Friday, October 3, 2008

Vegetarian (Meatless) Shepherd's Pie and the Accidental Vegetarian

I don’t know when or how it happened, but meat's been nearly absent from my diet lately. Only seven ounces of the stuff disappeared down my gaping maw this week, including a piece of pork at a 1st birthday party, a ham sandwich, and a few bits of chicken in a Mexican posole soup. Last Thursday, I opted for a soft pretzel over a hot dog at Shea Stadium, and I don’t even LIKE their pretzels. They’re like chewing on salty comforters.

Don't get me wrong - my appetite for tasty, tasty animal flesh is still there. It’s just … I can control it now. Imagine Bruce Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk only when he feels like it, and you’ve kind of got the idea: “HULK SMASH … tomorrow! Maybe after my nap, when I’m all caught up on Grey’s Anatomy. ROAR!”

These days, instead of chicken fajitas and the occasional foot-long, I find myself gobbling Patricia Wells’ Eggplant in Spicy Tomato Sauce (delicious), Weight Watchers’ Baked Winter Squash, Raisin and Pine Nut Lasagna (needs less noodle), and Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie from All Recipes. All three (with a few alterations) are just as filling as meat dishes, if not moreso. And afterward, there's no guilt or fear of PETA workers picketing my apartment.

(Just kidding, PETA! I love you!)

(But seriously, you scare me sometimes.)

I made the Shepherd’s Pie earlier this week. While it wasn’t a whiz-bang grand slam, it was a solid ground-rule double: worthy of a weeknight meal, and ideal for lunch leftovers. Next time, I might add some mushrooms for substance, and cut the curry even further, as mine is hot enough to give my tongue an unpleasant chemical peel.

A few other notes:

1) $1.20 per serving may seem a bit high, but this is a full, filling meal. No side dishes required.

2) The dish tasted good right after it was prepared, but was better served cold three days later. I don’t know why. Physics? Planet alignment? God?

3) Nutritional numbers are straight from AllRecipes, so only the dollar amount is calculated below.

Readers, have you accidentally gone vegetarian lately? For financial purposes? Did you just stumble into it? Do tell.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
Makes 6 servings
Adapted from All Recipes.

1 1/4 pounds small red potatoes, halved
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or skim milk)
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pinch Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small red or green bell peppers, chopped
3 cups cubed eggplant, with peel
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water

1) Preheat oven to 400ºF. Prep an 8x8-inch baking dish.

2) Cook potatoes: boil them in a medium-large saucepan full of water until tender. When finished, drain. Add potatoes back into saucepan. Mash. Add peas, parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to incorporate. Set aside.

3) While potatoes are cooking, prep veggies: in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, curry, and cumin. Cook about five minutes, until onions are softened, stirring occasionally. Place mixture in a bowl. Set aside.

4) Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet. Add peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and water. Cook 20 minutes, until veggies are tender/soft, stirring occasionally. (It's a good idea to let a lot of the extra moisture evaporate.) Add onion mixture. Stir. Place contents of skillet in baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes.

5) Bake 15 minutes. Turn broiler on. Place dish in broiler for a few minutes so potatoes can brown. Remove from broiler and serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
192 calories, 7.7 g fat, $1.20

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: $0.24
1 large yellow onion: $0.46
4 cloves garlic: $0.16
1 tablespoon curry powder: $0.12
2 teaspoons ground cumin: $0.02
2 small red or green bell peppers: $1.38
3 cups cubed eggplant, with peel: $0.60
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes: $1.09
1/2 cup water: $0.00
1 1/4 pounds small red potatoes: $1.14
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or skim milk): $ 0.12
1 cup frozen or fresh peas: $0.49
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese: $1.36
1 pinch Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste: $0.02
TOTAL: $7.20

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Heather said...

