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Food Swaps for a Healthier, More Sustainable Diet

Vegan salad bowl | Anna Pelzer/Unsplash
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Excessive global agriculture and the food industry have greatly contributed to our planet’s environmental plight. Humans are certainly a major part of the problem, due to our wide consumption of animals and our support of factory farming. As our resources are being depleted, diversifying our diets and turning to the culinary traditions of older cultures can help us rethink the way we eat.

Here are some quick, delicious meat swaps to try at home!

Eat Less Meat

Switching from a meat-based diet to a plant-based one saves water, money and labor. When I teach Indian cooking, I tell my students that with Indian food, ‘they won’t miss meat’. Traditionally vegetarian, we have gotten our proteins from lentils and beans for thousands of years. Rather than steak, chicken or fish, which form the centerpiece of a Western meal, the Indian plate is a balance of flavors, textures and colors coming from lentils, grains and vegetables. These are enhanced by spices like turmeric, mustard seed, asafetida and cumin, which add flavor and nutrition.

With taste buds satisfied and tummies full, we don’t miss animal protein.

If we do eat meat, it is in very small portions, maybe half a pound for a family of six. That is why you’ll often find Indian-style meat dishes cooked in a sauce. The flavor of the meat spreads through and adds taste to the accompanying carbs, bread or rice, so you need much less meat to satisfy your craving.

Not ready to give up meat or fish yet?

Buy organic or free-range, humanely raised meats. You could also reduce your portion size, it’ll help your heart health and be better for the planet.

Try Plant Proteins

Dal with Fenugreek and Coriander | Avinash Bhat/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Dal with Fenugreek and Coriander | Avinash Bhat/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you are ready to switch, experiment with mung, French lentils, split pigeon peas and kidney beans. Some cook quicker than others, but all have a satisfying, meaty heft and are delicious in soups, stews and salads, as well as Indian food. And did you know that when you eat lentils and white or brown rice together, you get most of the amino acids that are found in meat?

Try this quick cooking lentil dish for dinner with white or brown rice, sautéed greens and a salad.

<b>Lasuni Dal (Mung Dal with Garlic &amp; Red Chilies)</b><br> Serves 2-4, Time: 30 minutes<br> <br> 1 cup split and husked mung lentils <br> 2 ½ cups water<br> ½ tsp turmeric<br> pinch of asafetida<br> salt to taste<br> ½ tsp ground cumin<br> 2 tsp ghee OR vegetable oil <br> 1 tsp cumin seed<br> 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced fine<br> 1-3 dried red chilies OR 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder<br> 3-4 sprigs cilantro leaves, washed & finely chopped   <b>Lentils&nbsp;</b><br> <br> Wash & drain lentils well in a bowl till the water runs clear. <br> Place them in a heavy saucepan with 2 ½ cups water, turmeric and asafetida. <br> Cook on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, till lentils are tender and mushy. Add a little more water if needed. <br> Turn off the heat when the lentils are cooked. <br> Mash them till smooth with the back of a ladle, adding as much more water as you like to make a sauce to eat with bread or rice. <br> Stir in salt and ground cumin to taste. <br> Bring lentils back to temperature over low heat and transfer to a serving bowl.<br> They are ready to eat but you can make an over-the-top seasoning now to pour over them for extra flavor.   <b>Seasoning</b><br> <br> Heat ghee in a small saucepan. <br> When it is almost smoking, add the sliced garlic. <br> Cook it, stirring, till aromatic and golden, 30 seconds. <br> Add the red chilis and cook them briefly. <br> Pop the cumin seed. Immediately pour the seasoning over the lentils. <br> Stir and cover the dish for 3-5 minutes to allow flavors to blend. <br> Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and lemon.
This easy, crunchy chickpea salad makes a great afterschool snack. Kids think it is delicious and it’s packed with the protein, fiber and vitamins you want them to get. 
Join Roy and explore future culinary landscapes in a world affected by climate change on “<a data-cke-saved-href="" href="" target="_blank">Broken Bread</a>” S1 E3: Future. Watch now.
Chickpeas | Jules/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)
Chickpeas | Jules/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Make a larger batch of salad for a family meal, adding ingredients like grated carrots, blanched broccoli, cooked wild rice, minced tomatoes and onions, that get more flavorful as they ‘pickle’ in the lemon juice. Garnish the salad with some finely chopped cilantro, which gives a hint of citrus and coconut flavors. 

