Last fall, I gave up eating meat. (I don't remember exactly when—it was as soon as I'd finished the last of a package of bacon I had in the fridge).
I did it strictly for animal welfare reasons. Anyone who drinks as much Coke Classic as I do has no standing to declare the decision had anything to do with my health! But I figured if I'm going to spend hundreds of hours a year taking care of baby squirrels and raising them until they're ready to be released into the wild, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to then go out and eat part of a cow for dinner.
I wasn't sure how long I'd be able to do this, since I've always really enjoyed meat dishes, from chicken fingers to barbecued steaks to pork roasts. But it hasn't been as difficult as I thought it would be. When it's not in the house, it's not a problem at all. Fortunately, I already ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, so there was no issue in me having to add them into my diet. And, as a writing colleague said to me, I'm really just cutting out 5 or 6 ingredients from my entire food repertoire.
But without question, one of the reasons it hasn't been so tough is because I still eat eggs and dairy products (which is why I don't refer to myself as a vegetarian), so I can still meet my protein requirements pretty easily. (I only buy those that come from humanely raised animals, so I don't think there's anything wrong with that from an animal welfare point of view.) If I had to cut one of those food groups out entirely, I don't think I'd be able to do it.
A reader of my favourite food blog, Christie's Corner ("Real Food. Real Life. It Ain't Always Pretty."), does have this problem. She wrote in to Charmian last week requesting suggestions for main courses that will also work for her daughter, who is not only vegetarian but lactose-intolerant as well (and, no, I'm not just pointing out this entry because of the adorable squirrel pic!).
Fortunately, I happen to have a great recipe that meets both those requirements, so I'm sharing that here today. Charmian is also posting a recipe for vegetarian chili, and another food writer, Cheryl Sternman Rule, has a vegetable stir fry with tofu and cashews on her blog, 5 Second Rule*, as well.
My recipe is called El Paso Pilaf, and it comes from Anne Lindsay's Lighthearted Everyday Cooking book. If you don't already have any of her books, I highly recommend them. All of the recipes are based on ingredients you probably have around the house anyway, the instructions are easy to follow, and they're heart-healthy to boot! I have three of her cookbooks and use them often.
For copyright purposes, I can't reproduce the exact recipe here. But it's really one of those recipes where you can add in more or less of a certain ingredient to suit your own taste, so I can give a brief description that will give you a pretty good idea of how to create the dish shown at the top of this post. (And, of course, if you want specific quantities, you can always buy the book! :)
You start by sauteing some chopped onions in olive oil. Then you basically toss all of the following into the pot or skillet: water, long-grain rice, kidney beans, corn niblets, dry green lentils, chunky salsa, and chopped bell peppers. Season with garlic and chili powder. Bring everything to a boil and then let it simmer until all the water has been absorbed by the rice and lentils. (Warning: this smells REALLY good while it's simmering, so you may get a lot of "Is it done yet?" questions from family members...) Anne Lindsay also recommends serving the dish over thick-sliced tomatoes, which I haven't tried myself, but I can imagine that that would be a nice addition as well.
* P.S. I have decided that, given her name and her specialty, Cheryl has THE best name for a blog ever. But trust me, once you go there, you won't be able to limit yourself to five seconds, especially once you get a load of her stunning photos!