Becoming A Vegetarian: How To Adapt Old Recipes

The decision to become vegetarians may not have been an easy one to make, but delicious dinner favorites are. All you need are some simple substitutions.

There are so many reasons people choose to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle: concern for animals, to improve their health, or to improve their status among their peers. Whatever the reason that has inspired you, modifying your carnivorous recipes may be easier than you think. But before we begin, let's clarify the two types of vegetarianism that exist. The first is Vegan - this type of vegetarian does not consume any type of animal product whatsoever, not even butter. The second is Ovo-lacto - this type of vegetarian does not eat meat, but does consume eggs and dairy products. Whichever path you have chosen, delicious options exist. You do need to be aware however that by no longer eating meat, you must be sure you are getting an adequate protein intake.

In recent years the number of vegetarian options in mainstream grocery stores has exploded. Many carry vegetarian versions of chicken, burgers, sausages, ham, and even hot dogs and bologna. But be forewarned-some are definitely better than others! Don't get discouraged if the first one or two options that you try remind you of sawdust! Keep trying, because there are many that are quite delicious. As with the flavors of meat substitutes, all cheeses are not created equal. Even if you are an ovo-lacto vegetarian, you need to be aware that most cheeses are cured in animal stomach called rennet. You need to look for "rennet free" or "vegetarian" cheese when shopping. In recent years there have been more and more vegetarian friendly options available.

Soy will be your friend. Tofu works as a meat substitute and imparts heartiness in a variety of ways. Even though it doesn't look or feel very appealing BEFORE you add it to your recipes, it will absorb the flavors of what you add it to as you are cooking. You also have soymilk, tofu based "ice cream", TVP, and even soy pasta. TVP? Is that a sports term? Actually TVP stands for texturized vegetable protein and makes an excellent substitute for hamburger in recipes. It comes in a number of forms- crumbles, patties, breakfast sausage, and many more- and is usually found in the freezer section of your local grocery store. And, speaking of the store, be sure to read labels. Often products that may seem to be vegetarian (like refried beans) may contain lard or gelatin, both of which are animal products.

For the strict vegans there are also many substitutes for eggs in many recipes. If you are baking you need to consider the purpose of the eggs. If it is to add moisture to the recipe, you can substitute pureed fruit like applesauce and mashed bananas, juice, or soymilk. If it is used as a binding agent, consider rolled oats, tofu, or even pureed beans. Creativity is the key to a success here.

Here is a quick rundown of vegetarian substitutions for delicious results:

Hamburger: There are a wide variety of vegetarian hamburgers, and remember flavors vary widely. For "hamburger meat" as an ingredient, substitute crumbled veggie burgers or TVP crumbles in recipes for chili, "meat loaf," and tacos. Butter: For cooking and baking use vegetable margarines and oils. Sauté in water, wine, or vegetable broth. Use olive oil and lemon as a dressing.

Milk: Try chocolate, vanilla, and plain soymilk, rice milk (my personal favorite!), and almond milk. These are all great alternatives for cooking, on cereal, in coffee and hot chocolate""use them any way you'd use milk.

Cheese: Check the produce section of your local grocery store for soy cheese, which is great on pizza and sandwiches, as well as in sauces.

Eggs: Use commercial egg replacers (made mainly from potato starch) in baked goods. For breakfast, scramble tofu with onions, mushrooms, and peppers for a vegetarian "Western Scramble".

Ice Cream: Try frozen desserts like Tofutti, Soy Delicious, fruit sorbets, and ices. You will be able to find it in many forms from the scoop and serve to sandwiches.

A world of flavorful delights awaits you as you embark on this delicious journey. This is a wonderful opportunity to be creative and experiment with flavors from traditional to exotic. Even if you don't have the time or energy for creativity, prepackaged dinners are only as far away as your local grocery. The decision to become a vegetarian is often not an easy one to make, but delicious meals sure are.

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