Last night I was reading a book — not a very good book — on developing a healthy vegetarian diet. The author included a bunch of recipes that didn’t sound good to me at all. It’s not actually a terrible book, but I’m not its target audience. For one thing, her book is aimed at beginner healthy eaters; I’m a bit beyond needing a recipe for a fruit and yogurt smoothie. The main issue, though, is that the flavors that appeal to her just aren’t the kinds of flavors that I like. I have noticed this before in vegetarian magazines and cookbooks. I think there is a certain mainstream American vegetarian taste that doesn’t really overlap a whole lot with my own preferences. Yes, I could probably change up my diet quite a lot, but for all of us, comfort foods and cravings are what they are, and though we can change them, it’s a very gradual process.
Here’s the kind of food I would love to eat regularly: sweet, salty, sauce-y foods without a lot of crisp textures or spicy flavors, and with minimal dairy.
Ingredients I never get sick of: soy sauce, garlic, kale, noodles, eggs, wakame, nori, sesame seeds or oil, veggie shrimp.
Examples of foods I could eat near-daily with glee: Chinese steamed fish with ginger and green onion, pad see ew, katsu donburi, scrambled eggs, lasagna with soy cheese, pesto pasta, aïoli, dumplings, saag paneer, rice with nori and sesame seeds, pho.
Common veggie foods I almost never feel like eating: salsa or salsa-ish flavors, any savory dish with a lemon flavor, curries, cold salads of any sort, lentil soup*, and of course tofu.
Common veggie foods I like only in moderation: carrots, bell peppers, celery, tomatoes, cold eggplant.
This is a problem, because if you walk into almost any general (non-ethnic-specific) veg restaurant, this is what you’re going to get: tofu stir-fry, hummus, black bean chili or burrito, tofu curry, Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches with roasted red bell peppers and eggplant, some kind of cold lemony pilaf or grain salad. Except for the tofu, this is all food I will eat if I have to, but it’s never what I crave. I know these foods are all lovely and very healthy, but when I see a menu like that, I want to run!
So I was reading this vegetarian book and looking at the recipes thinking “ugh,” and I realized that my eating habits — while healthy in a general sense — are kind of backsliding. I’ve definitely upped the noodles and neglected the whole grains and legumes for a while, and I’ve gone back to thinking “it’s got vegetables in it” is a substitute for big portions of leafy greens. And dessert, as it likes to do, has been creeping stealthily back into the house. But the recipes in the book just sounded so unappealing! I don’t know why it has taken about eight years of on-and-off vegetarian eating for this to hit me, but I finally figured it out: I need to make healthy vegetarian versions of the foods I crave, and not just follow recipes developed by people with mainstream American veg tastes. That’s the only way I will ever be able to sustain a diet of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and minimal sweets and fats — by making sure I’m still hitting all my happy craving buttons.
This is going to mean trying different ingredients, developing new recipes, and probably just spending more time in the kitchen in general. Where am I going to get all this time and energy? I don’t know, and it sounds particularly daunting since I’m currently sick. But the thought of being able to eat exactly the way I like, with the knowledge that it’s all healthy and veg, is such a fantastic vision that it’s totally worth a try.
*I don’t know why this is, because I’ve never met a lentil soup I didn’t like. But somehow, when it’s time to cook or order, that’s never what I think I want.