Diet for a Small Planet

by: Marianne R. Stanton

When it comes to dinner, we eat differently from how our parents and grandparents saw the evening meal. For them, dinner wasn’t really dinner unless there was meat, a starch and a vegetable, all distinctly recognized and occupying their own little piece of real estate on the plate.

That has all changed. In recent years, health issues, concerns for the effects commercial meat production has on the environment, and a fascination with the foods of other cultures has an increasing number of people eating less meat and more plant-based meals. Choosing to highlight a vegetable as the star of a main dish is no longer seen as a sacrifice but more of an adventure in good eating.

Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Tacos with Queso Fresco

Asian cuisine relies on flavor profiles where fresh vegetables are combined with chilies, fresh herbs and savory sauces to elevate them to a higher plane. One of my favorite Boston restaurants is Myers + Chang, which features the Taiwanese food that co-owner Joanne Chang grew up with.

We often stop in for lunch on our way into Boston, ordering a cup of the hot and sour soup, which is insanely fresh and unlike any other namesake soup you’ve ever had in a Chinese restaurant. Then we’ll order a series of dishes that come out when they’re ready. A lot of our favorites are the vegetable dishes: sweet and sour Brussels sprouts, ginger-fried bok choy and red miso-glazed carrots.

Chang, also the owner of the Flour bakeries in Boston, is a prolific cookbook author, sharing recipes from her restaurants with fans everywhere. The red miso-glazed carrots could not be easier to prepare. You just have to score some red miso paste the next time you are in a specialty food store. Char the carrots in a wok over high heat, then toss them with butter into which you’ve whipped miso paste, fresh lemon juice and brown sugar. These carrots could be served as a side dish with meat or fish, or be enjoyed on their own. The candied flavor makes them a bit addictive.

Ginger-fried rice, from Dorie Greenspan’s “Everyday Dorie,” is a vegetarian dish on its own, or can incorporate a protein. I like to make this with medium shrimp, giving me a one-wok main course that relies on cold, leftover rice and whatever vegetables I have in the fridge.

Vegetable soups have always been high on my list of favorites. I can’t count the times I’ve made “The Silver Palate Cookbook’s” butternut squash apple bisque, but as we move into spring, I’m looking for lighter flavors. Greenspan’s lettuce soup does the trick here.

The first time I ever had something as bizarre-sounding as lettuce soup was when I was a kid and my best friend’s French grandmother was visiting from Paris. The flavor was delicate and unusual, but grew on me with each successive sip.

If you are looking for a vegetarian main dish that’s a real showstopper, try the butternut squash and caramelized onion galette from “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.” It is a bit of a project to make, but well worth it. The squash needs to be peeled and cubed and roasted in the oven while the onions caramelize slowly in a skillet on the stovetop.

While the vegetables are cooking, make the dough. If you have a fear of pie-crust-making in your subconscious, don’t worry. This pastry-dough recipe was made with you in mind.

The pastry is a whole-wheat sour-cream dough, which makes it very easy to roll out and fold over the vegetables. I’ve made this galette several times and everyone raves about the pastry.

I would serve this with a simple green salad with a tart vinaigrette.

Beef Bourguignon is a favorite dish for cool-weather nights, which we often experience in the spring. The same flavors and textures can be had by substituting meaty mushrooms for the beef. Top with a dollop of sour cream and head out to the garden to the chive patch to snip some of the tender young herbs for an accent.

Lastly, if you are looking to add some excitement to Taco Tuesday, check out this completely vegetarian recipe, which uses black beans and spaghetti squash for the filling. If you are creating a taco bar, simply add cooked black beans and the squash and suddenly you’ve given everyone an interesting new option. ///

Marianne R. Stanton is the founder, as well as editor and publisher, of Nantucket Today, and editor and publisher of The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821. She writes frequently about travel, food and wine, and island personalities.