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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Flexitarian Cooking

I recommend vegan cookbooks to those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies because they are guaranteed to have recipes that are milk free.

We do live in a meat culture, however, and vegan dishes are not always satisfactory to the majority.

But with the emphasis on increasing the amount of vegetables in our meals and lowering the meat content, a new style of cooking has emerged.

Chef Peter Berley calls it "flexitarian" and has a new cookbook out that details how to cook meals for both vegans and meat-eaters - simultaneously. It's The Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone in Between.

J. M. Hirsch of the Associated Press describes it this way.

As former chef at New York's vegan Angelica Kitchen restaurant and author of the excellent "The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen," Peter Berley has serious veg street cred. And now he gives us "The Flexitarian Table."

The title is a reference to the term coined several years ago to refer to people who eat mostly vegetarian diets with a smattering of animal products. In this book, Berley demonstrates you really can have it both ways.

The book is aimed at the many families who struggle to put dinner on the table after a child announces they are vegetarian, or when the vegan friend or relative comes for dinner. The solution — cook two versions of the same dish, one with meat, one without.

It's easier than it sounds, and Berley's recipes walk readers through it so in most cases they really are cooking just one meal.

Many of the entrées call for both vegetarian and animal ingredients. The recipe explains how to prepare one dish, such as the spanakopita-style turnovers, two ways using the different ingredients. In this case, both lamb and seitan, a vegetarian "meat."

Other menus (the book is divided into seasonal menus) include both meat and vegetarian entrées, as in the spiced lamb croquettes and falafel in one of the summer menus. Each menu also includes a plan with do-ahead tips.

Hirsch also discusses Patricia Wells' Vegetable Harvest: Vegetables at the Center of the Plate.
Wells takes a refreshing approach — making the vegetables the center of the meal and treating the protein or meat as the side. It may seem backward to many Americans, but Wells' recipes are so evocative it's easy to give them centerpiece treatment.

The recipes are delightfully simple and straightforward, such as the spring onion, tomato, avocado and basil salad with basil-lemon dressing. All that in about 10 ingredients, including the dressing.

Remember that neither book is strictly vegan nor milk free. However, the emphasis on vegetables should provide numerous recipes for the whole family and promote healthier eating all around.

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