What vegetarians eat needn’t be mystifying

I heard a woman say that she was a vegetarian until her husband got tired of eating salads every day. “I could, but he couldn’t,” she commented. 

Assuming she meant salads as a main dish, I was surprised. Did she not know about options, from meatless variations of popular dishes to fake meats? Did she not notice meatless entrées on restaurant menus? 

When I gave up meat 46 years ago, it wasn’t so easy to find vegetarian meals in restaurants, vegetarian cookbooks in bookstores, and meatless products in supermarkets. There wasn’t an internet to search for recipes, and the cookbooks coming out contained recipes that gave vegetarianism a reputation for bland eating. When the late Paul Obis founded Vegetarian Times in 1974, he specified that the magazine was “for non-meat eaters,” in case potential readers didn’t know what a vegetarian was.

I doubt anyone needs to have vegetarian defined today, but some people might still wonder what vegetarians eat. Most of my staples are variations on what carnivores eat, although they aren’t the American dinners that separate meat, starch, vegetable, and salad.

For anyone who is flirting with vegetarianism or needs tips about feeding a vegetarian who’s coming to dinner, following are suggestions. I try to have a protein source, vegetable(s), and a whole grain in a main meal. For vegan meals, use nondairy cheese and egg substitutes.

Stir-fries: Add protein — cashews, crushed peanuts, or baked tofu — to stir-fried vegetables. Sprinkle with a stir-fry sauce (I like Trader Joe’s) and serve over cooked rice, rice noodles, or vermicelli.

Pastas: Substitute cooked lentils for ground beef in a tomato sauce recipe. Use the sauce in spaghetti, lasagna, manicotti, etc.

Burritos and enchiladas: Put pinto or black beans in tortillas with sautéed vegetables, cheese, and (if desired) rice. For enchiladas, cover filled tortillas with tomato sauce and bake.

Soups and stews: Use vegetable broth in meatless soups and stews. Make a thick chili by replacing meat with bulgur and corn and using more than one variety of beans. 

Egg dishes: Omelets and baked egg casseroles don’t require meat. 

Stuffed veggies: Pepper, eggplant, zucchini, acorn squash, sweet potato, and large mushrooms all can be stuffed with other vegetables, cheese, and grains and baked with a tomato, cheese, or white sauce.

Veggies and rice: Ethnic cooking abounds with vegetables served over rice, including Indian curries and Mexican beans and rice.

Veggie burgers: You must have heard of Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers, the pretend meats that even carnivores concede are tasty. I’m satisfied with less expensive black bean burgers.

None of the above ideas should sound exotic unless you always eat a traditional American meat-and-potatoes dinner.

You can serve vegetarian meals without changing your cooking routines. Look at all the meat substitutes in the supermarket. They’re not my thing — I don’t need to pretend I’m eating meat, and the plant proteins are highly processed — but for an occasional meal they may be worth checking out.



Four Chicago Tribune columnists with whom I usually agree — Mary Schmich, Eric Zorn, Heidi Stevens, and Dahleen Glanton — are taking buyout offers from the newspaper’s new owners, cost-slashing hedge fund Alden Global Capital. So is John Kass, whose conservative columns I won’t miss. Schmich, Zorn, Glanton, and Kass are in their 60s, so they may have been thinking of retiring soon, but Stevens is only 46. 

It’s hard to imagine that anyone is prepared to step into the shoes of these longtime columnists. Reading the Tribune will be a lesser experience. I’m not ready to give up on the paper yet, but I’ll be interested in hearing about whether other Tribune readers change their subscriptions.


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  • Thank you for the menu ideas, Marianne. I am still a carnivore, but I am ready to look for variety sometimes in the grocery, and I'm glad to learn about some substitution ideas.

    As for substitute reading ideas, I will watch nervously as the commentary/opinion pages of the Tribune change. Surely they won't be scrapped as so many of the ad pages were. Understudies must be available, and I'll be glad to give them a try. I will be keeping up with the Tribune for the joy of being startled by a headline, not just getting search results I expect.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    My guess is that the Tribune will be using more syndicated columnists. We'll see.

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