This is not going to be a post on the ethics of vegetarianism, as important a discussion as I think that is. Rather, this is a post about how to happily feed someone who is used to, for whatever reason, a meal containing meat and have them be satisfied with a vegetarian meal. To that end, I thought about some of the dining archetypes that might initially be resistant to vegetarian dining and how I would approach each of them.
The Picky Eater - We have all met the picky eater in multiple forms. The picky eater may refuse to eat unfamiliar foods. They may want their food to be a starch and a protein, not touching, and refuse any vegetable but iceberg lettuce. They may look upon my cooking . . . erm . . .I mean "hypothetical cooking" . . . and say "Gosh, that's a lot of green stuff!"
The key to dealing with the picky eater is to understand the root of their pickiness. Chances are, it's one of two forms - they haven't been exposed to the food in question, or they've had it, and it was prepared in some sort of awful fashion.
For those with limited exposure to food in general, the best way to expose them to vegetarian meals is not to hit them all at once with things that scare them, like tofu. Heck, tofu scares me for a variety of reasons. Rather, it's best to have them try a vegetarian version of a staple that's typically prepared as a meat dish. Chili is a great example. Chances are, the picky carnivore in question has had chili at some point in their lives. Heck, it may have even been vegetarian!
Some other good items for the limited exposure picky eater include lasagna and other pasta dishes; enchiladas, burritos or fajitas and hearty soups like minestrone.
By gradually exposing the limited exposure picky eater to these types of foods, they will learn that vegetarian cuisine isn't as scary as it seems, and be willing to try new things. Case in point - when I mentioned to my husband (who will admit he is not the most adventurous of eaters) what blog I was writing tonight, he asked if I was going to tell everyone about the time I made us Seitan Hot Wings. Ask me if he would have been talking about seitan in a positive light, or even knew what seitan was (admittedly, I had no idea before I went veg!), five or so years ago? But, since I've gradually been introducing various vegetarian items into our meals and made food he's recognized, he's been willing to taste some of my more off the wall experiments.
Another thing to contend with when it comes to picky eaters is undoing years of vegetable mistreatment. By this, I specifically mean boiling vegetables into a tasteless mush. Yeah, I wouldn't want to eat that either! Chances are, if someone doesn't "like" broccoli, it's because they ate it after it was boiled for an extended period of time, which is a terrible thing to do to a vegetable.
In the case of dealing with Post Traumatic Boiled Vegetable Syndrome, gently expose your picky eater to preparations like steaming (particularly good with broccoli and cauliflower), sauteing (mushrooms, peppers) and roasting (potatoes, brussels sprouts, beets) help bring out the best in vegetables. One of our family members said to me at Thanksgiving this year, "It's a miracle. You made brussels sprouts edible." The secret? DON'T BOIL THEM. And, get them fresh and season them well!
Some of my vegetarian cooking experiments I recommend for the picky eater:
Black Bean Burgers
The Food Snob - If there is such a thing as a vegetarian food snob, it's yours truly. I watch a ridiculous amount of Food Network. A happy day for me is hanging out in the Whole Foods produce section. I love going out to eat at restaurants that serve things that involve the word "emulsion." I have eaten a mangosteen overseas, before they started showing up here in the states.
But, there are food snobs out there that believe you aren't really a foodie unless you are enjoying some sort of meat. I remember meat, and, yes, it did taste good and there are some chefs who do amazing things with it. But, there are also vegetarian dishes that can have the same wow factor.
Food snobs like me appreciate two things - fancy ingredients and awesome presentation. Like the high school classmates of mine who were proud to have seen Live before they went national and liked Nine Inch Nails before Trent Reznor was a household name, we all like to think we're the first people to discover an ingredient. So, plan your meals around something schmancy & restauranty- polenta, porcini mushrooms, celery root, farro, etc. Make a delicious sauce by deglazing your pan with vegetable broth or wine.
Awesome presentation also goes a long way. To me, nothing is more boring than slab of meat, plop of starch, sad pile of veg. I like it when food is art, and so do most carnivore foodies. So, use the natural color and vibrancy of fruits and vegetables to create a visual dining experience. Vegetable napoleons are a great example of a vegetarian dish that presents well.
Some of my cooking experiments that I recommend for the food snob:
Mushroom & Celery Root Lasagna
Polenta Crusted Eggplant Parmesan
Quinoa Cakes with "Meat" Sauce
Kabocha Squash, Farro and Kale
When it comes down to it, the key to having a carnivore enjoy a vegetarian meal, really all it comes down to is to cook them something that looks great, tastes great and is full of love. By gradually exposing the "carnivore" to delicious tasting vegetarian meals, you open folks' eyes to the worlds of possibilities in vegetarian dining.
Vegetarians - what are the most common objections you hear when you suggest a vegetarian dish? "Carnivores," what am I missing? What other questions do you have?