Happy National Vegetarian Awareness Month! In recent years, vegetarianism and veganism have become growing trends among young people due to an increasing awareness of their health and the environment. Even fast food restaurants have jumped on board by adding burgers made from soy protein and other plant based ingredients to their menu. Meatless Monday is an international movement that has gained national and worldwide attention through encouraging people not to eat meat on Mondays. Although there is nothing special about Mondays, the campaign encourages people to go meatless one day a week for their health and the health of the planet. A plant-based diet is encouraged by most registered dietitians and health professionals due to its role in supporting health and reducing risk of chronic disease.
Why Go Meatless?
People choose vegetarian or plant-based diets for many different reasons. Some adopt a vegetarian lifestyle for ethical reasons, and therefore avoid meat or animal products because they do not want animals killed or harmed. The environment is an additional concern for some vegetarians since animal products require more energy, land, and water than the production of plant foods. Religious beliefs can also play an important role in vegetarianism. Many religions, including Jainsim, Hindus, Seventh-day Adventists, and Buddhists practice ahimsa, meaning “do no harm” and do not eat meat. Some people adopt a vegetarian diet because of the potential health benefits. Vegetarian eating patterns have been associated with improved health outcomes including lower levels of obesity, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure. Vegetarians tend to consume a lower proportion of calories from fat and fewer overall calories, as well as more fiber, potassium and vitamin C than non-vegetarians. Finally, reducing meat consumption can also decrease your grocery budget. Building meals around vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes can be less expensive and more beneficial for health.
Types of Vegetarians
There are many types of vegetarians, the most common being lacto-ovo, lacto, pescatarian and vegan. A lacto-ovo vegetarian, for example, consumes milk and dairy foods, eggs, grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, but avoids meat, fish and poultry. A lacto-vegetarian follows a similar diet, but also eliminates eggs from their diet. A pescatarian follows a vegetarian diet, but also consumes fish and other seafood. A vegan stays away from animal-based products entirely, including meat, dairy products, lard, gelatin, and oftentimes honey.
Do Vegetarians Consume Enough Protein?
Lately, meat has become synonymous with protein and many individuals fear that without meat you won’t consume enough protein. However, there are many versatile plant-based sources of protein that fit into a healthy diet, such as legumes (beans, peas, lentils and peanuts), soy products, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and eggs. Since many plant based proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids, it is best to eat a combination of plant foods to ensure a variety of amino acids are consumed.
I am always experimenting in the kitchen, so this week I thought I would share with you one of my favorite Meatless Monday meals. Enjoy!
General Tso’s Cauliflower from Pinch of Yum
General Tso’s Sauce
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 knob ginger, grated
- ½ cup vegetable broth
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1-2 Tbsp cold water
For the Batter:
- 1 cup flour
- ⅔ cup cornstarch
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 4 eggs
- Water as needed (about ½ cup)
- 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
- A deep layer of oil for frying
- Scallions and sesame seeds for topping
General Tso’s Sauce: Heat the sesame oil in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for a minute or two. Add remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Bring to a low boil; simmer for another 20-30 minutes or until sauce is thickened. Add more sweetness, citrus, etc. to your taste.
Cauliflower Batter: Whisk all the batter ingredients until a loose batter forms. The batter should be thick enough to cling to the cauliflower and cover it but stay loose enough to easily drip off (adjust thickness with water).
Cauliflower Frying: Pour oil into a heavy bottomed skillet to make it deep enough so it will cover the cauliflower about halfway. Heat the oil over medium heat. Drop a small bit of batter in the oil to test it – when it rises to the top and bubbles, the oil is ready. Dip cauliflower florets in the batter and let the excess drip off before gently setting in the oil. Fry for a few minutes on each side, then flip, repeating sides several times if necessary until you get a nice golden brown fried exterior. The additional frying time helps make it a little crunchier. Remove and set on a cooling rack with paper towels underneath.
Serving: Toss the fried cauliflower with the sauce and sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds for serving. Serve with rice.