Recipes for a Recovering Vegetarian?
I love food. Let me rephrase that: I love vegetarian food. I became a vegetarian the day my parents let me (I was 7 ) and I've been one for more than half of my life. I always hated meat as a kid; the only thing I had a hard time giving up was gelatin. I've never had beef, pork, or even a hotdog (I've got over my animal rights phase and I would like to try more food (this life style is limiting my cooking and dinning) , be able to travel with greater ease and be in better health. The problem remains: I am still disgusted by meat. I can manage something with chicken stock in it or mild fish with a nice sauce; basically anything that is well disguised. Any well disguised meat recipes to help me ease onto it? Oh, another rub: I live in a gluten free household (not my choice, I assure you).
What's up with your nutritionist just saying "eat more meat" with no further guidelines? Yeesh! :p Most vegetarians I know became vegetarian at least in part because they disliked the texture of meat. I have my own texture issues, so I tooootally sympathize and don't find it strange in the slightest.
What about doing your favorite veggie mains, working toward including meat in them? For example, if you do a veggie chili, put 1/4 pound ground beef into a biiiiiiig pot of it. Or make black bean burgers with 3 parts black bean mix and 1 part ground chicken or turkey. Meat cut and prepared different ways can have very different textures as well -- shredded chicken vs. thinly sliced and velveted (a la Chinese restaurants), a quickly seared steak vs. long-stewed cubes of beef, etc.
But my number one recommendation is: get good meat. Don't buy any old on-sale crap from the grocery store, become friends with a good butcher who sells high-quality meat from reputable sources. Nothing is worse than poor-quality ingredients for turning you off to whole categories of food, IMO. I mean, bad hamburger is a gristly, greasy mess, but good ground beef is rich, umami-laden, savory and delicious. Same with chicken -- flabby, stringy and flavorless OR richly flavorful if you get the good stuff.
I returned to meat due to health concerns -- I felt lethargic without meat, no matter how many other ways I tried to finagle it into my diet. Here's what I did, after almost ten years as a vegetarian passionately cooking and eating vegetarian food (which I still do frequently) --
I came to chow for help, like you. I couldn't fathom touching raw meat. I found a halal butcher when I was ready to start experimenting with chicken. DO take the time to look for a quality butcher. Personally, I still don't go near a whole bird, because I am squeamish about rummaging around inside the chicken (!!!) but I can now say that I am totally comfortable cooking chicken in a variety of ways.
Chicken salads -- I started with cooking boneless/skinless chicken breasts in a glass baking dish filled halfway with milk or cream. I cubed the chicken and used it in salads, and I had lots of fun with dressings, fruits, nuts. The recipe below calls for cooking the chicken in creme fraiche, but you can use milk, half and half, heavy cream. The chicken turns out MOIST and very tender with this cooking method. You can use it as a filling for enchiladas or toss into soups, casseroles, salads. Cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a glass baking dish at 350 for about 40 minutes. Cool, then shred or cut into cubes depending on how you plan to use it.
Here's a basic chicken salad recipe. I often substitute some sour cream and/or Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise. I like to change around the fruit -- instead of grapes, try adding mango, peaches, strawberries. Arugula provides a great contrast here or I always like the softness of butter lettuce.
Then I started with bone-in skin-on chicken. I learned a few basic techniques. I am so much happier and healthier with the chicken in my diet, I can say. Here are some to get you started, where you are basically adding a paste or marinade to the meat and perhaps some veggies, then roasting it. Little contact, and thighs do lend themselves to succulent results.
Chicken Marbella is another favorite, discovered through Cookbook of the Month. I really took off with the chicken dishes through my participation in COTM. The collective endeavour really helped me with the anxiety of touching/prepping/cooking meat after so many years away from it.
