Hermantown grandmother learns what to do when a vegetarian comes to dinner
A couple years ago, Hermantown resident Carol Kalm asked her young-adult grandson Matt if he'd like to come over for supper some time. "I'm free on Friday!" he piped up. And so began a new family routine, with Matt coming to his grandma's for a home-cooked meal once a week. There was just one catch: Matt is a vegetarian. Carol and her husband are not. What to do?
Vegan Cookbook Club to the rescue
About this time, Carol noticed a poster at the Mount Royal Library for a meeting of the newly-formed Vegan Cookbook Club. Out of curiosity and hoping to get some ideas for what to feed Matt, she showed up. "Was it helpful?" I asked. "Oh heavens yes!" Carol exclaimed, and she has continued to attend the monthly meetings whenever she can. She enjoys getting recipes and plant-based cooking tips from the group, and she has found that no matter what cooking question she may have, she can bring it to the club "and someone will have the answer!"
Carol also told me that if she had felt one ounce of pressure to become vegan or heard one disparaging word about her diet, her first meeting also would have been her last. Instead, Carol emphasized to me, "People at the club are so nonjudgmental and warm." Indeed, many bonds of friendship have been formed among the group. Carol appreciates that it is a very diverse group — the club includes men and women of all ages and from various backgrounds — and anyone with an interest in learning about a plant-based diet is welcome.
Learning to cook without meat
Carol began to collect meatless recipes, browsing the Duluth Public Library's extensive cookbook collection as well as Pinterest and Google. She describes her own cooking style as "simple" and has gradually built up a store of vegetarian recipes that work for her.
Canned beans are her go-to convenience food, and red beans and rice are often on the menu. Native wild rice is another favorite ingredient. "You can't go wrong with wild rice," she said. She makes sweet potatoes quite often, cutting them in chunks and roasting them until they are soft. At that point, she says, they are so sweet that there's no need to add all the butter and sugar that you find in many sweet potato recipes.
Carol's family critiques her efforts, but they are good sports about whatever she puts on the table. Another grandson, Justin, often joins them. Although Carol's husband prefers meat, he doesn't object to the vegetarian dishes, and Carol now serves meat-free meals twice a week. Although this may seem like a modest dietary change, it has resulted in Carol losing 15 pounds. She feels that the most important difference for her has been an increasing awareness of what she eats, and she adds that she feels greater sympathy for the animals that become our food.
Carol has some simple advice for others in her situation: don't make a big deal about it! Vegans and vegetarians aren't the only ones who can enjoy meat-free meals. A delicious dish is a joy for everyone to eat. Here are two recipes that get good reviews at her house.
This multi-layered casserole will feed a crowd. You can make half a recipe in an 8x8 baking dish, or just plan to enjoy leftovers or freeze some. I found that leftovers benefited from the addition of a little more tomato sauce. Carol's original recipe calls for shredded cheese, but I substituted Daiya nondairy shreds, and the result was yummy.
Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
24 corn tortillas
3½ cups red enchilada sauce or tomato sauce
1 4-oz can diced green chiles
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1½ cups corn
2 15-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups shredded cheddar and/or monterey jack cheese, or Daiya non-dairy shreds or other vegan cheese
Optional: fresh cilantro and sliced green onion for garnish
Preheat oven to 375. Combine enchilada sauce and green chiles. In an oiled 9x13 pan, lay 8 tortillas, allowing them to overlap. Spread half the enchilada sauce over the tortillas, covering them completely. Sprinkle half the diced pepper, half the corn and half the black beans over the sauced tortillas. Top with one-third of the Daiya shreds or cheese. Repeat layering process, starting with 8 more tortillas, the remaining bell peppers, corn, and beans, plus another one-third of the Daiya shreds or cheese. Top with another 8 tortillas. Cover this last layer of tortillas with remaining sauce and top with remaining Daiya shreds or cheese. Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes until sauce is bubbling. Serve with optional garnish of chopped fresh cilantro and sliced green onion.
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Carol got this soup recipe at a meeting of the Vegan Cookbook Club. As I prepared to make a test batch, I admit I was dubious about including pears in the soup, but the result was absolutely delicious! The smaller amount of vegetable stock makes a thick stew. Use the larger amount if you want it soupier.
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4-6 cups vegetable stock
½ cup red lentils, rinsed
1 12-ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables
2 fresh, firm pears, cored and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ cups cooked brown rice (optional)
Toast the curry powder in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until spice becomes fragrant, 3-4 minutes. Combine onion, celery, vegetable stock, red lentils and toasted curry powder in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add frozen vegetables and chopped pears and simmer another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cooked brown rice can be added to the soup at this point, or serve the soup over rice in individual bowls.
Did you know?
Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy from a person's diet could reduce his or her carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent, according to a June report from Independent.co, citing a study published in the journal Science.
Bonnie Ambrosi lives in Duluth and is an organizer of The Vegan Cookbook Club which meets at 11:30 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Mount Royal Branch Library. Contact Ambrosi at email@example.com.