By now it is no secret that eating a mainly plant-based diet is the key to keeping diseases at bay. The more plants you can cram into your daily diet the better. And the more variety in those plants the better.
I say this as someone who has eaten my fair share of meat in my lifetime, and still eats meat, by the way. But only on special occasions. Christmas being one of those special occasions.
And on those few-and-far-between occasions when I do have a bite of meat from a two- (and on even rarer occasions four-) legged animal, the portion size is much, much smaller than used to be the case.
In fact, I have almost come to regard meat as my new spice. A condiment, a newfound flavor enhancer, my secret weapon, which, when “sprinkled” across a dish works in tandem with other herbs and spices in boosting the flavor of an otherwise plant centered meal.
And a little goes a long way.
When meat is thought of and used in this way I feel it can still have a place in a healthy and balanced diet.
As long as you go for high quality meats and buy organic wherever possible.
How exactly did I go from someone putting meat front a center to someone who now sees meat as a condiment to spice up a plant focused meal?
It has been a long time since I last thought of a steak or a piece of chicken as the center of attention on my plate.
Although, I have always loved my veggies. Even as a child one of my favorite mid-week dinners consisted of simple steamed vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots, served with boiled potatoes (skin on of course and ideally cooked with a large amount of dill), and butter, salt, and pepper. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. But that doesn’t mean I was eating a vegetarian diet.
Far from it in fact.
But when I met my husband that gradually changed. He was already eating mainly vegetarian when we met and many years later, after doing his research and due diligence and weighing the pros and cons up against his family’s history of heart disease, he chose to switch from this mainly vegetarian diet (with some seafood) to a purely plant based diet. No animal protein whatsoever.
So there I was. Being the cook of the family I suddenly had to modify my cooking skills to exclude eggs and dairy (and seafood). I have to admit that the first words which popped into my head were not of the kind I would repeat here… But then, knowing that there was a perfectly valid reason for him to want to make this switch, my only option was to roll up my sleeves and get to it.
The challenge, of course, was how to maintain that high level of flavors in my recipes which I had carefully cultivated over so many years. When you remove eggs, cheese, butter, and other full fat ingredients from recipes the flavors are instantly altered, and not usually for the better if that is the flavor you have been used to. Your dishes stand the risk of losing depth, going flat. It’s as if there is something all together essential missing. So how was I to continue making a richly flavored carrot cake without eggs (not to mention the cream cheese icing)? Pesto without Parmesan? Pizza without mozzarella? The list went on and on.
Writing down those initially perceived obstacles today almost seems laughable and makes me realize that from a cooking perspective I was very naive.
But of course I didn’t know then what I know now: that there is virtually no limit to what you can accomplish with plants only.
But back then, realizing that I would more or less have to start from scratch I made careful notes every day as my plant based cooking skills progressed, sometimes backwards I have to admit but over time the general direction was definitely positive.
These notes would eventually end up in me publishing my second cookbook, Simply Delicious – Veggies, but not until I felt I had cracked the code, so to speak, to making gorgeously fulfilling 100% plant based meals without losing any flavor.
Now, many years later we still eat a mainly plant based diet. Hubby stricter than I but he is also one of those who eats to live, whereas I most definitely live to eat!
Because the term plant based usually refers to what is essentially a vegan diet without the added ideological anchors, I have come to think of the way we eat as plant strong or plant-centric, a method of putting you meals together in a way which places plants front and center and treats small amounts of animal protein as a once in a while luxury.
When we do have a piece of fish for dinner that piece of what used to be the main focus of a meal is now served as a side dish or, as I like to do it, as one dish out of several equally important dishes which together make up the complete meal.
It almost feels as if animal protein has become my new spice. That luxuriously deep umami flavor which I sprinkle on foods from time to time to spice up a lovely weekend dinner. But as is the case with any spice I am very careful to not let it overpower the meal.