If you want to discourage people from trying to do something new, make it look
When it comes to food and recipes, let me add:
- no guarantee of success
- might not even taste that great
Exhibit A: the plant-centered (sometimes vegetarian) diet
If you want people to adopt better food habits, you have to make the process look like the proverbial “piece of cake” (not necessarily a real piece of cake). Why do health professionals go out of their way to make plant-centered eating look so impractical? Recipes that look great on Instagram aren’t going to change eating habits if they depend on expensive or unfamiliar ingredients and fussy cooking techniques.
This drives me crazy, because it’s so unnecessary. You don’t need to prepare a goat cheese, fresh fig, quinoa and beet green salad to eat healthy. You don’t need to spend hours making burgers out of hearts-of-palm, flax seeds and fake vegan “mayonnaise” (by the way, these burgers would be very low protein, unlike normal meat-based burgers). Yet some aspiring healthy cooks might feel guilty, because they think these recipes are unappealing. They aren’t given any alternative.
My Alternative – Keep It Simple
When I plan a meal, I just look in the refrigerator and pantry. What’s available? That’s what I’ll use. I don’t have fresh figs laying around. I don’t usually have goat cheese laying around. Beet greens? Rarely. Hearts of palm? Never. Fake vegan mayonnaise? Never. Ever. What I invariably do have is:
- fresh vegetables
- certain frozen vegetables
- canned beans (and dry beans which cook quickly in the multi-cooker)
- herbs and spices
I recently threw together a lovely balanced vegetarian meal exactly this way. The menu was Black Bean Salad and Couscous salad. These two dishes nicely complement each other for nutrients, particularly protein. Both are easy and use ingredients that are easy to find in the grocery store. In addition to protein, this menu is loaded with healthy fats, fiber, a wide variety of vitamins, potassium, magnesium and other minerals.
Black Bean Salad with Avocados
I used fresh oregano because I grow it in my garden. Fresh mint would also work nicely. If you don't have fresh oregano, dried works well. Fresh cilantro would also be great.
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 firm-ripe avocado
- 2 TB minced chives or chopped scallions
- 1 cup fresh snap peas, cut larger pieces in half
- 2-3 TB canola or other neutral oil
- juice of one lime, or more to taste
- 2 TB minced fresh oregano OR 1 tsp dried oregano AND/OR 2 TB minced cilantro or 1 TB minced fresh mint
- Optional: small pinch of cayenne pepper OR 1 TB finely minced fresh jalapeno
- salt to taste
- Step 1 Mix everything together in a large bowl.
- Step 2 Salt to taste.
- Step 3 Let the salad chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so to enhance the flavors.
Quick and Simple Couscous Salad
I use pearl (Israeli) couscous, which is larger than the quick-cook styles available in boxes. You need to cook it a bit longer, but it works better in a salad like this. But use the smaller-grained variety if that's all you have. Just be sure to fluff it with a fork to prevent clumping.
- 3/4 cup dry pearl couscous
- 1/2 cup minced sundried tomatoes (in oil) or minced tomato conserva, or 1 cup minced fresh tomato or some combination of the above, depending on your love of tomatoes
- 1/4 cup chopped red onion
- 1 TB minced fresh basil or 1-2 tsp dried basil
- 3 TB olive oil
- 1 TB lemon juice, or to taste
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. You could also use 1/2 cup crumbled feta or fresh mozzarella
- salt to taste
- Step 1 Cook the couscous according to package instructions, but don’t over cook. The texture should be al dente, not mushy. Drain and rinse to cool.
- Step 2 Mix everything together in a bowl.
- Step 3 Add salt to taste after adding the cheese (which is salty).
Take Away Message
Complicated Instagram-ready recipes might look pretty, but pretty doesn’t equal practical. A sometimes-vegetarian diet does not have to be expensive or complicated to be healthy and tasty.