02 March 2010

Where's the Beef?

Until recently, if you told me to go shopping for Meatless Monday night, I'd stop by one of the dodgy shops on Rue Saint-Denis on my way from work and come home with an all-girl DVD.

We're avowed trend-haters, particularly food trends (even though Alannah's got a thing for cupcakes), but once in a while, something comes along that – while faddish – is very positive in influencing how we approach food. (Just read the link for the whole philosophy behind cutting out meat once a week so I don't have to rehash it...)

For the reason it exists, Meatless Monday is kind of moot for us.

No, we haven't gone militant vegan. Both of us are of the Anthony Bourdain school of thought that vegetarianism is an anomaly. While we're not as single-mindedly carnivorous as the chain-smoking posterboy for foodie-travel-hedonism, we're fully on board with an idea that when plucking from Mother Nature's smorgasbord, one must respect her by using everything we're given. That calf that just died? Its liver, testicles, and face are just as worthy as its meat. And speaking of its face, we're also of the firm belief that you should be able to look at what you eat in the eye, or at the very least be fully aware of where it comes from.

Considering we're very conscious about what we buy – our poultry, meat, and off-cuts come from artisan butchers and never in a styrofoam barquette – we don't particularly feel any pressure to go more "sustainable."

No, we're quite simply going Lindsey & Samantha (or is it Ellen & Portia?) this week to detox from our bacchanal of beer and beasts in England and Germany spanning the last week.

The thing about eating vegetarian (or even vegan) is that so many people try to substitute meats, and that's what turns so many omnivores off of the concept. Any sworn omnivore who's been subjected to Tofurkey or oil-based "cheese" or Soysage is likely to say "fuck that!" and become a carnivore out of spite.

Forget substituting. Forget emulating. There's such a wide array of flavors and textures and substance in the non-meat world that there's no need to try to re-create meat based dishes. After all, do you go to a southern Indian restaurant and get Textured Vegetable Protein in your dosa? No. It tastes so good, you forget you're not getting meat.

With that in mind, we put together last night's meal, that was not only colorful and healthy, but filling.

The red cabbage above may not look like much, but even on its own, it's nutty, a little spicy, and carries a lot of heft. Toss it in salt and let it sit to soften it a bit (unless you like it really crunchy), then toss it with a dressing of miso, rice vinegar, and a little vegetable oil. Hell, add peanuts if you like the whole Thai coleslaw thing. You'll love it. Instead of seeing it as a raw vegetable dish, think of it as mild Japanese fusion. Throwing some Central European flair into an Asian side dish as old as time.

The same goes for the Sesame Kale seen here.

Riffing on a classic Japanese sesame-spinach dish, wilt some curly kale, and toss in a dressing of 2 parts ground sesame seed, 1 part soy sauce, 1 part mirin, and 1.5 parts sugar. (I just divulged Alannah's kick-ass recipe. You're welcome.) Garnish lightly toasted sesame seeds. You can serve it hot, cold, or room temperature, so feel free to live out your Goldilocks cosplay fantasies with this one. You'll be ooh'ing and aah'ing like never before, satisfied with every chopstickful you lift to your lips.

One of the best parts is that it's all so easy. Even the main course we threw together is hardly more complicated than a toaster strudel...

Simmer some kombu-dashi (seaweed stock, but you can use bonito stock and we won't tell anyone) and add sugar, soy and mirin to taste. Throw whatever you want into the broth. We went with carrots, Hokkaido pumpkin (kabocha), small shiitake mushrooms and firm tofu. Before serving, I decided to add an 8-minute egg to add some more girth (and to keep from going over that vegan line of madness), but to be honest, it's a bit much.

Serve it all with a bowl of steamed Japanese rice, and you've got yourself a supple, nicely rounded meal that will leave you more satisfied than you could possibly imagine. (If you're a carnivore, that is.)

In fact, even though I don't feel the need to do Meatless Monday in terms of sustainability and reducing the flow of money to factory farmers, I'm pushing we adopt this habit simply for the widening of our palate... Or palette, so to speak.


  1. word to that...funny and awesome things can happen when we do things simply for taste. Oddly enough, the social issues often fall right in line without additional effort.

  2. Yup. While I have an appreciation for crazy manipulation and realignment of expectations to create new sensations, all it takes is taking a wider look at what's right in front of you.