I own two vegetarian cookbooks — they’re sitting on my kitchen table right now. I can guarantee you right now that these books will get picked up, browsed through, and referenced on a fairly consistent basis throughout these next two years. But I can also guarantee that I will rarely pull any recipe from their “main dish” or “entree” sections. They’re lovely recipes and I’ve made some wonderful food with their guidance but under these circumstances, unless I deliberately base my shopping around one or two dishes per week, I’ll rarely have the right ingredients to pull them off. In some cases, the seasoning alone would put me over budget.
The cookbooks are what I think of as designer vegetarian food. For the moment, I’m more interested in edible-but-affordable vegetarian food. (Note: vegetarian, not vegan. I dig eggs and cheese.)
So today, I’m going to share with you one of my staples, which is very simple and is easily increased to yield lots of leftovers. If you’re already a pretty decent hand at cooking, feel free to skip the recipe and go down to the pros and cons of this particular meal.
1/2 cup of uncooked brown rice (yields about 1 1/2 cups cooked rice)
3 oz. of tofu (or meat, if you want meat)
fresh (or canned) chopped vegetables of your choice — I used 4-5 stalks of asparagus, 1 stalk of celery, 1/2 onion, 4 sliced baby portabella mushrooms, and 1/2 yellow pepper (all fresh)
2-3 garlic cloves (or powder)
1. Combine rice with one cup of water (and an optional 1 tbs. of olive oil) and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 50 minutes (or until there is no water remaining in the pot).
2. Prepare vegetables to your liking. I chopped mine ahead of time, as you can see. Then I sauteed them in 2 tbs. of olive oil, with the minced garlic. I find it’s easiest to add the vegetable progressively. I was using asparagus, which requires a little more time than the mushrooms and peppers I added later.
Alternative method: you can also steam the vegetables.
3. Prepare meat/meat substitute to your liking. If you’re using tofu, make sure it’s properly drained. I prefer extra-firm but that’s just me. As you can see, I mixed it in with the veggies towards, the end but you can also pan fry it individually. Keep in mind that tofu absorbs the taste of whatever you cook it with.
4. Serve the vegetables over rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Note that even with this small recipe, I had a little over two servings. So I saved the remainder for the next day’s lunch.
So, what’s the benefit of this meal?
Pros (Or Why I Like this Dish):
1. It’s easy. It requires some multitasking, but once the rice is on, you’re pretty much set.
2. I got more than one meal out of it. If I had doubled the recipe, I could have had the leftovers for another 3-4 lunches or dinners.
3. It’s cheap — or as cheap as I wanted it to be. The rice I used was organic, but it could have easily been generic. I used a fraction of the vegetables I purchased last week and still had a filling meal. It really doesn’t take much to cook for one person, especially with some planning.
4. It’s versatile. Whatever vegetables you have on hand will do. They can just as easily be canned/frozen. And if you want to make it more interesting, you can add any number of sauces or seasonings to spice things up.
5. It’s healthy, especially the veg. version. Olive oil is one of your “good fats” and there is a ton of fiber to be had here. But it’s still filling and still pretty tasty.
Cons (Or Ways to Improve):
1. At the end of a long day, this may be more time-consuming than you want. All in all, it took about an hour to prepare. If time is a concern, I can recommend using pasta instead of brown rice.
2. On a hot summer day, any cooking makes the kitchen hotter — and we then have to cool that space down again. Not very energy efficient. On the plus side, if you were to make a large quantity of this on the weekend, it would it only be an issue on one day, rather than cooking a small, hot meal every evening and making your AC do double time.
3. At least in this case, I didn’t go out of my way to buy locally or in season. That would require better planning on my part. It is definitely a goal for the future! Even better would be to grow my own vegetables and include them, which could reduce my contribution to fossil fuel use and the over all cost.
I can always do better! Feel free to share suggestions.