A Cooking Challenge

The cooking challenge was simple: make vegetarian meals even a meat-eater would love.

Here’s how it came about: A few weeks ago, as my husband and I were sitting back in our chairs, dinner over but not wanting to clear the empty plates yet, he offered up a compliment — and a challenge. “That is an A+ dish,” he said, his professorial side coming out. “If you can master ten dishes that good, I’ll become a vegetarian.”

Now I like a compliment. But I liked his challenge even more.

You see, it goes against my grain to tell people what to eat. I don’t want to deny him the pleasure he gets from a smoky barbecue. But I’ve long worried that his diet isn’t adding any years to his life. I see the ghost of my mother-in-law, who died of a heart-attack at 48 (48! The age he’ll be just six short years from now!), hanging over his plate of pork ribs (and I know he senses her there, too). So here he was, giving me permission to cook more healthy, vegetarian meals and igniting my competitive spirit at the same time.

Little did he know where his off-handed comment would lead. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are thousands, maybe even millions of people out there like him. Maybe they want to eat less meat for health reasons. Maybe they’ve been inspired by the sustainability arguments of Michael Pollan or Mark Bittman, or by Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling Eating Animals, with its passionate attack on factory farming. I won’t delve into the whys and wherefores of eating less meat. Whatever your reasons, I welcome you.

The central focus of this blog is creating healthy, vegetarian dinners, though it will touch on “pescatarian” dishes (that include seafood), which can be good transitional meals as people move away from meat. The recipes that I’ll offer (and which friends often ask me for) will be accessible and straightforward. Tricky French sauces and two-hour prep times don’t fit into my life.

It’s also worth mentioning what this blog is not. It isn’t a venue for arguments about the ethics of eating meat or why we should all be eating more plants and grains for health or environmental reasons. It won’t trade in wacky ideas about yin and yang (I’ll leave that to the macrobiotics) or push a Hindu “vegetarianism is a way of life” line. In short, I leave the philosophy to The Professor and focus on taste — on finding and/or adapting vegetarian recipes that even a carnivore will crave.

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