April 1, 2011 by Leah
Eat less meat. Everyone says this. It’s supposed to be a good way to keep food costs and calories under control. Some people take this a step further and stop eating meat or animal products entirely. I get why people do this; the reasons can be ethical, environmental, religious, or for “health.” According to my mother, I tried being a vegetarian for “a few years” in the mid-90s. I must have blocked this as all I recall of eating during that time period was something called “carrot loaf” that was so terrible we pitched it and made Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese instead. Or maybe that was after I found dirt in my spinach salad and cried.
I think my early foray into vegetarianism was prompted by my adolescent horror of eating things with cute faces (I’ll file that under “ethical objection”). That experiment ended when I became anemic. Since then, I’ve never really flirted with vegetarianism again, except when too poor to eat anything besides ramen noodles anyway (note: doing that is a great way to gain, oh, 30 pounds in one semester). I don’t think avoiding animal products is healthy as they are, to my mind, the best way to get Vitamin D and the only way to get Vitamin B12. I swear I can feel my brain working better when I get enough animal fats and proteins, be they from grass-fed milk or meat products or fish (we eat clams or mussels pretty much every Sunday, a different fish on Monday, and I can’t stay away from canned sardines and oysters as snacks).
That said, I completely respect other people’s choices regarding what they eat. It’s not like I don’t have a “weird” diet that has been rather complex to source. I still haven’t found the perfect pastured chicken. Restaurant staff around here probably think I’m a vegetarian since I only buy meat if I know where it comes from. So when I had a vegan friend come over for dinner last weekend, I was more excited about the prospect of expanding my culinary range than anything.
I ended up making a big South African-style vegetable curry, sweet tomatoes and onions as a side dish, “golden” rice with turmeric and raisins, orange-radish salad, and sugared toasted almonds for dessert. (Everything was from The Africa Cookbook by Jessica B. Harris. The side dishes, Golden Rice and Smoor Tomatoes and Onions were the standouts of the meal, in my opinion.) I was planning to make white bean fritters as a starter (and to provide a little protein) but ran into technical difficulties (the food processor blade kept coming off its base) so will be making some kind of white bean fritters for dinner tonight instead (possibly with the help of a meat grinder).
We had a great time at dinner, and the food managed to pass muster. It was also so easy and inexpensive to put together. The only shopping I had to do was for the vegetables, as I tend to have staples like white beans, rice, and raisins on hand. The whole experience made me think I need to make an extra effort to stretch our meat dollars further, and if that means more meatless meals, I’m okay with that.
Since we buy high-quality grass-fed beef or bison directly from the farmers, or wild caught fish (we will just ignore the chicken question for now), we can definitely stand to eat less of it. Grass-fed meats pack a lot more nutrition than feedlot-fed counterparts, and are correspondingly more expensive, both of which are good reasons to eat less of the stuff.
I actually put this principle into action a few weeks ago. I wanted beef stew, recalled the ingredients list of my all-time favorite recipe (see below), and thawed just under two pounds of stew meat (for which I paid $10 per pound). Once I opened up the packages, I looked at my cutting board, thought, “that is a huge pile of meat,” and changed directions.
I cut all the pieces into actual bite-sized pieces (about one-inch cubes), put half of them back in the refrigerator, and proceeded to improvise a sweet and spicy beef and sweet potato stew with dried apricots, considerably upping the ratio of fresh veggies (onions, carrots, sweet potato, all of which cost considerably less than $10 per pound) to meat. It was delicious. The next day I did the same thing in a more traditional-style savory stew – potatoes, peas, etc. It was also delicious and not at all repetitive. I was so proud of myself for taking what was originally going to be one night’s meal with maybe one meal of leftovers and doubling its utility while still retaining the inherent goodness of a beef stew.
I realize this is not at all new or newsworthy – but then, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Grandmothers the world over are adept at doing this sort of thing. The newness is in each generation learning how to do this, I think. I was raised in the ’80s and ’90s, when things were just so abundant. And so marketed. And now, for various reasons, people seem to be turning away from that sort of excess.
When I do make my favorite beef stew in the future (the one that calls for two pounds of beef), I think I’ll serve it over something – mashed potatoes, rice, quinoa – which I haven’t done in the past, in order to increase the number of serving sizes. And perhaps I’ll err on the side of less beef rather than more.
*Mom’s Oven Beef Stew*
(I grew up on this. It’s so good. Obviously you can substitute/omit ingredients. We never use mushrooms, e.g. Lately I’ve started browning stew meat prior to making stews, but this recipe is pretty perfect in its simplicity.)
- 2 lbs. stew meat
- 1 c. sliced celery
- 1 can water chestnuts
- 1 c. red wine
- 1 T. sugar
- 4 sliced carrots
- 2 sliced onions
- 3 T. quick-cooking tapioca
- 1 4 oz. can mushrooms
- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
Mix all ingredients and bake in a 3 qt. covered casserole at 325 degrees for four hours.