A while ago, I turned the ratio of meat to vegetables in my diet on its head: more plants, less meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. It worked for me (I wasn’t particularly healthy; now I am), and I’ve been arguing for a shift in the direction of plant-based eating ever since. So when I got an email from a reader saying that she was trying to increase the ratio of veggies to meat in the dinners that she cooks, and that she wanted some recipes to help expand her thinking, I was more than happy to take the bait.
I’ll spare you the full manifesto (you can find that in Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook), but here’s my thinking, in a nutshell: The average American eats around a half pound of meat each and every day (!!!). You don't necessarily have to become a vegetarian; rather, you can just aim for less meat—say, a pound or two a week. Start thinking about fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy the way traditional cultures do: as a garnish, seasoning, or treat—almost as a condiment. When used as a flavoring ingredient rather than as the focus of the meal, a little meat goes a long way. Less meat in our diets is better for our health, the animals, and the planet.
This does not need to upend your entire cooking and eating life. In practice, it really just means rejiggering the kinds of dishes you already make so that some of the meat is replaced by vegetables. The recipes below are not only delicious examples of the art of meat/veggie rearranging, but can also serve as templates (more or less) for how to cook this way all the time, or as often as you want. The More Vegetable, Less Egg Frittata is something I make all the time; instead of an egg dish with a few vegetables scattered around, it’s a vegetable dish bound by a few eggs (not a less meat recipe, but a less dairy recipe). It’s particularly wonderful at this time of year when spring vegetables are at their peak, and you can vary it endlessly from season to season. Plus, not enough people eat frittatas for dinner; they’re a quick, easy weeknight meal waiting to happen. Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Meat Sauce is an archetype of the “more sauce, less pasta” genre; not only does the heap of smoky eggplant mean that you can use less ground meat, but the sauce is so good (and plentiful by design) that you only use half as much pasta. This idea (a vegetable-heavy sauce with a little meat for flavor and texture, and a higher ratio of sauce to noodles) is one you can apply to literally any pasta you make.
Salad is an easy one. We’re already programmed to think of it as veggie-centric, so tossing some meat into the mix feels like a bonus. When you do that (a la Chicken with Fennel Salad), it instantly becomes dinner (not that it couldn’t be dinner without meat). You get the idea; it’s substantial. Of course, the vegetables can rotate, and the chicken could be beef, or pork, or fish. Just serve it with some bread or rice or grains, and you’re good to go. The last recipe (Steak Au Poivre with Mushrooms) makes the case that we don’t need an entire half pound of flesh to ourselves every time we cook a piece of meat. Sometimes a few incredibly delicious slices will do the trick, especially if they’re laid on top of a giant pile of pan-roasted mushrooms and leeks (or any other equally tempting veggie combo that you can think of). The same applies to fish and chicken, and you can get a ton of dinner mileage out of the mix-and-match possibilities.
Frittata is one of those rare any-time-of-day dishes. You can eat it when you make it, or at room temperature, or even cold, straight from the refrigerator. The revelation here is that one egg easily binds two cups of cooked vegetables, and they’re all good: chopped spinach or chard, chopped fresh or dried tomatoes, potato or sweet potato slices, asparagus cut into 1-inch segments, roughly chopped broccoli rabe, cooked mushrooms, zucchini slices, or cubed, chopped, or grated winter squash, grated carrots or parsnips, or chopped eggplant.
Quick, vibrant, and infinitely variable, this will join your repertoire of go-to weeknight dinners. Serve it with a whole-grain pita or other flat bread, or even tortillas. It’s also good with plain rice or any other grain, or served on a bed of crisp greens.
Pan-cooked mushrooms can be irresistibly delicious, especially when paired with steak. The trick is to stir them just enough to prevent burning, but infrequently enough to let them caramelize a bit. (Same with the leeks, whose sweetness contributes mightily.)
Roasting this nicely seasoned eggplant-and-lamb sauce from start to finish gives it an incredibly rich flavor while requiring very little attention. The result is something like an eggplant Bolognese, perfect with a little pasta but also good spooned over a split baked potato or even a roll, like a sloppy joe.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.