Beyond Meatless Monday:
I am in the process of preparing a plant-centered food course for a community college class, which focuses on creating a healthy and delicious plant-based diet. It will examine several mainstream forces that have put plant-based cooking in the spotlight, as well as a history of how diet has evolved in our culture. It will include meal preparation and serving techniques and allows students to explore and practice a variety of vegetarian and vegan recipes highlighting flavors from different regional cuisines. As I prepare this course, I am intrigued by our human relationship with the living things around us. Some of them we eat; some of them we don’t. Mostly we don’t need to eat anything but plants, but it seems to be part of our make-up–either culturally, physically, or both.
I am a mostly-vegetarian. More accurately, I’m an “ova-lacto-pescatarian.” That mumbo-jumbo means that, in addition to my mostly plant-based diet, I eat eggs, dairy, and fish. I’ve spent periods of time in my life following a “vegan” or plant-based diet exclusively. I’ve also spent periods of my life where meat and poultry were part of my diet. I tend to not have a preference what others choose for themselves, though I do believe that we humans could be much more considerate of our planet, and the other critters we share our little place in the universe with.
A peek inside my home kitchen, reveals that my own cooking relies heavily on plant-derived ingredients and lots of produce. However, I quite frequently use dairy and eggs in my meal prep. Salmon, crab, and halibut also pop up frequently in my menu plans. I source these ingredients as locally and organically as possible, and use the highest quality, local/wild-caught seafood I can get my hands on…but I wonder, would I be equally happy with other sources of fats and proteins? Definitely, it is an area to be explored!
I doubt there is one “right” way to eat, as the rest of the animal kingdom seems to eat all sorts of things without much detriment to each other or Planet Earth, and without arguing the merits of what they will or will not consume each day. That discussion seems to be uniquely human. It also seems to be uniquely human to overdo whatever it is we do, right down to how many burgers we bipeds munch down in a day. Since we’ve apparently lost touch with our natural instinct of how to eat without harming ourselves or our world, the subject must be thrown wide open for discussion.
There is much ado in the media and mainstream news of late regarding the effects of eating meat and animal products on our own health and the health of our planet. I know from my background as a professional chef, that meat and other animal products are almost universally well-loved. Adding bacon to chowder, chicken to pasta, or beef to roasted vegetables, quite effortlessly makes a meal seem “complete.” Boom: dinner, done! However, even if one forgoes meat, having eggs, milk, and cheese in the icebox certainly does make cooking and baking a whole simpler. More accurately, those items easily accommodate many traditional recipes, so a little effort must be made to tweak our favorite recipes to make our meals feel satisfying.
What is it about eggs that make muffins come out just right? And is there another ingredient that would work in the same way? Vegan cooks and bakers have been perfecting the art of plant-based food preparation. I’ve cooked and baked many a vegan meal, lots of eggless muffins, plenty of dairy-free desserts. The vast majority of things that land on my plate have nothing to do with animal products at all. I happen to really enjoy salads a lot, and my body just runs better when I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, so that’s what I choose. While I’ve tried short stints at veganism, I’ve come to rely on eggs and fish for quick, easy protein. And because there are flavors and textures that were missing in my vegan voyages. Mayo makes a creamy dressing come together, a great cheese helps the humble noodle become a grand pasta dish, and ice cream on my fruit crumble…well, I just don’t not-eat that! Most of my baking recipes call for dairy, eggs, or both. And I’m first in line when the fresh halibut comes off the dock. Would I be happy without the “ovo-lacto-pesca” part of my vegetarianism?
I’ve decided to up the ante on the Meatless Monday trend, and propose what I’ll call Vegan Veekend, a plant-based couple of days. Just one weekend a month. Weekends, because workweek can get busy, and we may need time to figure out how to make a creamy dressing without cream, or that Sunday omelet without the eggs. I’m in the process of pulling together recipes and menu ideas that look intriguing. I’ll test them out and share the best of them here, with hints and tips for things like making baking work without eggs, or how to get some meltingly delicious cheesiness without the cheddar. I’ll test the best, then create some recipes that are as nutritious as they are beautiful and delicious. I may miss my Parmegiano or the whipped cream on my cake, and I’ll probably still eye up the fresh salmon in season. But, I think it would be a great challenge to forgo those delicacies once in a while. It certainly can’t hurt me or this pretty green earth I happen to inhabit to be just a bit more conscious of the source of the foods I consume. So, I’m going vegan–at least sometimes, just for a couple days each month. I hope you’ll join me!
To begin, let’s start with a vegan bean soup recipe with endless variations.
Vegan Many-Bean Soup Recipe
serves about eight
This is a classic, hearty soup, which is open to many variations, so be creative based on the ingredients you have available to you, in season, and in your pantry.
Acidity interferes with the process of softening beans and potatoes, so if you decide to tweak the recipe with the addition of tomatoes or other acidic ingredients, be sure to wait to add them until the beans and potatoes are at the desired level of firmness.
To reduce hands-on time, use a crock-pot or slow cooker and you won’t have to stir as often. You may instead simmer the soup in a large pot on the stove over low heat for several hours, stirring periodically. It is best to use a non-reactive cooking pot (such as stainless steel, glass, or ceramic) or your ingredients may not soften as desired.
To reduce cooking time, you may wish to soak the beans overnight prior to cooking. Adding a hefty pinch of baking soda helps beans soften as they soak, by making the soaking water more alkaline.
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup dried pinto beans
- 1/2 cup dried kidney beans
- 1/2 cup dried black beans
- 1/2 cup dried brown lentils
- about a cup of assorted other sorts of dried beans *
- 3 cups water
- 32 oz non-tomato vegetable broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3 red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
- 3 stalks celery, sliced
- 3 carrots, chopped
* Like cannellini, navy or white beans, butter beans, red lentils, great Northern beans, azuki beans, orca beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), mung beans, red beans, etc.
If you will be cooking the soup on the stovetop, you may want to soak your beans overnight to reduce the cooking time. Be sure to rinse them first and check for stones!
Allow eight hours total: if you would like to eat at 6:00 PM, start getting your soup ingredients ready to start simmering by 10:00 in the morning.
- Peel the onion and cut it coarsely.
- Peel the garlic cloves and crush them with the flat of the knife, then chop finely.
- Place the onion in a gallon (or larger) soup pot with 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to caramelize brown and turn translucent.
- Add garlic, and sauté for another minute or two.
- Add all of the beans and lentils, water, 32 oz. of vegetable broth, bay leaves, and salt. Bring to a boil and let it boil for about ten minutes.
- If you will be cooking in a crock-pot, transfer the contents to the crock-pot and cook for several hours until beans are soft. If cooking on the stovetop, turn the heat to low/simmer and let cook for several hours until beans are soft. Add a little vegetable broth or water if the soup gets too thick as it cooks.
- Once beans are soft, add the potatoes, celery, and carrots (covering with more vegetable broth). Let simmer another 45 minutes to an hour, until vegetables are cooked through.
- Serve with smoked Tabasco sauce to add to taste and a hearty, crusty bread on the side, toasted. If a dollop of sour cream seems like a tempting garnish, try topping with dairy-free unsweetened yogurt instead. Enjoy!