Monday, May 27, 2013

UnRecipe: Mostly Meatless Monday

Nobody's perfect, least of all me. I would even say I aspire towards tragic imperfection, given my familiarity with so many Epic Fails. But one thing I've been making attempts towards is cutting back on meat consumption. Meatless Mondays are a great mnemonic reminder, but sometimes my no-meat days end up being midweek or even on a weekend. And sometimes, I make great vegetarian strides and suddenly smack myself on the head with a Homer Simpson "doh!" moment, realizing I just un-meatless-ized a dish with a quick splash of fish sauce. And so our story goes thusly...

At least these little quinoa-chickpea fritters were meatless! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I've said it before and it bears repeating -- the whole Meatless Monday thing isn't meant to be an affront to Red-Blooded (A)Merican Meat-Eaters who steadfastly refuse to give up their bacon, pork chops, steak and AK-47s. I take the mindful eating movement as more of a stance on environmental awareness and the fact that if we weren't so overly carnivorous, maybe the consumption slowdown can cut back some of the mega-farms that are churning out poor quality, antibiotic-stuffed Frankenmeats. Which, really, how does that benefit anyone? No one's saying you can't have your bacon with eggs. Just consider one day where you have a bowl of vegetable soup and a big salad -- which isn't so hard to consider when you're at work and just want something quick that won't put you in a food coma for the rest of the day. You've probably been doing one meat-free day a week and not even realized it, and if that's the case -- bravo, keep up the good work!

Extra-good dipped in Sriracha mixed in plain yogurt -- do it!! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

My challenge with Meatless Days are finding something to appease that strong savory craving that frankly, most meats will address. My go-to, easy weekday dish has been making chickpea and quinoa fritters which I did a post on a little while back. You can whip up a batch fairly easily, most of the ingredients are either canned, dried or a basic staple you likely have in your fridge. A more protein-enriched version of falafel, using the quinoa and minus the deep-frying, I just pan-sear the little guys in a nonstick pan with a little oil. Baking them would probably work, I just like that crispy outer shell. I can eat a whole plate of these crispy, seasoned fritter/meatballs, maybe with some Sriracha mixed in plain yogurt (don't knock it, it's good), and it's like a junk food treat without being totally junky. And creature-free (minus the egg, if you want to make it vegan).

The Meatless Fail - curse my absent-minded seasoning habits! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I found myself with a few leftover stalks of celery and a giant eggplant, which I immediately thought -- tofu and eggplant coconut curry. Which of course everything thinks that... right? Tofu is as much of a staple in our fridge as, say, eggs, but that's just because I grew up with the stuff and my mom would cook with it pretty often. Luckily the Red Blooded American Mister doesn't mind it, as long as I don't put tofu in everything. I use tofu enough to where even if I don't know what my meal plans for the week are, that block o' soy will be consumed, and not necessarily in a vegetarian dish. And maybe that's part of the key towards incorporating more meat-free dishes in daily meals -- keeping hearty vegetarian ingredients like tofu and beans around to add into dishes helps keep the food from feeling like it's somehow lacking in satisfying heft. 

A wealth of vegetables -- who will even notice there's no meat in there? - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I had everything all set -- peeled and cubed eggplant, chopped celery, sliced mushrooms, even a big handful of crisp green beans. Ah, the joys of a random box of CSA produce.This was going to be such an ingredient-busy curry that you wouldn't even realize it was meat-free. I even had my trusty homemade red curry paste, which was vegan/vegetarian-friendly because I left out the fish sauce. With the exception of fish sauce, Thai food is really easy to enjoy for meatless meals -- tons of vegetables, flavorful ingredients like fresh ginger and garlic, heat to keep your palate busy and peanuts and/or coconut milk for richness. And then my overconfidence pulled the rug out from under me. I automatically grab the bottle of fish sauce when I'm pulling Asian sauce-making ingredients like chili paste and soy sauce. I wasn't thinking and totally ruined my meat-free dish with a few splashes of fishjuice. With that, I said the heck with it, and deglazed the wok with some homemade chicken stock and had dinner in silent shame.

Even in it's Mostly Meatless-ness, the curry was still tasty - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Meatless Fail. It's a small indiscretion, barely that, if you think fish are just sushi with fins, destined for our bellies. But Meatless Monday is as much about food awareness, and that counts towards being knowledgeable about what goes into the food you consume. My force of habit was to blame, to be sure. I've started putting the fish sauce on a lower shelf so that it takes me a split second to consider grabbing it.

The finished curry was delicious, maybe a little extra savory with that hit of fish sauce. It made me think of Billy Crystal's Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. "Most-ly meatless," he would likely say. And I got to thinking of other mostly/nearly/somewhat movie references, and that's pretty much where my Mostly Meatless Monday wound up, which is to say a big ol' bowl of good intentions and a splash of fish sauce.

The Meat-Scale, according to Wasabi - screencaps from Princess Bride and Harry Potter

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