The foundation of this next challenge was initially to avoid eating dairy for one week. My attempts at that challenge have not gone so well. (They began with a rebellious craving to stuff my mouth with all the cheese I could get my hands on. And Halloween candy.) So, we decided to go a little smaller.
I’ve recently become aware of all the health benefits a vegan diet can ensure. And despite the fact that my younger self (who would only eat Filet Mignon when we went out to dinner) would have me believe that we humans are carnivores, we, in fact, are not. (At least I avoided all the fatty parts with my steak choice, right?) I don’t think Melissa is giving me bonus points on that one…
Anyway, I’ve grown up my whole life with an understanding that many other Americans have too: that we need a lot of meat and dairy. Right? Isn’t that what we learned from the food pyramid? Wrong. The reality is that our portions regarding animal protein for those who do eat this way are largely exaggerated or SUPERSIZED! Using a chicken breast? It only needs to be 6oz. That’s about the size of your palm. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a chicken breast that small.
My challenge is to incorporate more vegan meals into my diet and less animal protein. I’m not going 100% vegan. I just want to try to incorporate more healthful foods (fruits, veggies, grains, etc..), and this is a great way to do so! As a result, I got really excited when I found a recommended vegan cookbook in my Whole Living Magazine. (In an issue from February—yea, I’m a little behind.) I quickly ordered it online and waited for it to arrive… (and grew really disappointed in the meantime while I checked out my other cookbooks and realized more than half of these recipes no longer applied to vegan standards. Oh well.)
Finally, the book arrived! The next day, I headed to the grocery store with my loving boyfriend, who stood with me in the produce aisle as I read to him what we needed straight from the cookbook in my hand (yes, as everyone was rushing around us to prepare for Hurricane Sandy). We were a little dismayed when we got to the bean aisle and it was almost cleared out from storm preparation, but there were still some selections left.
That night, we put this recipe (Spaghetti Bolognese) together. The faux-meat base was made from the beans, walnuts, and mushrooms, which we pureed in the food processor. The consistency made us a little uneasy…(I think my boyfriend murmured something about cat food…) But he added some extra seasonings, we poured in the marinara sauce and added some basil for garnish, and took a bite!
My thought process went like this: Not bad. Ok, I can eat this. No, not bad at all. This is actually pretty good for having no meant and no dairy. Wow, I’m eating a dinner with no meat at all! This is a recipe that I can make again in the future. I like it! I’m excited to have leftovers for tomorrow! The recipe didn’t completely blow me away and convert me into a new-born vegan, but it was still good and definitely worthwhile. My new goal is to plan a vegan night once a week!
Spaghetti Bolognese- Serves 4 to 6
1 lb spaghetti
1 cup walnuts
8oz crimini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 15oz can pinto or kidney beans, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
½ cup all-purpose flour, or gluten-free all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 24oz jar marinara sauce
¼ cup soy, almond, or rice milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar or maple syrup
Chopped fresh basil for garnish, optional
1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, make the sauce by processing walnuts in a food processor until a fine crumbly meal forms. Add mushrooms and pulse about 15 times until mushrooms are finely chopped. Add beans, flour, basil, salt, and pepper and pulse about 10 more times. Do not overprocess; it should be crumbly and chunky.
3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer mushroom mixture to the pan and let cook, turning frequently with a spatula, until the mixture is evenly browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add marinara sauce, nondairy milk, and brown sugar and stir until heated through. The nondairy milk and brown sugar will soften the acidity of the tomatoes.
4. Top hot pasta with sauce, garnish with basil, and serve. Delish!!