Vegetarian fare can be confusing to the non-vegetarian cook. Here are a few things to consider when planning meals for your vegetarian friends and family.
Ask your vegetarian how strict they are when considering meat and fish in their diet. It is possible that they will eat meat and/or fish when there is no vegetarian alternative. It is more likely, however, that they will not eat anything that has meat or fish.
On a similar note, most vegetarians are very concerned about cross contamination and will not want to eat food that has, or may have been, in contact with meat or fish. The easiest way to achieve this is to keep vegetarian food, utensils and cooking pots separate from those you use for meat or fish. For example, if you are deep-frying, don’t use oil in which you have previously fried fish or meat products.
I once ate breakfast where the host used a grill to cook both the bacon and pancakes. Although he was careful to not let the bacon grease migrate across the grill to where the pancakes were cooking, he used the same spatula to turn both the bacon and the pancakes. Just the hint of bacon grease on my pancakes made them unpleasant.
To most vegetarians, no meat means no meat-dishes of any kind. This includes but is not limited to beef, pork, chicken, ostrich burgers, and buffalo burgers, et al. No meat means no food products that include meat or meat byproducts. If you buy refried beans made with lard (an animal/meat product), this is not vegetarian. If you make and serve vegetable soup made with chicken broth, you may think it tastes like vegetable soup but to a vegetarian it will have a weird taste. It is the same for gravy made with beef stock.
No fish means no fish. This includes clams, muscles, lobster, crayfish, eels, salmon, and trout, et al. No sashimi. Sashimi is a sliced raw fish dish. Sushi, however, may be vegetarian if it is not made with fish. Anago Sushi, for example, is made with a slice of grilled/boiled/steamed salt-water eel on a pad of rice. It is not vegetarian. Tamago Sushi, however, is vegetarian because it is made with a slice of sweet egg omelet. Same for an asparagus or avocado roll. Both vegetarian as long as they are not made with crab or other fish.
No fish means no food products that include fish or fish byproducts. A vegetarian miso soup base made without fish dashi, for example, makes a wonderful vegetarian hot soup but if it is garnished with bonito tuna flakes, it is not a vegetarian. Hoisin, which is a Chinese word for seafood, is not made with fish or fish byproducts and is a vegetarian sauce. Go figure.
If you have a vegetarian in your family always ask if there are dietary restrictions you should be aware of before you prepare meals at home or go out to eat. My nephew Jack, for example, recently became a vegetarian. When Robin told me he was coming to visit I began planning lacto-ovo vegetarian dishes with which to please him. It wasn’t until I began telling him about these dishes that I found out he did not eat meat, fish or dairy. Ask if vegetarian means that dairy products and eggs are OK. You may find, as I did, that your vegetarian eats eggs but doesn’t eat dairy.
Ask if your vegetarian has any food allergies. Although walnuts and peanuts are completely vegetarian, don’t assume your vegetarian can eat them. Many people, vegetarian and non-vegetarians alike, are acutely allergic to some nuts and legumes. Read food product labels for warnings. Labels that read, “This product is made in a facility that processes foods containing peanuts and/or shellfish” give you fair warning that this product may not be suitable for someone with peanuts allergies. It is definitely something that your vegetarian will want to avoid because it may be contaminated with shellfish.
You may find that your vegetarian is vegan saying, “I don’t eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy. My diet contains no animal products of any kind.” If this is the your vegetarian, be careful not to include honey in any of the meals you cook. Honey is produced by bees and is, by definition, an animal product.
Jell-O is not something you would offer a vegetarian because it is made with the animal by-product, gelatin. Marshmallows are made with gelatin as are some candies including gummy bears. Did you know that Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies? Canned beans in tomato sauce may appear to be OK for your vegetarian friends or family but before you buy, read the label. Canned beans often contain bacon or pork flavoring.
Bread products enriched with Omega-3 may contain fish oils so be careful. Store-bought tortillas often contain lard. Store-bought piecrusts are generally made with lard. Store-bought filo dough and puff pastry is generally considered vegetarian but it doesn’t hurt to read the package labeling before you put them in your shopping basket. Frozen hash brown potatoes may contain lard. Some potato chip or corn chip products are made with lard. Fruitopia brand drinks contain the coloring agent carmine. Carmine is made from crushed insects. Not vegetarian.
Here’s the bottom line:
Buy fresh, local ingredients as often as possible. Buy organic ingredients when you can afford them. If you buy processed foods, always read the label. If you have any doubts as to whether or not a recipe is vegetarian, stick to the menus and/or recipes in this book. They are nutritious, tasty and completely vegetarian.
Oh…just one more thing. When you make a mistake in your food choices for vegetarians, and we have all made mistakes of one sort or another; don’t beat yourself up about it. When you’re new at something like this, you’re bound to make a mistake or two. That’s how we learn. After a while you’ll be able to cook wonderful vegetarian meals and tutor others on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered when you were just learning!