WELCOME to Five Weeks of Flexitarian Eating! In this series of posts we’re going to explore ways to help you reduce the amount of meat in your diet.
Have you been thinking about reducing the amount of meat you eat? Perhaps you’d like to improve the quality of the meat you eat, but your budget limits the amount you can consume. Or maybe you feel the need to eat more plant foods, like me.
What do flexitarians eat?
The simple answer is whatever we want! Humans have adapted to a wide range of diets. Flexitarians choose to put emphasis on plant forward eating.
The nice thing about flexitarian eating is that it’s so…well, flexible. You get to choose your level of commitment to eating in the semi-vegetarian way. Want to go meatless one day a week? That’s wonderful! Want to include eggs and dairy products? That’s great, too! Do you have food allergies? With planning and knowledge, those can also be worked around. The only thing required is the desire to practice flexitarian eating.
That’s what this series is all about. I hope to get you thinking beyond meat and potatoes towards increasing the diversity in your diet. For Week One, I want you to start thinking about beans as the main component of a meal instead of a side dish.
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know I love to eat beans and legumes. They are perfect for substituting into recipes in place of meat. This is especially true for recipes like casseroles where the meat is only part of the whole. It’s a good idea to have some ready to eat beans on hand. Beans can be purchased in cans or jars and stored in the pantry until you need them. You’ll find more variety among dried beans (as shown in the photo). They can be cooked in batches and frozen in one or two cup portions.
There is a little controversy over how to prepare dried beans, peas and chickpeas. I normally soak mine overnight and change the water before cooking them. Some people add a little vinegar or lemon juice to the soaking liquid. Soaking is said to destroy the phytic acid, an enzyme inhibitor which protects the beans from digestion. If you eat a balanced diet, phytic acid isn’t a concern, as pointed of by Dr. Weil.
Some folks don’t bother with soaking, especially when cooking beans in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. Dried lentils and split peas don’t need to be soaked, but should at least be rinsed and picked through before cooking.
How to substitute beans for meat in a recipe
The easiest thing to do is substitute serving for serving. For example, a pound of chicken is equal to four 4 ounce servings. In general you’d use about 2 cups of cooked beans which is equivalent to four 1/2 cup servings of beans. For me, that’s a 15 ounce can of rinsed and drained beans.
Here’s an example of how to make the substitution. Awhile back I posted a Skillet Chicken Cacciatore recipe. This week, I made it using white kidney beans (also called cannelini beans). I didn’t have to make any other changes. The original recipe was served over polenta, but we served our bean filled version over spaghetti and it was absolutely delicious.
Lentils make a great hamburger substitute, as in this meatless Lentil Loaf.
For loaves and burgers you’ll want to use a binder, like egg (there are egg substitutes, too. We’ll talk about them later…baby steps!) Often times you’ll also want another vegetable like shredded carrots, zucchini or mushrooms to help keep everything moist. When substituting lentils for ground beef, using sloppy joes as an example, just season the lentils as you would season the meat. It can really be that simple.
Your Week 1 Assignment
Plan a meal where some sort of bean or legume is the star of the plate. I recommend something simple like a casserole or skillet meal. You can substitute the beans for meat or choose a recipe that is already “beancentric.” I’ll link a few below. If you’re not a bean fan, make any meatless meal that appeals to you. Then, tell me about your meal in the comments. Did you have any difficulties? How was it? If you follow me on Lydia’s Flexitarian Kitchen’s Facebook Page you can even share a photo!
You can check out this page with an assortment of recipes featuring beans and lentils for more ideas on how to use them in place of meat.
Note: I’m updating this series which was originally published in 2014. Eventually I’ll update the photos, too 🙂