I didn’t become a vegetarian until a little over two years ago. I used to think it would be absolutely impossible for me to do—I’m in love with chicken! Can’t give that up. No way. Well, clearly, I did give it up (although so many non-vegetarians say things to me like “you eat chicken, right? Chicken’s a vegetable.” Um, no.). I often encounter someone that is unaware of my food lifestyle and after the initial shock wears off, they want to know if I miss meat. The answer is a resounding no. I hardly notice it at all. I won’t go into why I don’t eat meat (not now anyway). There are different types of vegetarians. I am what is known as a lacto-ovo vegetarian—I eat eggs and diary but nothing that used to crawl, swim, walk or fly. No chicken, no cow, no pig, no lamb, no fish. (Nick and I went to a restaurant today that basically wanted to know how you want your beef cooked, but did include two of what they called “Meatless sandwiches”. They included fried fish and baked fish. I suppose if you’re Catholic and its Friday, this counts.)
How is this possible, people want to know. How can you just not eat meat? Well, the first thing that a lot of vegetarian how-to books will tell you is to simply eliminate the meat. Try your favorite meals without them. Spaghetti and meatballs becomes spaghetti and marinara. Chicken Alfredo becomes simply fettuccini Alfredo. Burritos are made with beans and eggs benedict is made without the Canadian bacon. That sounds simple enough, but some things just aren’t quite the same. Meatloaf without the meat is just a gooey mess of eggs, ketchup and breadcrumbs. Not the same at all. Enter the meat substitute.
There are wide varieties of edible substances that simply fill in. Vegetarian burgers, meatballs, hot dogs, sausage, bacon (not my favorite, but ok), the list goes on and on. I’ve tried a lot of them and for the most part, they are undetectable to my carnivorous friends and family. So far, most of the vegetarian cookbooks I’ve bought don’t include the meat substitute, so I’m writing my own. I’ve developed a meat-free version of some of my favorite dishes that were previously off-limits to a vegetarian. Maybe someday it will make it to bookstore shelves. Maybe it will just sit on my bookshelf and be an instructional tool for my children. Who knows? At least it’s gotten me to try a LOT of new dishes and experiment with a lot of new foods. I’d never had a turnip or quiona before I became a vegetarian and they’re fabulous! That being said, I cannot master eggplant. Every time I make it, it’s awful. I always pre-empt every new meal with a simple statement: If this is terrible, we’re going out. Sometimes, we go out.