As a vegetarian, I am regularly asked how I get enough protein. Without the regular consumption of chicken, beef, or other animal dishes, how do I maintain a balanced diet?
It’s the question I’m asked most frequently, after being grilled (no pun intended) on my decision to give up meat in the first place (which, for the record, is not being “given up”–it’s a personal taste preference). I’m not only constantly put in a position to defend my eating habits, but then I’m pressed to explain them.
Don’t get me wrong – I understand the interest from curious meat eaters and I’m not complaining as the high-standing, moral-defending crusader for a vegetarian lifestyle. But, I do want to emphasize that it’s possible to be a vegetarian and still enjoy food. You just have to get a little more creative.
Nuts and legumes are excellent forms of protein, so I regularly incorporate almonds, lentils and chickpeas into my daily meals. Almonds in my granola for breakfast, sliced on top of my salads at lunch, spread as almond butter on apple slices for a snack. I’m a hummus fiend, spreading it as the equivalent of “meat” on my sandwiches and dipping carrot sticks or crackers in for an afternoon pick me up.
Yet, it was the discovery of quinoa (“KEY-NO-AH”) that most spectacularly saved me from a constant fear of protein deficiency. Though it cooks like a rice or a grain (it looks similar to couscous), quinoa is actually a complete protein, a plant-based food that is jam-packed with the essential amino acids found in meat that we all need to keep our bodies running properly. It has a fluffy, nutty flavor and is actually quite versatile when it comes to inspiring vegetarian cooking.
A quinoa lover herself (though not a vegetarian), my aunt recently sent me a cookbook called Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood. Health nuts and vegetarians alike have praised the “superfood” for its seemingly magical combination of high protein, vitamin rich and gluten-free properties, while actually still tasting good. While I had become accustomed to adding quinoa to my daily salads, adding various vegetables and seasonings, the cookbook opened my eyes to a world of other possibilities.
Quinoa for breakfast? Apparently, it makes a great protein-rich addition to oatmeals and hot cereals. The book includes a number of recipes for breakfast quinoas. One particularly interesting recipe that I have adopted as my weekend brunch treat is mixing a small amount of cooked quinoa into eggs and milk to create a quinoa omelette, topped with grilled veggies and fresh cheese.
The superfood can be used in non-vegetarian capacity, too, such as in a flavorful coating for chicken in place of bread crumbs.
There’s even a place for quinoa in desserts! Though I haven’t tested the theory, the authors argue that dessert lovers won’t be able to detect the secret in the recipe for chocolate cake that uses quinoa in place of traditional flour.
My point being, “giving up” meat doesn’t mean giving up on the enjoyment of food. With quinoa, among other things, it’s still possible to have a great meal meat-free.