Did your last attempt at vegetable gardening yield three growth-stunted zucchini and a cup of shriveled cherry tomatoes? Is the box of healthful couscous in your pantry hiding behind a family-sized package of ramen noodle soup? Are you unable to afford organic produce because three of your 12 kids are in college?
No matter the excuse or how inept you are with a garden trowel or how much you hate spinach, you can put together some healthly vegetarian meals that actually taste good.
Ready? Let’s start with simple ways you can introduce more vegetarian meals into your family meals.
There is an astounding variety of plant-based foods to be found in farmers’ markets, at the grocery store, in food co-ops, in your own or your neighbors’ gardens, and at your local health-food store.
You don’t have to have a green thumb to fill your fruit and vegetable bins or stock up on all kinds of grains.
Take note of what you eat by eating slowly and really focusing on your food.
Preparing meals for others—especially wholesome ones—is a holy privilege.
Catholic author and speaker Laura Nelson, who blogs at GreenForGod.blogspot.com, offers tips for unleashing your creativity for meatless meals:
Experiment with new spices. Since vegetables tend to be mild in taste, they benefit from flavor-boosting seasonings. Don’t stop at salt and pepper! Smoked paprika, for example, is a great addition to dishes that might normally include bacon or ham.
Remember that texture is key. Some meat substitutes, especially textured vegetable protein (TVP) and extra-firm tofu, have a “feel” that’s similar to that of meat. Lentils, Portobello mushrooms, eggplant, and chickpeas are foods you can also sink your teeth into.
Get to know umami. Umami is the “meaty” essence that some vegetables can impart. Foods that contain natural glutamates—such as onions, mushrooms, and garlic—can give meatless dishes a flavor that will satisfy your family.
Try different grains. Millet, bulgur, amaranth, and spelt—one of St. Hildegard’s favorites—are a few that have long been diet staples in other parts of the world.
Okay, so what are you supposed to do about that package of ramen noodle soup? Trash it? Use it for a beanbag toss? Not at all. Just because you’ve decided to try vegetarian cooking, it doesn’t mean that every canned good or convenience food is anathema. You can begin to phase out processed foods, with an eye to eliminating them altogether from your diet. But you needn’t feel guilty about using such items judiciously. (Note: a few of the meatless recipes in the sidebar make use of either canned or convenience foods.)
Healthy and balanced cooking is about living merry. We are merry because we know that the abundant fruits of the earth are a gift from God. Encouraging words from St. Theophane Venard, French missionary and 19th century martyr: “Be merry, really merry. The life of a true Christian should be a perpetual jubilee, a prelude to the festivals of eternity.”
The Catholic Vegetarian’s Cabbage Slaw
“Vegans will love this mayonnaise-free slaw…and so will everyone else.”
12 cups Savoy cabbage, chopped
¾ cup sliced stuffed green olives
3 large carrots, shredded
6 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ cup chopped parsley
Combine cabbage with carrots and olives in mixing bowl. In a screw-top jar, combine oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and salt. Cover; shake well. Pour dressing over cabbage and carrots; toss to coat. Cover; refrigerate several hours before serving.
Alice’s Humble Hummus
“This recipe, a good source of protein, is probably as old as the Bible,” says Alice. Accompanied by a riot of vivid vegetables, this hummus is perfect lunch fare.
1 can of garbanzo beans rinsed
3 to 6 garlic cloves, according to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. tahini (sesame seed paste)
3 tbsp. lemon juice
6 tbsp. water
Put all ingredients in the blender and puree until smooth. Serve with colorful vegetables, such as carrot sticks, black olives, cucumber, bell pepper, and jicama slices.
The Vegan Monk’s Authentic Monastic Wheat Bread
“One of my favorite recipes!” says Br. Cassian.
2 1/2 cups warm water
3 to 4 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat or spelt pastry flour, sifted
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup almond milk
5–5 1/2 cups whole wheat or spelt pastry flour, sifted
3 tbsp. sea salt
3 tbsp. herb seasoning (such as Herbamare)
2 tbsp. powdered egg replacer (or arrowroot)
2 tbsp. flour of choice
Mix water, 1 tbsp. molasses and yeast together in a large bowl. Wait a few minutes for bubbles to form. Add the 3 cups of flour and mix well. Cover the bowl and set in a warm place. Let sit for a minimum of 20 minutes, but no longer than 12 hours.
Add remaining molasses, oil, almond milk, sea salt, herb seasoning, and egg replacer and mix well. Knead remaining flour into dough, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough will get dense, but keep at it! After all the flour has been added, continue to knead the dough for 10 minutes longer, until it is smooth and elastic. Cut dough into two equal parts. Shape into loaves and place in two 8 ½-inch loaf pans.
Cover pans with a clean towel and set in a warm place until dough is doubled in size. This will take at least an hour. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Laura’s Cauliflower Mash
Laura says, “This is a light alternative to typical mashed potatoes. The Parmesan cheese adds a nice punch of flavor.”
One head of cauliflower, cut into florets
One baking potato
Salt & Pepper
Boil cauliflower florets in water until very soft. Meanwhile, “bake” the potato in the microwave. When cool, peel the potato and cut it into chunks.
Using a slotted spoon, remove cauliflower florets and place in the bowl of a food processor. Reserve cooking liquid. Process cauliflower into a smooth puree. Add potato chunks to food processor and blend until smooth. Add butter or margarine, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend well and adjust seasoning as needed. Add a little of the cooking liquid if the mixture is too stiff.