I laugh when I hear my kids telling other people we are vegetarians. Die hard vegetarians probably wouldn’t find it so amusing. Why do I get such a chuckle out of this? Well, let’s see . . . We eat bacon. We frequent In&Out Burger AND The Habit from time to time (for you Californians, you know what that means), and we recently sucked down some corned BEEF & cabbage to celebrate St. Patty’s Day. So you see where I’m headed with this.
No, my kids aren’t challenged with information processing and they are very aware of what they eat. But the rub is that we don’t prepare beef, chicken, or pork in our home as a main course. Bacon really is the only meat cooked within our kitchen and we eat that mainly to accompany breakfast entrees and as a “garnish” with certain veggies. But we have no problem consuming meat when invited to other people’s homes or when eating out.
So I was recently thinking about our transition from that family who, at every meal, ate a meat protein, a starch and a veggie, to the family that now, at every home meal, eats strictly veggies. And I remember what a mind shift it was for me to feel as though I was serving up a complete meal when the plate contained no meat protein. It seemed off kilter to me, unbalanced, not well rounded. But little by little my lens changed and I began to understand how to take what would be construed as a side and transform it into an entree. I began seeing the plate as more of a palette and striving to balance colors and textures instead of following my old formula of protein, starch, veg. I practiced putting veggie sides with veggie entrees to create comprehensive meals. And above all, I didn’t sacrifice the creativity of cooking that I love just because I was only preparing vegetables. I discovered that you can put as much time and effort into creating a wonderful vegetable entree as you can a hunk o’ meat entree.
This past week is a perfect example of what this transformation can really look like. I got two glorious heads of cauliflower in my Abundant Harvest CSA box.
In my pre-pseudo-vegetarian state, that would have turned up on the plate either roasted or steamed as an accompaniment to a pork tenderloin or a chicken dish of some sort. But after deciding that the cauliflower itself would be the main staple of our dinner, I chose to go the Asian route and put together a little Kung Pao Cauliflower.
I started by tossing the cauliflower florets and some thin carrot sticks with some olive oil and roasting at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.
When things were nicely browned and starting to feel tender to the poke of a fork, I removed them from the oven. I mixed together a little kung pao sauce consisting of soy sauce, water, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, crushed red pepper, peanut oil, wasabi powder and cornstarch.
I transferred the roasted veggies from the cookie sheet to a large skillet and poured the kung pao sauce over.
I also tossed in some sliced shallots that I had lying around. I let things simmer, while stirring pretty regularly, until the sauce thickened up and was coating the veggies nicely. Then I served atop a bed of brown rice, garnished with some chopped cashews, and accompanied by some steamed sugar snap peas. You could add in a lot of other things to get even more color, texture, flavor and nutrition – red peppers, green onions, kale, garlic, etc.
Just like that we went from side dish to entree. We followed this up with a green salad with an Asian-like dressing and everyone felt as though they had had a complete meal.
I’m not always assured full family approval when I go off script and start making stuff up. In fact, a certain member of this little clan is known for asking, “Is this a real recipe, Mom, or just stuff that you made up?” But this one got thumbs up all around the table.
So I’m curious. Do any of you opt for full vegetarian meals? If so, would you share your favorite? I’m looking forward to hearing about your veggie delights.
Here’s the complete Kung Pao Cauliflower recipe.