Vegetarian Cooking - Three Basics

For any of the many reasons people choose to eat vegetarian food - religion, politics, finances, or health - one thing in common is that everyone prefers food that tastes delicious and provides good nutrition. There are some basic techniques to vegetarian cooking which will accomplish that.

There is a range of vegetarianism. From the vegan to the person who eats meat on rare occasions. Some people consider themselves basically vegetarian if they never eat red meat, but do eat fish and chicken once in a while. Other vegetarians eat animal products like eggs and dairy, but never the animal itself. A vegan is at the far end of the continuum, rejecting animal products entirely. Vegans won't eat mayonnaise because it's made using eggs, for example.

Wherever you are on the continuum of vegetarianism, you want your food to taste good, be satisfying, and provide good nutrition. Here are some methods for cooking vegetarian to meet those basic requirements.

To begin, if you are making some dish that is actually a meat-based recipe, such as chili con carne, stop substituting textured vegetable protein for the meat and leaving the rest of the recipe unaltered. The result never tastes quite right, and you've been robbed of the pleasure of good food: it's neither meat nor properly vegetarian. Furthermore, you haven't gained in terms of health or economy. Soy is the primary ingredient of textured vegetable protein, tofu, and tempeh. These are usually high in fat, high in processing, and fairly high in cost. Not much better than organically raised meat, if at all. So if chili con carne is what you want, buy organic meat and enjoy it! Otherwise, cook a delicious soup using red beans that doesn't pretend it's chili con carne.

The key to good vegetarian soup is to use oil. Even if you prefer low fat, your body does require fats for healthy metabolism. And it definitely enhances the quality and flavor of any vegetarian soup when some of the vegetables (onions in particular) are saut~ed. Use an oil that's liquid at room temperature, such as olive, vegetable, or grape seed.

The next critical ingredient of vegetarian food that tastes fabulous is really simple: use sea salt. Although any kind of salt will enhance the flavor of most foods, sea salt is best. It naturally contains minerals, while it doesn't contain the nasty chemicals of regular processed table salt. Important to note~ use salt *during* the cooking instead of waiting until after serving the food. This makes a difference in the final quality of the dish because cooking is chemistry. Remember back to your high school chemistry classes: the order of combining the elements, and the application of heat to the mixture could make a tremendous difference to the results of the experiment!

The third tip for vegetarian cooking is obvious, yet needs emphasis. Use lots of vegetables! You can't over-do vegetables in your diet - the greater the range and color, the better. Use leafy veg (lettuce, spinach, and chard), root veg (yams, carrots, potatoes, turnips), and the stems and seed carriers of veg (for example celery, eggplant, peppers, zucchini). Buy organic veg if you can because they really do taste better, and of course they provide better nutrition because they are gown in healthy, 'clean' dirt.

Take any vegetable and bean soup recipe, and follow these three simple principles: saut~ the veg in the right oil, cook the beans in sea-salted water, use a variety of organic vegetables, and you'll have a rich delicious soup. These simple tips make a big difference. Take my word for it, or do a little test. Use the same list of ingredients, but don't saut~ in oil, add the salt at the table, and use conventionally grown veg. The result will be inferior - still nutritious, but bland rather than satisfying, and that's a shame because the few simple techniques described here can make your vegetarian cooking consistently terrific.

Articles by Nora Poulous on topics related to cooking are published in Z Cooking News the leading resource on-line for information about cooking. Visit the complete archive of articles here: http://www.zcooking.com

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