I've been thinking about my life a few years ago, when the worries were fewer and the tofu was plentiful. After eating at a slew of wonderful vegetable-centric restaurants in New York City recently, a wave a nostalgia for the vegetarian years of my life has risen to the surface. I'm thinking about the cookbooks that inspired me but also the recipes and meals I still make even though I now eat meat. Some food and flavors stick with you.
I was a vegetarian during the time when my interest in food was really taking shape. It's foundational to how I feel about food, but also to how I cook. And while meat finds its way into my cooking with regularity, these are the vegetarian meals that have remained.
I can't get enough of soba noodles with peanut sauce. And I never want to eat it with meat because, as far as I'm concerned, that means I'm eating fewer noodles and sauce. My favorite way is to make them with peanut sauce (which I sometimes make with almond butter), but a sesame-soy situation or a mess of greens, garlic, and lemon are high up on the list as well.
Get a recipe: Garlicky Soba Noodle Bowls
When I was in college I worked at a vegetarian café called Peas & Beans. It was mostly a takeout joint and served a tempeh Parmesan sandwich that could make the most ardent meat-eater a convert to the fermented soy bean patty. I didn't know that Parmesan wasn't vegetarian at the time, but what can I say? Ignorance is cheesy, nutty bliss. You can find vegetarian-friendly Parmesan, though; BelGioso and Organic Valley are two good options. I still make this sandwich when I'm craving something hearty and easy. It's far easier to sauté a bit of tempeh than it is to go through the mess of breading chicken.
3. Sweet and Spicy Black Beans Over Eggs
I am never without a can of black beans. They can be turned into really delicious 10-minute tacos, but my favorite way to prepare them is with loads of jalapeño pepper, garlic, cumin, and a bit of brown sugar. Then I spoon them over cheesy scrambled eggs. There were weeks when I ate this at least once a day. Dishes like this one remind me how easy it is to have a thoroughly flavorful meal without the meat. The fact that I can make a pot of the black beans to last the week makes this dish even more useful. It makes dinner a matter of cracking some eggs.
I've been a member of the food coop in Albany since I was born. They've got a great prepared food section and this sandwich has always been my favorite. The meaty portabella mushrooms work beautifully on a sandwich, and they're made even more flavorful with a quick sauté in balsamic vinegar. But that's just the beginning — it's the tang of the vegan mayo and sourdough next to the sweetness of roasted red pepper that always makes me swoon.
5. Sesame Tofu
Back to college, when after a night out you had two major choices for drunk food: Chinese takeout or pizza. I tended toward Chinese because I loved the sesame tofu they served (and because they were open until 4 a.m.). It was deep-fried, tossed in an absurdly sweet sesame sauce, and glorious. Today, I'm less partial to that tofu but I still crave echos of those flavors. I get that with this sheet pan tofu.