By Will Packwood
Photography by Jenna Noel
Some of you may know me and you might be asking yourself, Why would he be writing about vegetarian dishes? I’m not, really. We all know the health benefits of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins; however, this isn’t about that either. Instead, I want to talk about the idea of truly celebrating seasonal foods and not missing what’s not on the plate.
In the not-so-distant past, walking the produce section of most grocery stores revealed the usual suspects with very few new or different choices. We consumed the same handful of vegetables and fruits day after day. Today, though, we have stores bursting with product: tropical fruits with names we can’t pronounce, Asian greens and herbs we’ve never imagined, local and seasonal heirloom varieties we haven’t seen since those summers at our grandparents’ houses and numerous farmers markets scattered around almost every city. We are fortunate to have the communities of farmers and growers providing us with these choices here in Central Texas.
And the grains! Next time you’re at the market, walk through the bulk section and buy a pound of a grain you’ve never tasted or haven’t thought of since that great dinner at a high-end restaurant. Grains are high in protein, a great source of fiber and nutrients and have a nutty flavor and satisfying bite. Several popular grain combinations can provide a sensory-satisfying and nutrient-dense component to a meatless meal—quinoa and kasha, barley and brown rice, wheat berries and wild rice, to name a few.
And, OK…meat is great. I love meat and seafood and all types of tasty animal parts, but sometimes the idea of buying, cooking and eating meat just seems a little overwhelming to me. Besides, celebrating fresh, seasonal artichokes or asparagus or summer squashes and tomatoes or pumpkin or fava beans is fun!
An easy way to have a satisfying, meatless meal is to break it up into courses. Make a small portion of a light risotto or pasta with little sweet tomatoes, mint and grated local sheep’s milk cheese. For a second course, think quick-braised okra and tomatoes with quinoa and kasha. And finish the meal with fresh figs, local honey, toasted pecans and some more of the local sheep’s milk cheese.
Use what’s available. Too many times, meatless meals are an afterthought for the people eating or preparing them. Meatless meals shouldn’t be a plate of all the other vegetable dishes offered at a restaurant or an all-too-well-known preparation replacing the chicken with tofu. The idea is to shop with a few things in mind: what’s fresh, what looks good and what sounds good. Buy fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains; don’t be afraid to experiment and combine different textures and temperatures. Celebrate the foods you love when they’re in season, and avoid them out of season. With the abundance of product and the amount of information available to us, enjoying seasonal produce and grains is easier than ever.
I hope you’ll experiment with a few meatless meals a week, a month or even—baby steps—a few times a year.