Yes! We've been accidentally getting more vegetarian over the past year! Most of it is due to saving money, but a lot of it is due to discovering so many other delicious foods! I grew up with meat as the main part of most all meals, and since i've left to university, then married, and finally moved to another country, I've stopped making meat the focal point and discovered many new vegetables and other things I had not been exposed to much before.
There are so many good things out there, folks! Things that are so delicious and much cheaper than meat. Things I've grown to love over the past year or so: sweet potatoes (roasted), zucchini/courgette, mushrooms (I know.. duh..)
Still love lamb. Mmm.

Liz C said...

Salty comforter! Ha!

I've been flexitarian for almost a year now, which is A Big Deal considering I'm almost 50 years old and grew up in Indiana. I started because I had to make a drastic change to get my weight down. Since I don't like cooking meat anyway (never have, really) it wasn't too big of a hassle to make the switch. I still eat meat when I go out, if I feel like it. I still eat the occasional egg, butter, cheese, bacon, and I use chicken stock in my soups. And ice cream! :) I've also gone almost exclusively whole grain. And it's really been easier than I thought.

Here's a good vegetarian shepherd's pie I found:

Anonymous said...

I've been tending toward vegetarian for the past few years now. Partly becus every man in my life liked to take care of the summer grill and i never really learned how to cook meat.

and now, having to handle raw chicken parts, for example, just disgusts me. It really turns my stomach.

I rarely eat red meat anymore and if i do, it's when i'm eating out, which is seldom as it is. I try to stick to a Mediterranean diet becus it's healthy and tastes good. A bit of poultry, cheese, but otherwise getting my protein from legumes, nuts and seeds.

Emily said...

Funny that you mention being an accidental vegetarian this week...we've been going through the same thing. Since Monday, I think the only meat we've eaten is eggs, and we've still got dairy. But we've been earnestly experimenting with rice and different beans. We're trying to see if we can get our grocery budget down to under $100 for the month, and since it just started getting cooler we're ready for some "stick with you" foods. What's amazing to me is I'm a hypoglycemic, and I always thought I needed animal protein to hold my blood sugar until my next meal, and I'm so glad I was wrong.

Amy said...

I have been calling myself a *poverty vegetarian* for a while now. I think I stumbled across your fabulous blog after I'd gone from link to link to link when I googled the term. [I really wanted to know if anyone else out there was becoming less of a meat-eater due to economic constraints....So glad I found you!]

I haven't given up meat completely...and will eat it/order it when I go out for dinner. But really, who wants to hassle with cooking meat? I never end up using it right away and throw it in the freezer out of fear that my $3.99/lb purchase will go bad before I get around to making something. So, it turns into a whole ordeal to time it so I thaw the meat a day before and make sure that the *next* day I intend to cook it is *actually* a day that I can spend cooking....More effort than it's worth sometimes.

So, I'm slowly working my way through the few meat items left in my freezer but have vowed to not buy any more meat solely for my consumption. However, I could still be convinced that a pot roast is the way to go if I have company coming for dinner...

monica said...

Your post is very timely - did you know that October is Vegetarian Awareness Month? (I'm giving away an Herbivore t-shirt for the occasion - hope you don't mind the plug!) Anyway, my veggie life is no accident, and I wouldn't have kept with it for 15 years if I didn't find filling meals to keep me satisfied. This shephards pie looks delicious... and especially tempting now that the weather's cooling down and I'm looking for any excuse to turn on the oven.

katie said...

We are not by any means accidental vegetarians but we have been enjoying more creative salads and vegetables these days, with the meat portions of our meals becoming less of the "star." For us, it is mostly trying to broaden our horizons and experience flavors we missed out on during years of picky eating.

spartana07 said...

that same recipe was in Vegetarian Times magazine this month.

Money Maus said...

I just spent all afternoon making this! Maybe not the BEST recipe for a beginner/intermediate cook. ;) It took a lot of time since I peeled all the potatoes by hand and chopped all the veggies by hand...

I enjoyed this (like you said: nothing to write home about but it was decent and VERY filling!) and my roommates are now groaning on the coach from too much food. :)

Anonymous said...

