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Vegetarian Cooking - Three Basics

For any of the many reasons people choose to eatvegetarian food - religion, politics, finances, or health -one thing in common is that everyone prefers food thattastes delicious and provides good nutrition. There aresome basic techniques to vegetarian cooking which willaccomplish that.

There is a range of vegetarianism. From the vegan to theperson who eats meat on rare occasions. Some peopleconsider themselves basically vegetarian if they never eatred meat, but do eat fish and chicken once in a while.Other vegetarians eat animal products like eggs and dairy,but never the animal itself. A vegan is at the far end ofthe continuum, rejecting animal products entirely. Veganswon't eat mayonnaise because it's made using eggs, forexample.

Wherever you are on the continuum of vegetarianism, youwant your food to taste good, be satisfying, and providegood nutrition. Here are some methods for cookingvegetarian to meet those basic requirements.

To begin, if you are making some dish that is actually ameat-based recipe, such as chili con carne, stopsubstituting textured vegetable protein for the meat andleaving the rest of the recipe unaltered. The result nevertastes quite right, and you've been robbed of the pleasureof good food: it's neither meat nor properly vegetarian.Furthermore, you haven't gained in terms of health oreconomy. Soy is the primary ingredient of texturedvegetable protein, tofu, and tempeh. These are usuallyhigh in fat, high in processing, and fairly high in cost.Not much better than organically raised meat, if at all.So if chili con carne is what you want, buy organic meatand enjoy it! Otherwise, cook a delicious soup using redbeans that doesn't pretend it's chili con carne.

The key to good vegetarian soup is to use oil. Even ifyou prefer low fat, your body does require fats for healthymetabolism. And it definitely enhances the quality andflavor of any vegetarian soup when some of the vegetables(onions in particular) are saut~ed. Use an oil that'sliquid at room temperature, such as olive, vegetable, orgrape seed.

The next critical ingredient of vegetarian food thattastes fabulous is really simple: use sea salt. Althoughany kind of salt will enhance the flavor of most foods, seasalt is best. It naturally contains minerals, while itdoesn't contain the nasty chemicals of regular processedtable salt. Important to note~ use salt *during* thecooking instead of waiting until after serving the food.This makes a difference in the final quality of the dishbecause cooking is chemistry. Remember back to your highschool chemistry classes: the order of combining theelements, and the application of heat to the mixture couldmake a tremendous difference to the results of theexperiment!

The third tip for vegetarian cooking is obvious, yet needsemphasis. Use lots of vegetables! You can't over-dovegetables in your diet - the greater the range and color,the better. Use leafy veg (lettuce, spinach, and chard),root veg (yams, carrots, potatoes, turnips), and the stemsand seed carriers of veg (for example celery, eggplant,peppers, zucchini). Buy organic veg if you can becausethey really do taste better, and of course they providebetter nutrition because they are gown in healthy, 'clean'dirt.

Take any vegetable and bean soup recipe, and follow thesethree simple principles: saut~ the veg in the right oil,cook the beans in sea-salted water, use a variety oforganic vegetables, and you'll have a rich delicious soup.These simple tips make a big difference. Take my word forit, or do a little test. Use the same list of ingredients,but don't saut~ in oil, add the salt at the table, and useconventionally grown veg. The result will be inferior -still nutritious, but bland rather than satisfying, andthat's a shame because the few simple techniques describedhere can make your vegetarian cooking consistentlyterrific.

Articles by Nora Poulous on topics related to cooking arepublished in Z CookingNews the leading resource on-line for information aboutcooking. Visit the complete archive of articles here:

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