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Jessa CrispinBack to OpinionJessa Crispin

‘The Vegetarian Option’

I have been trying to cut down on the amount of meat that I consume.

To people who know me, who know that I traveled to Buenos Aires just so I could eat a steak every night for a month, who know my proclivity for pig’s ear, duck egg, tripe, rabbit, foie gras — and do we even need to mention my philosophy about the happy marriage of bacon and the human soul? — this is a shocking revelation.

It would be great if I could claim noble reasons for my change of diet, if I could mention a religious experience I had looking into the eye of a pig or something, but that would be a lie. The reason is this: an organic chicken costs €28 in my new home of Berlin. That is not some new breed of super chicken, by the way, that is your normal, everyday chicken.

I suppose I could break down and buy your regular factory-farmed chicken, but I have seen the documentaries, and I made a decision years ago that I’d rather go meatless than do that. The problem is that I also vowed never to eat fake meat or fake cheese, because that stuff is disgusting.

So what to do? Luckily, vegetarian cookbooks have been getting better and better in recent years, as the writers remember that just because you are not eating meat, that doesn’t mean you have to hate your food. And Simon Hopkinson, a food writer from the U.K., has written one of the most beguiling vegetarian cookbooks I’ve come across in a long time. Arranged by ingredient, which helps when you’re trying to eat seasonally, Hopkinson has gathered recipes for creative and incredibly delicious salads, soups, main dishes and desserts, with nary a textured vegetable protein in sight.

The recipes also vary in difficulty, with a few showstoppers that you can proudly show off at a dinner party (also good for seduction dinners, where giant steaks are an, um, inappropriate choice). But some of the simplest recipes have become my favorites, like the carrot salad. I know, carrot salad does not scream transcendent. But I have pulled this out at multiple gatherings, and the last serving in the bowl is always fought over. And it’s always nice to be thought a genius over a dish you spent exactly 10 minutes throwing together.

When I can afford the chicken, I still buy it. But now I’m spending much more time in the produce aisle, so that I can experiment with Hopkinson’s Wilted Radicchio with Green Sauce, Spinach & Ricotta Pancakes, or the Mushroom Salad with Parmesan Vinaigrette. If that improves my food karma accidentally, that just means I can order the pig’s ear a little less guiltily next time.

Carrot salad with coriander and green chili
Serves 4

  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • juice of 1 small lime
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • cilantro leaves picked from 4-5 bushy sprigs
  • 1 large green chili, de-seeded
  1. In a large bowl, mix the grated carrot together with the salt, sugar and lime juice. Leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place the coriander seeds in a small, dry frying pan and gently toast them over a low heat until they smell very good, but be careful not to burn them. Tip into a mortar and lightly crush with the pestle.
  3. Now finely chop the cilantro and chili together (this makes for a more aromatic mix, in a similar way to persillade — garlic and parsley given the same treatment). Add to the carrots together with the coriander seeds and mix well. Turn into a serving dish.

(Copyright Simon Hopkinson, 2010, From “The Vegetarian Option,” published by Abrams)


  • B Michael

    That’s a great plan for saving money all over the world (well, I mean specifically in America). I think I tend to fetishize eating meat more than actually enjoying eating it (at least enjoying it more than eating any other good dish). Do you have any problems with your level of energy after cutting down on meat?

  • Meg

    I’ve been bringing a similar dish to potlucks for years – it always goes over well.

    Regarding vegetarian cookbooks, I’ve always found some of the classic 1970s books – like Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure – to do exactly what you describe Hopkinson as accomplishing. It’s that long gap between then and now, when for some reason “vegetarian” came to mean “tofu,” that is really quite sad.

  • Susan V.

    Thank you for your post. I, too, have become a reluctant vegetarian–for my hear’s sake. I still eat some fish and chicken, but vegetables and other non-meat, unprocessed foods are becoming the staple of my diet. I just bought “Mediterranean Harvest” and will probably invest in this book next. Again . . Thank you.

  • Amber Dawn

    Jessa – great that you’re experimenting with vegetarianism. However, I find it disappointing that the recipe you provide to show how “not bad” being vegetarian is is a salad. Hey, I like salads as much as anyone. But having been veg for 14 years, I know woman can not survive on salad alone…. and that “Oh, what do they eat, salad?” is a common misconception about vegetarians. Show us some rad pancake or stew recipe.

    Also.. I have to say, if you want to eat meat, eat meat, but if you feel guilty eating it, you should probably stop.

  • Monica

    I agree with Amber. There is soooo much more to being vegan/vegetarian than eating salads!
    We make lasagne, vegan ragu’ (which is an italian meat sauce, obviously minus the meat), chili, muffins, cakes… I serve my omnivore friends and they just love them, they can’t believe no animal products have been used! Anyway, changing lifestyle and eating habits is always a journey and no matter where you start from, you will find that we are what we eat.

