the box or bag)
2 tablespoons of cornmeal
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 whole egg
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
vegetable oil to pan-fry

(Optional seasonings to add - if you don't have them, it's fine to leave out)
2 teaspoons dried dill
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon turmeric (mostly for color - gives it a nice golden color)

Take all ingredients and mash in a bowl - a potato masher works well to crush the chickpeas into a soft paste. Once mashed, place in refrigerator to cool and set for at least an hour.Take the mixture and separate into the portion size you want and form into patties.

When ready to cook, take a large frying pan, preheat it to medium and drizzle the bottom with a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to coat. Carefully place the formed patties into the oil, and cook in batches so that the pan isn't overcrowded. The medium heat will give the patties a nice, crispy outer toasting and gently cook the inside, but not burn the patties. You want a nice crust, which will help keep the patty shape, as it will still be more delicate than a meat patty. Cook on both sides and set finished patties on paper towels to drain before serving. 

They can be served with a yogurt sauce or enjoyed on their own. If made into larger patties, they can be a vegetarian option for a hamburger.

1 comment:

  1. Wow I love this idea!!
    I'm a meat-lover that's recently off red meats and this is just perfect right now! Excellent recipe!


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