Chicken Marbella with dried fruit, oregano, olives, garlic -- you can use all thighs or a combination of breasts and thighs.
maybe counter-intuitive, but have you tried sushi? There's something about the clean-ness of raw fish, the lack of smell, that makes me think sushi would be a good way to start on fish. If you go to a quality sushi restaurant, you know you will be getting the freshest, best fish.
My husband despises cooked salmon, the very smell of it, but he eats it raw w/ gusto. AND if this works for you, it would work well for your gluten-free family members.
You may want to start with dishes that contain meat, but where it isn't the focus. Toss a smoked turkey wing or a ham hock into a simmering pot of beans, make a stir-fry of various veggies and a bit of chicken all chopped into the same-sized dice, or have a pizza topped with mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, and a little bit of Italian sausage. Seems like the transition might be easier with transitional foods, where neither the taste nor the texture of the meat predominates.
The aspects of meaty items that bother me most are dry, chewy cuts. I am not a fan of flabby skin on poultry or anything with gristly bits. I like soft, juicy meats and as such, when in an environment where red meat is being served, I always order rare, to guarantee juicy, soft textures. For chicken, I prefer the dark meat for its juiciness, though the tendons in the drumsticks kind of gross me out. It's thighs all the way for me. I like the cleanness of white meat, but it can be so dry and tasteless in the wrong hands.
I was at one time a vegan and when working my way back to omnivore status, my first choices were shrimps, scallops, crab, lobster, lox, then later, ceviche, sushi and rare cooked tuna and salmon. To this day I dislike swordfish and fully cooked tuna because they're dry.
I really thought I'd never like beef again, until I had a few bites of perfectly rare prime rib. Top quality wagyu beef could win me over as well. I have shocked myself lately by realizing that I vastly prefer pork to beef, especially pork belly, even though I have trouble convincing myself that it's okay to eat that much fat occasionally. It's just so good!
An all-time favourite is shanks, particularly lamb, because they are braised low and slow for so long that they are buttery soft. I love the gaminess of lamb, but veal or beef are good too. I'm also surprised at how tasty tongue can be.
Try everything, at least once. If you hate it, move along. You never know what your taste buds will enjoy, until you've tried it.
Just walk into the water gradually. You were smart to start with chicken stock. You might move next to canned tuna, the furthest removed from nature that yo can get. Serve it in a cream or cheese sauce over rice. Move on to small amounts of diced chicken in dishes with strong flavors, like favorite curry or North African stews with lots of cumin and pepper. Buy boneless chicken breast or, tastier, thighs. If you don't care for the texture of raw meat. Start by buying a package of cooked chicken strips. And dice them into your stew.
Another trick is to have something texturally bolder than chicken in the dish. Pine nuts, slivered almonds, water chestnuts, large sliced mushrooms, (served over steamed wheat berries if you're alone at a meal), or crunchy vegetables.
When you move on to slivers of beef, do in in a strong, dark sauce, like moo shu, with large slices of portobello mushrooms. You will hardly notice the beef. But you will get used to the aroma and flavor.
The path is by small steps.
Adina, this is lots of great advice, with one small exception - the OP mentioned in a reply up-thread that the odor of fish is problematic...so i'd skip the canned tuna (or any canned fish) for now :)
but i think your curry suggestion would be a great way to ease into mild seafood like shrimp and scallops.
I was ovo-lacto vegetarian for ten years, ending about a year ago. This isn't really about disguising meat in a dish, but - what really disgusts me about meat is the What The Hell Is That gross factor. Something crunchy (always!!) in a burger, veins in chicken, and whatever is in ground meat - it disgusts me, and I'm always the one to notice it. What works really well for me is more "intact" meat - a clean, real cut of meat that's more "pure." (I know this is really subjective, but I hope you know what I mean.) Like, a beef eye of round roast. Put it in your slow cooker in the morning with carrots, potatoes, and some water, and it's nothing but clean roast beef without any mysteries. I also find butterfly pork chops very clean in this way.
or, bacon. buy a package or two of bacon, cook it all, put it in a ziploc in the freezer, and grab a couple of slices anytime you have salad, any kind of beans, hearty soup ... chop it up and put it on top. yum!
the more I think about it, the more I think bacon would be a good thing. It definitely doesn't have a meaty texture, it's delicious in all kinds of things, and the crunchy bits tend to add to the texture of the dish.
