I was reading a newspaper article from New York the other day, about the thing I probably like least. There’s a hot hip new restaurant serving cheese made from cashews, steak tartare made from split peas colored with beet juice, and even foie gras made from ground sesame seeds. This latest NYC hotspot is devoted to vegetables that look and taste like meat and dairy.
I prefer vegetables that look and taste like vegetables.
The news story did remind me, however, of my longtime fascination with vegetarians – a fascination made all the more, well, fascinating by the fact that I’ve never been remotely tempted to become one. I’m simply someone who prefers meat in smaller servings than some people do, with lots and lots of vegetables. Over the years, vegetarians have suggested that my meat comes in such small portions anyway that I could easily go all the way. To which I’ve generally recoiled in horror.
I won’t be ambling toward New York’s West Village anytime soon, even out of curiosity what their critic-praised beef bourguignon might taste like. I hear the unmistakable voice of Julia Child in my ear, pleading: Don’t eat anything that’s not what it pretends to be. Eat only good real food, and eat it in the portions your body can handle. Moderation, preached the late great Julia. Moderation, not sleight of hand.
There are many aspects of vegetarianism that annoy those of us who aren’t. The politics often on display, for one thing – politics that become for some a kind of religion. You can’t even guess what each vegetarian’s beliefs might be, since some are protesting the cruelty of raising, slaughtering and eating animals, while others see “vast conspiracies” aimed at ruining our health in the name of nefarious profit. Still others, especially in India, embrace a meatless life as part of their authentic religious and philosophical views. A few simply had a traumatic experience eating meat at some point and swore off from that moment to this.
Non-vegetarians are also confused by the broad spectrum of vegetarian lifestyles, all with off-putting, technical, anti-pleasure names. Vegetarians can simply eat no red meat, which is the default position. Yet “pescatarians” do allow themselves fish, while “lacto-ovos” can eat milk and eggs, thus their name. Vegans, the way we see it, are the true hardcores, who deny themselves any and all of the above, seldom without explaining at great length why.
And then, there’s me.
I’m a guy who loves vegetables, pretty much all vegetables, especially when they’re caramelized to drag their natural sugars to the surface and become crusty, sweet and golden brown. The kind of guy who can buy into the popular observance Meatless Mondays, though equally likely to prepare a meatless meal any day of the week. I remember learning years ago that humankind appeared as history’s great omnivore, built by survival instinct to live off practically anything. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
And the next time I make Julia Child’s signature bouef bourguignon, you can be sure the “boeuf” won’t actually be split peas masquerading among the thyme, bay leaves and pinot noir.
BLISTERED PEPPER PAD THAI
This slightly non-vegan version of the iconic Thai street food does use scrambled eggs – because we really love what they do in this dish. And to us at least, eggs are not meat. Obviously, there’s a whole lot of different tastes and textures working their magic in each bite of this pad Thai. You can leave out the eggs and get 97% percent of the pleasure (yes, we measured). Or you can leave them in.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups sliced mini-bell peppers, red, yellow and orange
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 spring onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
2 carrots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked green peas
¼ cup dry sherry
3 cups cooked Thai rice noodles
1 cup Dr. Foo’s Kitchen Tamarind Pad Thai Stir-Fry Sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Sriracha to taste
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
3 eggs, scrambled
Cook sliced peppers in olive oil after medium high heat in a large skillet or wok until they start to blister. Remove them from the pan. Add the onion, white parts of the green onion and carrots until they begin to caramelize, adding the sherry about halfway through. then stir in the garlic and peas for 1 minute more. Return the mini-bells to the pan and stir briefly together. Add the Dr. Foo’s and stir to coat everything evenly. Squeeze on the lime and spoon in sriracha to taste. Sprinkle with lemon pepper. Stir in the scrambled eggs and serve hot, garnished with cilantro leaves and the green parts of spring onions. Serves 4-6.