<b>Quick &amp; Crunchy Chickpea Salad</b><br> Serves 2, Time: 10 minutes<br> <br> 8 oz. cooked chickpeas (use canned beans or home cooked ones)<br> 1 Persian cucumber cut into rings<br> ½ cup cherry tomatoes<br> 1 Tbsp lime juice<br> Salt to taste<br> ½ tsp powdered cumin<br> 2 tsp crumbled feta (optional)<br> 4 Romaine lettuce leaves, washed and cut fine (optional) <br> Toss all the salad ingredients in a salad bowl and serve immediately. <br> If making ahead of time, add the lettuce and feta just before serving.

To Soy…

Here are some other meaty, hearty and satisfying meat-swaps. We all know about replacing meat with tofu. Tempeh is another great option. Like tofu, it is high in protein, cholesterol free and low in fat. Made with fermented soybeans, it is also easier to digest and it holds its shape and absorbs more flavor than tofu.

Think beyond stir-fry. Cut tempeh into steaks to marinate. Then grill, pan fry, or roast the steaks, topping them with your favorite tapenade, salsa or pesto to serve.

Or Not to Soy

Not everyone wants to use soy products. If you are one of those people, experiment with chunks of potato or sweet potato, artichoke hearts, Portobello mushrooms, or even Indian farmers’ cheese (paneer) instead for stews, soups, burgers or grilled ‘steaks’ where meat would usually be the go-to.

<b>Artichoke Ropa Vieja&nbsp;</b><br> Serves 2-4, Time: 30 minutes<br> My daughter taught me this satisfying Mexican-inspired dish made with artichoke hearts (literally shredded clothes aka shredded ‘meat’).<br> 12 oz. frozen artichoke hearts<br> 10 oz. of your favorite BBQ sauce<br> Salt and pepper to taste<br> A dash of cayenne (optional)<br> 4 burger buns<br> Combine artichoke hearts and BBQ sauce in a skillet.<br> Cook, stirring often, over medium heat for 10-12 minutes.<br> Reduce heat to low when the artichoke hearts have softened and keep cooking while using two forks to shred the artichokes, about 8 minutes.<br> When the artichokes are completely shredded, raise the heat to medium to thicken the sauce, 5-7 minutes.<br> Turn off the heat and serve hot, with shredded lettuce and burger buns, or on hot rice.
Portobello mushrooms | awee_19/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Portobello mushrooms | awee_19/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
<b>Portobello Mushroom Burgers</b><br> Serves 2-4, Time: 30 minutes<br> There are lots of great burgers recipes made with shaped fillings of black beans, mashed sweet potatoes, rice, etc. But if you are short on time, nothing beats these quick and easy Portobello mushroom burgers. Zero meat and 100% delicious. <br> 4 large Portobello mushrooms<br> 1 large red onion, sliced into thin rings<br> 4 Tbsp soy sauce, Tamari or aminos<br> 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar<br> ½ tsp salt<br> ½ tsp sugar<br> 3-4 Tbsp sunflower or grape seed oil<br> 4 burger buns<br> <br> To serve: BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles<br> <br> Clean mushrooms gently with a damp cloth and remove stems.<br> In a baking dish, whisk together soy, vinegar, salt and sugar.<br> Place Portobellos in soy mixture top side down. <br> Invert after 5 minutes, shaking pan gently from side to side to cover mushrooms with liquid.<br> Meanwhile, slice onions and mince mushroom stems.<br> Heat 1 ½ tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat.<br> When almost smoking, add onions and a pinch of salt.<br> Sauté till softened and brown, 5-7 minutes. <br> Stir in mushroom stems and cook briefly, 2-3 minutes. <br> Set onion mixture aside in a small serving bowl to cool. Heat the same skillet, adding the remaining oil to it.  Drain each marinated mushroom well over the baking dish and place it in the skillet to cook. <br> Cook mushrooms over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes on one side.<br> Flip mushrooms and cook on the second side, 1-2 minutes. <br> Pour in the marinating liquid and cook the mushroom for 2 minutes longer, shaking the pan occasionally and reducing the sauce.<br> While mushrooms cook, heat buns in the oven.<br> To serve, place one mushroom on the base of each bun.  <br> Add your favorite burger toppings and some of the cooked onion-mushroom mixture. <br> Reserve the remaining soy sauce for another purpose or to drizzle over your burger. 
Top Image: Vegan salad bowl | Anna Pelzer/Unsplash 
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