Vegetarian Eating Guide
Veg*n is a blanket term for vegetarians and vegans in all their degrees. Vegans do not use any animal products, including eggs and dairy. Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but may eat eggs and dairy. Some avoid gelatin, rennet and other animal ingredients. Pescetarians do not eat meat or poultry, but do eat fish. They are often referred to as part of the greater veg*n group because their challenges are similar.
Everyone veg*n has his or her own reasons for doing it. That's not what we're concerned with here: let's talk about eating.
Planning veg*n meals can be daunting at first. It can be hard to branch out from "meat and potatoes." One way to get out of thinking of meals in this way is to look into different cuisines. There are many delicious Asian and Middle-Eastern dishes that start out veg*n or can easily be adapted. Vegans should be wary of dairy products in Indian food, however, and fish or oyster sauce is very common in Thai dishes. These can certainly be subbed out, however, when cooking at home.
One also has to be very careful about nutrition. It's easy to be unhealthy no matter what your dietary choices are, but as a veg*n you need to pay special attention to your protein intake. If you aren't getting enough protein, you may find yourself feeling weak or your hair may fall out. Try not to let this happen.
Also, EAT YOUR VEGETABLES. It's very easy to be a carbotarian but you will die fat and lonely. Vegetables are going to be your main source of most nutrients. It might be a good idea to take a veg*n multivitamin too (make sure it has iron and B12 since those are the things people get fussy about).
"Protein" doesn't refer to one single compound. It's an enormous class of materials your body produces in order to keep you functioning. Each protein is made up of amino acids. Meat contains all the amino acids you need, but very few non-animal sources can do the same. Instead, you have to make sure you're eating several different sources of protein every day to cover all your bases. It really isn't as hard as it sounds; you just have to eat a variety of foods.
Here is a fancy chart! (Thanks to Triangulum and the Vegetarian Resource Group, linked below)
Quinoa is an exception. It contains all the amino acids you need for a day. Quinoa is a grain and can be used much like rice or cous cous. It may not be at your regular supermarket, but many health food stores have it. Man cannot live on quinoa alone, though. Well, he probably could, but that's boring.
Beans & Legumes
Beans are a staple of a healthy veg*n diet. There are about a billion kinds, which is excellent, because it means you can do just about anything with them. Here are a few ideas...
- Chili: red beans or black beans
- Hummus (chickpeas) or white bean spread: great for sandwiches or as dip
- Savory pie filling
- Baked beans
- Refried beans: good on their own, or in tacos
- Salads: ANY bean or legume can add body and flavor to a salad. Try black beans in a pasta salad, or a chickpea and roasted red pepper salad, or just about any combination you can think of.
- Soups: again, almost any bean makes a good soup.
- Dal: usually made from lentils, this is a staple of vegetarian Indian cooking.
- Curries in general
Tofu comes in many forms. It can be silken, soft, firm, extra firm, and even comes pre-flavored. You can buy it dried or roasted or fermented or just plain. It has little flavor of its own, so you can use it in almost any application.
- Silken tofu is good for using pureed in smoothies, soups and sauces. It can also be used in soups (e.g., miso soup), but must be treated carefully, since it falls apart when stirred too much.
- Firm and Extra-Firm tofu are useful for stir fries and many other applications.
If you want your tofu to be a little less "slimy" and more spongy, try draining off the water and freezing it, then letting it thaw (for a spongy texture). Or, for a firmer texture, press your block of tofu between two cutting boards (+ weight on top) tilted into the sink for at least half an hour before you use it. This will only work for firm tofus.
Tofu soaks up flavor very well, so any flavorful sauce or marinade you can think of will work well with it. Try making your own teriyaki, or hot & sour, or ginger sauce- you won't be disappointed.
Tofu is not useful only in Asian cuisines, although it is most natural there. You can also crumble or puree it to add protein to lasagne or quiche . Pureed silken tofu (or beans, for that matter) can add nutrition to almost any kind of sauce. Try it in your pasta sauce for a little more body.
Seitan is made from wheat gluten, and you can either buy it or make it at home. It can be shaped however you like and used as a chicken replacement. Mr_Wiggles_Seitan is the basic recipe. I hear it is temperamental so it may take a couple of tries and some experimentation to get a good texture.
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
Textured vegetable protein is made from soy and can be acquired at health food stores. It needs to be reconstituted with water, and works well as a ground-beef replacement in many dishes.
AngerbotSD suggests: Everyone always forgets TVP. It's also simple to prepare, you just reconstitute it in a 2:1 ratio of boiled (then off the heat) liquid. Water with a dash of soy sauce is good for the umami taste and saltiness, a variety of broths (Veggie, mushroom, etc.) work too. You can use V8 if you're crazy, or reconstitute it directly in chili/spag sauce if you nasty (and add extra liquid.)
- Milk & other dairy (yogurt especially, which also helps your digestive system if you aren't doing so well with the beans)
- Whole grains
- Soy products
Meat replacement products
Companies like Morningstar Farms make products that look, feel and sort-of taste like meat. These can be useful especially at the beginning of the transition to veg*nism, when you're still learning how to plan meatless meals. They are frequently full of sugar and additives (and super expensive), so pay attention to their nutrition facts and use them sparingly. They're invaluable when you have to go to a friend or relative's house and that person doesn't know what to make for you, however.
Training As A Vegetarian or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Soy - W&W thread on vegetarianism & working out. Lots of useful info even if you don't work out.
Vegan Yum Yum - blog
Happycow - Vegan, vegetarian, and natural food store directory
Vegan Dad - blog
Fat Free Vegan Kitchen - blog
Fat Free Vegan - blog (different from the above)
Vegetarian Cheese List - resource for finding out which cheeses are rennet-free. Viewable by brand or type.
(Thanks for some links go to Triangulum)