I've gone deliberately "flexitarian" (great word!) for a number of reasons: money, health, weight, love for animals, etc. I eat eggs and cheese and so on, and some meat when I eat out or feel like it. But I just don't need to have meat all the time. I don't miss it. And I'm over 50. Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks?

But when making the decision to go vegetarian (or mostly vegetarian) here's something else to seriously consider: the takeover of all our food production by a few corporations, none of whom will be mentioned by name 'cause they're very nasty entities. But you who are in the know, know who I'm talking about. Go watch the documentary, "Food, Inc." (for starters), if you don't.

If more and more people go vegetarian, and more and more people start growing as much of their own food as possible -- even if it means growing indoors! It can be done! -- we'd put those giant conglomerates on notice that we will NOT be held hostage to their plans to control all food on this planet. Sounds crazy? Again, go watch "Food, Inc." And maybe, "Sweet Poison" and others, while you're at it! You'll be shocked -- and become determined to stop them, I'm sure.

Colin said...

Recently,I've started to get tired of the taste. When I think about eating beef or chicken,I even feel nauseated. Doesn't help that I'm not an adventurous cook.

I've been eating stuff like vegetable casseroles and Cas Clarke's Chickpea Curry:

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes in juice
1 400g tin chickpeas,drained
1 onion
Oil or butter for frying
1 tbsp medium curry powder (adjust to taste)
2 tsp mint sauce

Serves 2 with rice,or 1 greedy man with buttered bread. :-)

Fry the onion in a pan till soft. Chuck in the tomatoes,chickpeas and curry powder. Simmer for 25 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened. Serve with a teaspoon of mint sauce stirred in.

TheLen said...

I'm an intentional vegetarian (but my first steps were pretty much what you've described) and have been working on perfecting my Tiller's Pie recipe -- my Cork born and bred boyfriend came up with the name and I love it! -- and my best successes have come since I started using lentils (the ones that hold their shape) and his dad's recipe as a base. I hadn't thought of eggplant though . . .

It's getting too warm here for such things, but I'm moving over in August and will have to give the eggplant a try.

Thanks for the tip and I'm definitely grooving on the site (I think I wandered over here from lifehacker, but I'm not entirely sure)

MLH said...

I am not going to pretend to be vegetarian, cuz I am not. I don't even know that I want to make that commitment, as my body seems to "need" meat from time to time. However, I am a massive lover of veggies and married a vegetarian.

Our 2 children are both veggie, so really, I am the odd man out and rather than creating more work for myself, I conformed to the "veggie by night" and only ever eat meat (chicken) when out for lunch with colleagues, etc.

We have found ourselves in a position with exorbitant health care costs, desperate for "healthy" and "cheap" meals in order to "swing" the costs and that is how we found this blog!

I made a killer nutroast for Thanksgiving this year and plan to make a tofu turkey for Christmas. SOOOO good.

Thanks for the meal ideas!

Heather said...

I don't have a blogger account to use, but I google searched "cheap recipes with leftovers" because I had $20 for dinner tonight and the next 3 days. Thank you SO much for this recipe! My boyfriend and I were WAY into it and we have leftovers for the week. :) Delicious.

biscuit said...

Really great recipe, thanks, especially for someone who's trying to cut down a little on the meat budget. Any suggestions for beefing it up a little though? Short of eating 2/3rds of the pie in one sitting, I don't find it very filling :(

Lynn said...

I made this last night and followed the directions to a tee. It was good - I loved the indian flare and the eggplant. It was a lot of prep work, but a pleasant result. And it WAS improved eaten cold as leftovers. However, I think the diced tomatoes taste a little funny in it. Before I was vegetarian, all the shepherd's pies I had ever eaten or cooked did not have tomatoes in them - maybe a speck of tomato paste though. I love tomatoes, but I found myself avoiding them because the bites without them tasted more shepherd's pie-y. While the other veggies work well to bulk it up, I think next time I will nix the tomatoes for something else like some mushrooms or even zucchini. :)

Anonymous said...

Milk? it's in the ingredients but not the recipe....