  • Katrina K.

    Wow, Nate. You can speak your truth w/out being a “hater” as the kids say.

    Vegetarian cooking would be a more likely choice for more people if the majority of us were raised eating this way. In order to go vegetarian, it feels like I have to learn to cook all over again. I like the idea of inserting one or two vegetarian meals into a weeks menu. Sometimes, especially in summer, meat centered meals frequently feel too heavy.

  • Robert Welter

    I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but produce can be very expensive, and a lot of the lesser known vegetables and fruits are not available, or just even more expensive. I know several people who, for the most part, eat a lot of processed foods because that’s what they can afford. I love cooking and trying new foods, but sometimes a recipe can be downright cost prohibitive. It’s a sad truth about our current society.

  • KMcC

    Variety is the spice of life! Vegetarians have developed some really excellent cuisine. I think it’s a great idea for meat-lovers to explore vegetarian cookbooks. Your vegetables can become flavorful and exciting. You’ll improve your diet and your health and enjoy it too!

  • Debra

    I became a vegetarian in 1994, but reverted back to meat when I meet my husband in 2003. My body is not the same. I know when my digestive system is struggling and it’s usually after eating meat. So, back to eliminating red meat.

  • Anna

    Try Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. She shows you how to do basic things, like boiling an egg or corn (only two minutes!), but also had a vegetable section organized alphabetically. Within each vegetable’s section, there are recipes of varying complication (so you can learn the easiest way to cook green beans, then see a simple recipe, then a few harder ones). Perfect for eating in season, and I use these recipes for non-vegetarians with much more success than most vegetarian cookbooks. I use other ones, but that’s the one I always grab first.

  • Marlene Walters

    The vegetarian Epicure (in two volumes and reprinted) from the early 70′s is one of the best vegetarian cookbooks ever. Check it out.

  • Jeanne

    I really like “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman. It’s not strictly vegetarian per se, but it has a lot of delicious vegetarian recipes.

  • mook

    I’m a vegetarian and a body builder, and a pretty good cook. I make fabulous vegetarian meals all the time and I rarely eat salad. It’s not hard AT ALL to be vegetarian and eat a balanced and varied diet! STOP TRYING TO EAT LIKE AN AMERICAN!

    Look abroad, Taiwan; a culinary capitol of asia has 15% population of strict vegetarians with 25% of the population being vegetarian for most of the year. You think they eat carrot salad and pancakes everyday? India has a huge population of vegetarians and thousands of vegetarian dishes. Middle eastern countries all have amazing vegetarian dishes, hummus, lentil soup, tabouli, kuku, falafel etc.

    Stop trying to adapt a diet that has already been discredited as being unhealthy (look at latest obesity stats in America released this wek) and remove the meat. Look instead to cultures that have been thriving thousands of years as vegetarians and being incredibly healthy and try to learn something from them.

  • Carol

    I’ve been vegetarian for over 10 years now. The best newer cookbooks I’ve found are Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” and any of the cookbooks by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero.

  • Joan

    B. Michael, I became a vegitarian at age 55. I did not know that meat(especially red) caused great blood sugar fluctuations. I no longer have the mid afternoon slump that I have suffered with for years.

  • John

    “Also.. I have to say, if you want to eat meat, eat meat, but if you feel guilty eating it, you should probably stop.”

    Amber, I think the author’s point was not about whether or not to eat meat. It was a choice to eat only ethically raised and slaughtered meat.

  • Julie

    Monica, you can come and cook dinner for us anytime! :)

  • kev

    @Joan: Can you cite a study or provide a link please?

    I have been enjoying the same benefits from a strict paleo diet stocked full of red meats, grass fed where possible, supplementing with fish oil otherwise.

  • shwetha

    You should definitely try some Indian Vegetarian Cook books or just google it. If you like the above carrot recipe then you will love most the Indian vegetarian food. I bet you will find some interesting recipe with all the necessary nutrients that you need in a day in one meal ! :)

  • Yaleman

    Bittman’s books and “Laurel’s Kitchen”.

  • Martha

    In regard to “feeling weak” when eliminating meat from your diet: meat, especially most American meat, is full of toxic substances as well as hormones. When you stop eating it, your body starts getting rid of them, and you feel weak and terrible. The worse you feel, likely the more toxic your body was! You can lessen the reactions by just tapering off instead of going cold turkey (pardon me, I couldn’t resist). I think it’s also true that people are different in their protein requirements. Some people do better with some animal protein, and some of us thrive without it! We have to listen to our bodies more than all the “experts” out there.

  • Bonnie

    Look at some of the vegetarian group photos on Flickr. Those dishes all look delicious.

    Try to think of what the terrified animals go through as they are being brought to the place of slaughter, restrained, and fatally attacked.

    This is all for a few moments of gratification of our taste buds.We do not need to eat flesh.

    Stop using euphemisms for what we do to other animals.