Anyone who knows me knows I’m no saint, especially when it comes to food. I have read enough about healthy eating to know that I need to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. For most of us, it’s not part of the plan to give up meat altogether, but it’s a good idea to try to eat more vegetable-focused meals (not necessarily vegetarian) to reduce saturated fats in our diets. I’m happy that the definition of “healthy eating” has shifted from using meat substitutes like tempeh and tofu to using meat as a flavoring, rather than the main event. And did you know the commercial meat industry is responsible for 20 percent of man-made greenhouse gases? Buying local meats can reduce your carbon footprint as well as the use of fossil fuels to transport it to market. Locally raised meat may cost a little more, but it’s worth it for what is usually better flavor. Get maximum taste from the meat by using flavorful cuts and cooking them in a way that best brings out their flavor.
If you’re looking to make healthy changes, one way is to visualize moving meat from the center of the plate, at least some nights. Instead of serving one steak per person, slice a cooked steak and serve one for several people while serving a filling grain as the main dish. Or, instead of cooking burgers made from beef, use ground turkey or chicken, stretched with an equal volume of roasted mushrooms. (They are so easy to make! Toss 2 pounds of quartered mushrooms with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then cool and chop in the food processor.) These ground mushrooms are also delicious substituted for half the ground meat in your favorite meatloaf or meatball recipe.
To add interest to your vegetable-based dishes, make sure that you have lots of different flavors and textures. Consider the way that the vegetables are cooked; use different techniques like smoking, roasting, grilling and pickling to make it feel more like a meal, and less like a plate of steamed vegetables. Add texture by including nuts and beans in your recipes. And don’t forget that sustainable seafood is more readily available and good for you—but that’s another article for another time!
Sometimes it’s hard to change old habits, but do a little research and you may be convinced that moving meat from the center of your plate a few nights a week may be a worthwhile effort for your health and the environment. Happy cooking!
Kale Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash (Serves 6-8)
I love the sweet spicy dressing and the different flavors in this center-of-the-plate salad. It contains enough flavors and textures so that I’m satisfied without meat, but if you’d like something meaty, top with prosciutto that has been baked in a 350 oven until crisp. It can be made a day or two in advance—just wait to add the cheese until you’re ready to serve.
1 butternut squash
6 cups of baby kale, chopped
Sweet and Spicy Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 bag frozen black-eyed peas
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup crumbled local goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 375. Peel the butternut squash, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet. Roast in oven until tender and beginning to brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool.
Put the kale in a bowl, and crush with your hands to soften slightly. Toss with ½ cup Sweet and Spicy Vinaigrette. Let sit.
Cook the black-eyed peas in boiling water for about 20 minutes until just tender. Drain and spread on a sheet pan to cool.
Combine squash, kale, peas, chopped pepper, jalapeno and parsley. Add more vinaigrette as needed to coat all the vegetables. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with crumbled goat cheese before serving.
Add all ingredients to a small jar and shake until combined.
Smoked Tomatoes (makes 1 ½ pounds)
After taking the main event off the grill, we like to use the dying embers to smoke tomatoes (and other veggies) for dishes later in the week. These smoked tomatoes can be used instead of regular tomatoes in pizza, chili, soups, or any recipe that may benefit. And you can try them as the star of the shakshuka recipe that follows.
On a gas or charcoal grill: Wrap the wet wood chips in a piece of foil, and make three inch-long slits in the foil. Place the foil pack on the coils and heat until smoking. Cut tomatoes in half, and squeeze gently to remove most of the seeds. Drizzle a disposable pan with olive oil. Place tomatoes in a single layer, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme sprigs. Smoke on low heat (about 250 if you have a thermometer) for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
Shakshuka with Smoked Tomatoes (serves 4-6)
This North African egg dish is an incredible brunch or dinner dish.
Be sure to serve lots of crusty bread alongside to sop up the spicy tomato sauce.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 large red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into thin strips
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Cayenne pepper to taste
14-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
8 smoked tomato halves, chopped
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large ovenproof skillet, saute the onions and pepper until soft and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the canned and smoked tomatoes, and ½ cup water. Let cook until it thickens a bit, about 3 to 5 minutes. Crack the eggs, spacing them evenly apart, into the tomato sauce. Top with feta cheese.
Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 7 minutes until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with crusty bread.