This lesson covers dishes that are especially suitable for vegetarians, but can be enjoyed by all. Some make tasty accompaniments to meat and vegetable meals, as your carb portion.
People choose vegetarian or vegan diets for a variety of reasons. Many of these reasons I have no argument with. But I do have a problem with the commonly held belief that a vegetarian diet is better than an omnivorous one for everybody. I believe we have a wide range of dietary needs, from vegan to high protein, and that only a small percentage of people are suited to a strict vegetarian diet. My main concern is for those people who adopt a vegetarian diet believing it to be healthy, when it’s unsuitable for their particular needs. If you want to read more on this, read this article on Vegeterianism but otherwise, let’s get on with seeing how to get maximum value from a vegetarian diet
Following a vegetarian diet, or especially a vegan diet that excludes all animal products, can lead to a number of nutritional deficiencies if not carefully balanced. For those people who do choose a vegetarian diet, there are ways to maximise the nutritional value of the foods eaten. Some dangers are lack of protein, not enough of the right fats with their vital fat soluble vitamins (A and D), and too high a level of carbs. It can be difficult to get enough iron and zinc. Vegans must supplement with B12 as it is only present in animal foods.
For those who do eat some animal products, incorporate as many of the following into your diet, as you feel comfortable with:
- If you don’t like eating meat, but feel OK to use stock (see lesson 5) in soups or when cooking grains or legumes, they help digest protein and maximise the use of your protein
- Fish is a good source of both protein and fatty acids (see lesson 8). But many species are now contaminated with mercury. In general, those higher in the food chain have a higher concentration of mercury, for example shark has more mercury then sardines. You can download a full list here of NZ fish varieties and their mercury levels.
- Dairy products and eggs supply protein plus fat soluble nutrients. If you can source raw dairy, this is far superior to pasteurised and homogenised, as long as it’s from a source you trust.
- Otherwise, cheeses or cultured milks such as yoghurt or Kefir may be tolerated better than milk. Choose full fat products.
- Butter and cream can often be tolerated even by those who can’t eat other dairy. They provide fat soluble vitamins in an easily used form. If even these donlt work for you, ghe (clarified butter) may.
- Raw egg yolks are very beneficial, as long as they are free range.
- If you are strictly vegan, you can get saturated fat from coconut products.
You will also need to get some protein from plant foods. But plants don’t have a full range of amino acids. To make complete protein, you need to combine 3 out of the following 4 groups:
If you need to control your carb intake, this can be a problem. It used to be thought that you needed to combine different plant groups at same meal to make complete protein. But it’s now thought that as long as they’re eaten on the same day, it’s OK. So if you’re eating some animal protein, aim to eat a serving of each of the groups once a day. If you’re vegan, eat 2-3 serves from each group a day, and aim to combine 3 at least once a day.
To recap on how these food groups need to be prepared:
- Grains need to be soaked, sprouted or fermented before cooking
- Legumes need to be soaked, rinsed, then cooked in fresh water
- Nuts need to be soaked in salty water, drained, then dried at low temperatures, and some seeds can be prepared the same way
One last thing that needs to be covered. Soy foods tend to popular with vegetarians, as they have the highest protein of any legume. Unfortunately, unlike other legumes, they have anti-nutrients that are not neutralised by soaking, only by fermenting. Unfermented soy products such as soy milk, tofu, soy cheese, soy sausages and patties, protein powders, and soy in supplements have been associated with a wide variety of serious health problems (see extra reading below). So it’s best to limit soy to small amounts of fermented products such as tempeh, natto, tamari and miso.
This section is for those are working through the lessons of the cooking course. Otherwise jump straight to the recipes
- Legumes: Nourishing Traditions P495
Try as many of these recipes as suits your lifestyle and metabolic needs.
- Cook up a whole grain to go with a stew or casserole from a precious lesson
- Basic brown rice, with steamed broccoli, carrot and cashew sauce
- Cheesy oat loaf
- Cook up some beans to go with a stew or casserole from a precious lesson
- Stuffed lentil loaf
- Mexican beans with either rice, corn chips or pancakes
- Black bean chilli
- Baked beans
- Marinated tempeh
- Nut roast. This is a popular vegetarian dish, especially for holidays or other occasions when a roast is traditionally served. It can be served hot with vegetables, or a side salad, and a yoghurt or tahini sauce. Or it makes a delicious and convenient lunchbox snack.
- Mushroom nut roast
Eggs or cheese:
Some other suitable dishes for vegetarians:
- Blueberry porridge (lesson 1) – added nuts & seeds make complete protein
- Snacks (lesson 2) such as crispy nuts or hummus
- Homemade bread (lesson 4) spread with nut butters, tahini or hummus
- Soups (lesson 5)
- Raw vegetable & salad dishes, including legume based salads (see lesson 6)
Soaking and Cooking Legumes
Soybeans: Soaking doesn’t neutralise anti-nutrients. Only eat fermented soy products.
All other whole legumes:
Soak 8-24 hours (or even longer is OK) in warm water with an acidic medium added (whey, kefir, yoghurt, lemon juice, etc). Drain, rinse well, add fresh water and simmer till cooked. Add salt after cooking, as adding it earlier can make them tough. See chart below for times.
Qty of whey
Approx cooking time
Lentils, channa dhal, split peas
About an hour
Black eyed peas
Black, pinto, borlotti beans
12-24 hours, depending on size
At least 4 hours
Chick peas (garbanzo)
About 6 hours