Monday, November 19, 2012

For vegetarians, a welcome seat at the Thanksgiving table

For those who don’t eat anything that can walk or squawk, Thanksgiving amid a family of carnivores can be a challenge.

“The idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving used to make a lot of people pretty nervous,” said Kim O’Donnel, author of The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations. “A lot has changed in the last few years. People are expanding their definition of what vegetarian is. Thankfully, it’s no longer the weirdos against the rest of us.”

The veteran food journalist and sometime meat eater writes in her good-humored introduction that the memory of a slightly combative Thanksgiving dinner inspired her second collection of meatless recipe. Competing with the burnished turkey that year was a pitiful boxed tofurky that skewed the Norman Rockwell image of culinary communion so many hold dear.  

“There are 96 percent of us at this point that are still eating meat, but up to 40 percent are exploring how to eat less meat,” said O’Donnel, a leader of the Meatless Mondays movement. “It’s a mash-up. The fact is, we’re not all eating the same thing anymore.”
O’Donnel credits the Meatless Mondays campaign as a major contributor of the nationwide conversation about putting more plant-based meals on the table. “When I found out about it in 2007, it was this fledgling nonprofit teaming up with schools of public health around the country. It was not a mainstream phenomenon.

Kim O'Donnel
“They did research in June 2011 and found that 50 percent of people contacted knew what it was,” she said. “It’s not to say that they agree with it or not. But the conversation is not going way. People are waking up to the fact that they have to change their diet.”

O’Donnel cites abundant research that shows health benefits from making more room on the plate for vegetables and grains. “It doesn't have to be all or nothing. It’s more about incremental change and readjusting your notion of what makes a meal.”

She encourages fledgling vegetarians and those who want to enjoy the benefits of vegetables to avoid the highly-processed vegetarian foods found in the freezer case – not just the dreaded tofurky but also a wide range of convenience foods that tend to be very high in sodium. Additionally, a lot of these products are made by the same Big Ag companies that promote risky genetically-modified foods.

“It’s one reason why I made a definitive decision to not include meat facsimiles in the book,” she said. “For some people it’s a great gateway, but if you really want to get close to the source of your foods, that’s not the way.”

By cooking your own food, and knowing where your food comes from, you become part of the change process, O’Donnel said. “If we don’t cook, we don’t ask questions. We make going through the drive-thru window a way of life. We remain passive and disconnected – and in the dark about our food system. If we don’t get in the kitchen and get the cutting board out, we’ll never change things.”
Delicata Boats with Red Rice Stuffing
Her suggested options for Thanksgiving, let alone the recipes for year-round celebrations, should convince most meat lovers that veggies deserve another chance. One she  particularly recommends, and plans to contribute to a friend’s holiday gathering, is the simple to prepare Delicata Boats with Red Rice Stuffing.

“It’s the first time in several years that I’m not hosting dinner, and it’s kind of a relief,” she admitted. “We’ll bring things from the new book for dinner.  I’ll make the Lentil Pate, which really tastes a lot of chopped liver. I’m doing the Apple Rosemary Walnut Pie with Enlightened Pie Dough. And I’ll probably  bring the Raw Kale Salad.”
O’Donnel includes several recipes using kale in the book, notably the savory Sweet Potato-Pesto Gratin in the Thanksgiving chapter. The versatile kale pesto has become the condiment of choice in O’Donnel’s home. “I used it on a spread with sandwiches, serve it on rice – and it’s great on pizza dough,” she said.

Kale’s status as a super food among knowing vegetable lovers is having an impact among even the most ardent doubters.
“I was doing a demonstration in a grocery story in Arkansas a few weeks ago and people were blown away by the Raw Kale Salad,” O’Donnel said. “That made my day. I love changing the tunes of vegetable haters.”

Raw Kale Salad
Reprinted with permission of Kim O’Donnel from The Meat Lovers Meatless Celebrations (DeCapo Press/Life Long Books 2012).
1 bunch lacinto kale (also sold as Tuscan and dinosaur kale), middle ribs removed (about 5 cups)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 to 2 lemons, depending on size)
¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted almonds, chopped

Optional add-ons:
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese
¼ to ½ cup dried bread crumbs
Wash the kale leaves and dry thoroughly in a salad spinner. Stack several leaves in a small pile and cut into thin strips (also known as chiffonade).

Place the chopped kale in a medium-size bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt. With your hands, massage the seasonings into the kale; this not only ensures even coverage but also helps to tenderize the raw greens. Allow the greens to sit and marinate for at least 20 minutes.
Toss in the almonds and taste. There is usually so much flavor that the cheese and breadcrumbs are unnecessary, but they are terrific extras that really gild the lily.

Keeps for 2 days in the refrigerator.

No comments:

Post a Comment