And this is NOT any indication that you're loopy -- far from it! But perhaps a mental-health professional might be able to help you get over the textural aversion? Or a new nutritionist...it seems awfully abrupt of them to just tell you to eat more meat without any guidance as to how to reverse a lifelong trend!
Stews, soups, and braises might be a good first step, too, as they're cooked for long periods of time, leaving intense flavor and a soft texture. You might even consider overcooking chicken or beef in a braise or stew for a while -- it gets quite soft, and might be a way to sensitize yourself to the texture of animal proteins...if it works well with almost-mushy chicken, then cook it a little less next time, to just 'falling apart'. when that's okay, progress to the next step, and so on.
I wish you luck...and good health...with all of this.
I think that ground meats might help you, as they might help avoid the texture thing. This recipe has poached ground chicken that stays tender. Start with a small amount and maybe throw some extra crunchy peanuts and green beans in to help mask the texture as well: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/mem...
Another thought is that you can cook meat and then throw it in the food processor, like you would for a ravioli filling.
have you been lacto-ovo all this time? (only because my first reaction was to point you toward eggs, but sort of silly if you've been eating them all along....)
Is it a texture issue with you?
Increasing fish is a good start..you might move toward the more "meaty" fish -- as you head toward tuna and salmon, it starts to get more toward the 'meat' end of the spectrum, as opposed to tilapia and flounder and other delicate species.
Maybe a stir fry would work for you, too...then you could start with small bits of meat (chopped as fine as you need) then increase the size and quantity as you develop the taste for it.
But if you can't do it -- it's okay -- I have a friend who has never liked meat, either, and she quite frankly wishes she could become a carnivore because it would make life easier for her, she says...she regularly tries bites of what she fixes for her husband and kids, and just can't get past the texture.
Talk to your doctor and/or a nutritionist if you've got health concerns...they might be able to point you in a direction that could help.
I love dairy and I'm fine with eggs.
It is mostly a texture thing, or at least thats how it started. At this point it's been so long that the sight and the idea have become problematic. The smell of fish is also a problem. The stir fry and fish are both good ideas. I don't know if I can do the fish, but I'll give it a try. It's good to know that it's not just me. My doc and nutritionist just keep telling me to eat more meat, they're not big on helping. Actually most people seem to think it should be easy.
No easier than changing any lifestyle, and probably harder. Just a thought. I'd steer you towards things where the meat's not the central focus of the dish, which steers you right into ethnic food territory - pretty much anything except the classic American/British+ meal that centers around a joint or a roast. Stuffed vegetables would be a great start: home-ground chicken might be easier for you to deal with texturally speaking, and could be combined in small amounts with any grain, diced sauteed vegetables and herbs and spices to stuff eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes.......drizzled with oil; oven-baked. Pastas that incorporate mild seafoods might work beautifully for you too, and if you like dairy a light cream sauce might provide the buffer you need, but a delicious tomato-herb sauce could also be the base of a gorgeous seafood stew that you'd like. Several-bean chili, again incorporating small amounts of meat; tacos;some soups. Looks like stir-fries and frittatas are covered, so enough about those for now. Look at marinades and processes; you might enjoy certain things in certain ways, like a grilled piece of fish as opposed to baked; barbequed meat instead of pan-roasted, shredded meat sandwiches with a good helping of vegetable slaw. Also consider different ways of serving the foods: as in the sandwiches above, for which you could also sub in a good scoop of gardiniera for your veggies. Finally, cook and eat a strip of bacon. It may be just the jumpstart you need. :)