If you’re a die-hard carnivore, the kind who likes bacon with his eggs, fried chicken with his biscuits and a little steak with his steak, the idea of adopting a vegetarian diet may be laughable. Even the term probably has you conjuring images of tofu chunks, carrot sticks and endless piles of lettuce. But take it from me: Eating vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to subsist solely on salads and celery stalks.
I decided to go vegetarian when I was 13, right before Thanksgiving. Passing up the golden roasted turkey was tough that first year, but only until I realized I could pile on the potatoes. Being a vegetarian on non-holidays works mostly the same way.
For example, unless you’re going vegan, your diet can still be loaded with all kinds of low-fat dairy products, from shredded cheese made with 2 percent milk to thick, reduced-fat sour cream. In the beginning, I’d recommend steering clear of tofu. Partly because even reading the word probably has you freaked out, but mostly because attempting the spongy white stuff right away is enough to scare off a newbie vegetarian for good. But don’t be afraid to experiment with fake-meat products, which can fill the texture void in your meatless menu. And above all, realize that occasionally eschewing beef and chicken doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite tacos, stews and sandwiches. It’s all about modification.
To get you started, try one of these five road-tested recipes. They’re all meatless and healthy, but more importantly, they’ve all been tried by current or former carnivores—the boyfriends, husbands, relatives and law-school buddies of the chefs who made them—who pronounced them delicious. Dig in.
Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
Cheesy Mushroom Broccoli Casserole
Microwave Nachos Vegetarian Chili
When I was growing up, my mom had a rotating schedule of three dinners. (My dad and my uncle always called them “Bonnie’s Big Three.”) This chili, in meat form, was one of them. When I stopped eating meat 14 years ago, she modified the recipe for me, and whenever I go home there’s always a batch of it waiting. We usually eat it on Christmas Eve with a big group of male relatives, none of whom are vegetarian, who come back for seconds and thirds. With a dollop of low-fat sour cream and a handful of low-fat cheese, you’ll never miss the beef. My mom cooks it with tofu (an entire container); if you’re not a tofu-eating vegetarian yet, sub a package of faux beef crumbles or skip entirely.
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 container tofu
- 2 Tbsp and 1 tsp chili powder
- 12 oz (1 can) diced chili tomatoes
- 12 oz (1 can) spiced chili tomato sauce
- 1 can Bush’s chili beans
- 1 can black beans (drained)
- 1 can garbanzo beans (drained)
- 1 can kidney beans
- Optional: 1 cup cooked elbow macaroni noodles
Brown onion in butter. Add tofu with 1 teaspoon chili powder.
Add all other ingredients and simmer for one 1 hour. Serve with reduced-fat sour cream and cheddar cheese.
Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese
Leigh Voruz, a 29-year-old elementary-school art teacher from Omaha, Nebraska, created this healthy mac and cheese recipe after failing to find an existing one that cut calories but still tasted good.
“Every time I’d find a recipe, the texture wasn’t right or it was too bland, so I mixed three or four different recipes together,” she says.
Each ingredient contributes something specific to the dish, Voruz says. The mustard brings out the flavor, and the half-and-half keeps it creamy, while the Velveeta keeps the traditional mac-and-cheese flavor. And using the low-fat versions cuts the calories per serving by more than half, but the dish still tastes decadent, she adds.
Though it contains no meat, mac and cheese isn’t strictly a vegetarian dish—neither Voruz nor her husband Johnny are herbivores—but everybody loves a good comfort food. This one allows you to enjoy it guilt-free.
“It tastes like you’re being naughty,” Voruz says, “but you’re not.”
- 3 cups pasta, uncooked
- 3 Tbsp margarine
- 8 oz Velveeta light
- 4 oz fat-free cream cheese
- 1 1/4 cups 2% shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 can cheddar cheese soup
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1/2 cup fat-free half and half
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
Cook pasta in boiling water for 5 minutes or until it’s just under al dente. Drain and place in slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined. Cook on high for 2 to 3 hours, stirring about every 30 minutes. The pasta should hold its shape, and the cheese should be completely creamy. Makes about 8 servings.
Sloppy Joe sandwiches, with seasoned beef tumbling out of hamburger buns, are the ultimate meat-eating-guy food. This recipe, which substitutes a mix of mushrooms and nuts for the beef, is just as satisfying as the real thing, according to Susan Schenck, author of “The Live Food Factor, The Comprehensive Guide to the Ultimate Diet for Body, Mind, Spirit & Planet.”
