Subtle switches easy way to start meatless journey


Choosing to go meatless can be a challenge at any time of year. But winters can provide an extra hurdle, since overflowing baskets of garden-fresh produce are a distant memory.

No matter what time of year you’re making this lifestyle change, there’s a tsunami of information. It can quickly get overwhelming. We’ve waded through experts’ tips, cautionary tales and recipes to help you chart your own meatless course, whether you’re aiming to remove meat entirely or just wanting to cut back.

Start with familiar territory. You probably have meals in your rotation that are already meatless (pasta primavera) or can easily become so. Make chili with extra beans and skip the meat. Craft a burrito bowl with roasted vegetables. Instead of a hamburger, sub a portobello mushroom or black-bean burger.

Go slow. Several experts recommend a phased approach to meet your meatless goals. Hop aboard the Meatless Monday bandwagon and choose one meal or day a week to commit to being meat-free. From there, increase the frequency at a pace that’s comfortable.

Replace what you remove. The protein and calorie count is higher in meat than plants, so you’ll need to make sure you’re filling the nutritional gaps. Incorporate meatless forms of filling protein into your menus, such as sweet potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, quinoa, soy and dairy products (unless you’re adapting a vegan diet).

Make a plan. Menu planning will be worth your while. Plan not only dinners, but also breakfasts, lunches and snacks to make shopping easier and keep food waste down

A colleague tipped me to this recipe, adapted from The original recipe called for vegan-style Parmesan or nutritional yeast, but I opted to use regular Parmesan. This version calls for a food processor, but you can easily chop the walnuts and vegetables if you don’t have one. Freeze leftover sauce for up to three months.


Mushroom and Walnut Bolognese


1 pound cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 cup (4 ounces) walnut halves

1 medium onion, cut into eighths

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into eighths

2 medium celery stalks, quartered

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 cup dry red wine, such as merlot or pinot noir

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound dry pasta, such as rigatoni or tagliatelle, cooked according to package directions

Fresh basil, chopped, for serving

Parmesan cheese, for serving


Place 1/3 of the mushrooms in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until coarsely chopped, about 5 to 7 quick bursts. Transfer to a medium bowl and repeat with the remaining mushrooms; set aside. Do not wash the food processor.

Place the walnuts in the food processor and pulse until they have the consistency of coarse sand, about 5 to 7 pulses. Transfer to a small bowl; set aside. Again, do not wash the food processor.

Place the onion, carrots, celery and garlic in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses.

Heat the oil and red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their moisture, are deeply browned, and their volume is reduced by two-thirds, about 15 minutes.

Add the chopped vegetable mixture and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook the vegetables until softened and the onions are translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until it is completely incorporated with the mushrooms and deepens in color, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add the bay leaf and Italian seasoning, then pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until the wine evaporates, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices (crush the tomatoes with your hands before you add them to the pot), soy sauce and ground walnuts. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up the tomatoes, for 20 minutes. Add ground pepper and additional salt to taste.

Serve over cooked pasta with fresh basil, Parmesan and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes.

Serves 8 to 10.

Tribune News Service

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