“My husband loves this recipe because it tastes like sloppy Joes,” she said. The meat substitute doesn’t sacrifice on taste, because “the real flavor is in the sauce, and the mushrooms absorb those flavors as well as meat does. This recipe reminds me of the sloppy Joes that were a staple among my mother’s dinner dishes. For those of us raised on Joes, this is a real comfort-food dish!”
- 3/4 cup raw walnuts
- 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, without shells
- 4 cups mushrooms (preferably cremini type)
- 3 Tbsp water
- 3 Tbsp Namo Shoyu soy sauce
- 1 1/2 Tbsp unpasteurized olive oil
- 8 green olives, pitted
- 1/2 to 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 green onions
Sloppy Joe Sauce:
- 1 large ripe red or 2 Roma tomatoes
- 3/4 cup sundried tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp chipotle seasoning powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 pitted dates
- 1/8 cup fresh basil
- 2 garlic cloves
Ahead of time: Soak walnuts and sunflower seeds in water for 6 to 8 hours. Chop mushrooms (make sure they’re not too small—they should be cut into fourths or fifths). Marinate for at least 1 hour in water, Namo Shoyu and olive oil. Stir well so all mushroom pieces get a bit wet, then set for at least 1 hour.
Later, rinse and drain walnuts and sunflower seeds. Chop walnuts by hand, or in the food processor using the “S” blade. The goal here is to match the look and feel of meat, so aim for little chunks. Chop olives, green bell pepper and green onions. Fold in marinated mushrooms. Set aside.
In a heavy-duty blender, blend tomatoes into liquid form. Add remaining sauce ingredients. Fold in “meat” ingredients. Because the Joes are a raw-food recipe, Schenck doesn’t heat them before serving, but said doing so wouldn’t affect the flavor. For a traditional presentation, scoop onto whole-wheat hamburger buns.
Cheesy Mushroom Broccoli Casserole
Natasha Attal started making this dish for her boyfriend when he stopped eating meat about two years ago. Attal, a 25-year-old marketing and PR rep for a Brooklyn real-estate firm, isn’t a vegetarian, but said both she and her boyfriend find the dish filling and delicious.
“He usually is not a big fan of leftovers, but we ate it again the next night because he loved it so much,” she says. “It has become a go-to casserole dish.”
To add more substance to the dish, Attal recommends adding veggie ground round for the taste and texture of meat, but said the casserole is delicious even without it.
“It’s a very filling dish,” she says.
- 3 Tbsp butter, plus extra for casserole dish
- 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 lb shitake or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- 1/4 cup onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 cups fat-free half and half
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1 box (10 oz) frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained
- 2 cups shredded 2% cheddar-monterey cheese blend
- 3 cups cooked rice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Special equipment: 1 1/8-quart oval casserole dish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Butter casserole dish. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and flour over medium heat until golden to make a quick roux (it should resemble the color of peanut butter).
Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, half and half and vegetable broth. Add broccoli, 1 cup of cheese, and rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour into buttered casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake until cheese is melted and golden, about 20 minutes.
Jessica Keefe, a Washington, DC–based attorney, started zapping nachos in her microwave during law school at the University of Pennsylvania. Keefe, 27, was a vegetarian for 11 years but had started eating meat again before concocting the snack food. She’s made the nachos for groups of friends, meat-eating males among them.
“They’re filling and satisfy your cheese cravings without leaving you feeling like you need a nap afterward,” she says.
For added health bonuses, add diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce after pulling your platter from the microwave.
- 3 handfuls baked tortilla chips
- 3/4 cup lowfat shredded cheese (cheddar works well)
- 1/2 can (10 oz) black beans, drained
- Jalapeños to taste
- 1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
- 1 cup shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes (optional)
- 1 jar salsa
Place tortilla chips on a large plate. Layer cheese, black beans and jalapeños on top. Microwave for 1 minute or until cheese melts and bubbles slightly.
Top with low-fat sour cream, lettuce, and tomatoes, and serve with salsa.
Hopefully, these recipes, and the meat-eaters who love them, will help you see that dabbling in vegetarian cuisine doesn’t have to mean digging into salad after salad. And if the delicious food and the guilt-free indulging aren’t enough of a reason for you to steer clear of the meat aisle occasionally, consider this: Making a creative and healthy meal for your significant other could earn you some brownie points. Low-fat ones, that is.