Vegetarians, unite! How do you feel about cacti? Not a cactus to use as decoration, nope, it’s a cactus to eat! Since you might not have cooked with nopales before, we wanted to tell you a little bit more about how to prepare it for eating. Soon you’ll be making the vegetarian tacos of your dreams.
What are nopales?
Nopales are the edible, fleshy pads of the prickly pear cactus. They’re harvested shortly after rains when they’re plump, juicy and full of nutrients. Like most cacti, these pads have spines that need to be carefully removed and discarded. Nopales are a popular ingredient in traditional Mexican cuisine. Their dense texture makes them a satisfying meat substitute.
How to prep nopales
Using a large knife, carefully shave the spikes off the nopales. If you want to be extra cautious, try wearing a pair of gloves. Then, trim off the tough outer edges of each nopal and rinse under cool water to wash away any remaining blemishes. Slice each one into ¼-inch-thick and 1-inch-wide pieces.
Vegetarian tacos with nopales
Our recipe coats the nopales in panko breadcrumbs and fries them lightly. After they’re done, pair them with fresh carrots and tangy cotija cheese for satisfying and balanced vegetarian tacos. Get our decadent recipe here.
Americans are the second largest consumers of meat per capita, the average person eating about 270 pounds per year. And so some of us are moving away from meat-based meals, whether via big portions of vegetable-rich sides beside or meat or by committing to eating fully meatless meals a couple times a week. Campaigns like Meatless Monday and a growing awareness of the problems with factory farming have made meat-free meals more and more common.
If you’re switching from a meat-heavy diet, cooking vegetarian may seem like a daunting task. But with a few tweaks here and there, you’ll soon find that its easy to master the technique for making meat-free meals. Here’s where to start.
Rethink Your Plate
Vegetarian cooking isn’t always about switching meat out for something else. If you’re a steak and potatoes kind of person, you may not be so satisfied with a plate of tofu and potatoes, but you could be bowled over by a Mushroom and Sweet Potato Pie. The key here is thinking outside of the box, and not simply replacing ingredients but thinking about the meal as a whole.
Salad is delicious, but a bowl of lettuce won’t always translate into dinner. When cooking vegetarian, you’ll want to consciously bulk up your meal. Combining protein, fiber and unsaturated fats will keep you feeling fuller longer and ensure that you get all the nutrients you need from your meal. So instead of eating rabbit food, opt for a warm grain salad.
Remember Healthy Fats
Incorporating a variety of oils is a good way to go in vegetarian cooking because it helps you consume healthy fats. Not only does oil add flavor, but it can also help us feel more full. Beyond olive oil there are plenty of oils to experiment with, including sunflower, flax, hemp, walnut and toasted sesame. Nuts deliver the same satisfaction–that’s one of the reasons we use cashews in the soba recipe pictured above.
Don’t Forget the Spices
Often what makes a meal are the handful of spices that go into seasoning it. Italian dishes wouldn’t be the same with thyme and oregano. Indian cuisine needs cumin and turmeric. It’s not just because you took the meat out of a dish that the taste changes; test your dish and see what flavors are missing and what you can add in from the spice pantry. You might be surprised how much “meaty” flavor you can build up with rich spices like cumin, coriander, or smoked paprika.
Learn the Art of Umami
Ever heard of umami? Discovered by a Japanese scientist, umami, which translated means “delicious” or “yummy,” is the fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty and bitter). This is basically what gives savory foods their deep flavors, and is often associated with hard cheeses, aged meats like salami and salted fish like anchovies. It’s why you love to douse your noodles in soy sauce. Ingredients like soy sauce, tamari, nutritional yeast, and toasted nuts will all help to bring out that savory flavor that so many of us crave. If you eat cheese, go crazy with the Parmesan–it may be the most umami-rich substance yet.
Master a Few Veg Substitutes
When it comes to replacing meat in a dish, some people are focused on the nutritional value (omega 3s, iron and the like) and others are more concerned with the taste and texture. Beyond your fake-out meat substitutes like soy and TVP, here are 5 basic vegetarian ingredients that you can easily begin to incorporate into your cooking.
Beans. From vegetarian chili to simply sautés, beans are a simple, tasty and healthy way to replace ground or chopped meat. Most beans can be bought dry and in bulk, but keep in mind that if you go this route, you will most often have to soak them. Use beans to make hearty soups and stews, or add them to salad when you need an extra dose of protein.
Lentils. Part of the legume family, just like beans, lentils are a nutritionally sound ingredient for anything and everything vegetarian. Dal, the Indian staple, is an excellent way to put lentils to everyday use, while this recipe for Braised Beluga Lentils makes a hearty dish that feels a bit more special.
Mushrooms. Earthy and firm, mushrooms can often have a similar texture to meat, and therefore work great as a substitute in traditionally meat-based meals, like a mushroom stroganoffor a slider. Because they contain a high enough percentage of water to stay moist during cooking, they’re great for grilling. Throw on a few portobellos on the grill in the summer beside your beef or turkey burgers.
Vegetable Stock. For any soups or stews that require a meat-based stock, you can simply sub in a vegetarian one. Stock is easy to make yourself, and you can even use the water that beans or pasta has been cooked in, or you can buy bouillon base.
Eggplant. Looking for a vegetable that almost acts like meat? Eggplant is it. Its texture makes it a common replacement in vegetarian lasagna and other meat-based meals. Try an Eggplant Parmesan instead of the chicken classic. It’s also good on the grill!
Be Crazy Creative
The best part about cooking vegetarian? You get to cook out of the box. Think of all the ingredients that you have at your disposal to play with. When we cook meat, it’s easy to get lazy. Cooking a steak is so easy you’ll be giving your creative genius a rest each time you go to search one. By contract, when we remove some of the things we usually work with, we actually end up being more creative. Think of new ways you can use common vegetables, like Acorn Squash Tempura Tacos instead of regular fish tacos. Vegetarian cooking shouldn’t be about limiting, it should be about remembering all the wonderful things that you do have to work with.
This post was written by Anna Brones, a food and travel writer based in Paris, France who has a love for bikes, coffee and all things organic.
When we brainstorm dinners you can make in 35 minutes or so, our thoughts often turn to the stir fry. In this traditional form of quick cooking, flavor develops as ingredients take a quick turn being cooked in a hot pan. Just like the inhabitants of Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of China, we could eat some sort of stir fry for practically every meal. The flavor variations are infinite, from shrimp fried rice to curry noodles with pork. Yet it’s our latest creation, these Roadside Noodles with Bell Pepper, Tomato & Broccoli Rabe, that we want to tell you about today.
As with many stir fries, here we start with the aromatics, sautéing ginger, garlic, and lemongrass first. Not long after, we add onion and stir fry that with a freshly slivered red pepper (which, awesomely, is in season right now and therefore boasting extraordinary flavor). From there, we add as many vegetables as we can pack in, like tomatoes and broccoli rabe, and we finish off with some herbs, too.
We call them roadside noodles because they’re quite similar to the noodles that you’ll find served from a roadside stand almost anywhere in Southeast Asia.
If you’re inspired by our vegetarian stir fry situation, then it’s easy enough to follow the formula on a non-Blue Apron night. Set a pan over high heat – a skillet works just as well as a wok. Simply chop up garlic and ginger. Cook that in some oil, then add onions and any vegetables you like. Throw in cooked noodles–either rice noodles or wontons noodles, as we use here. Make a sauce by stirring together soy sauce and mirin (or sub in white wine), plus a little bit of sugar. Garnish with herbs or some peanuts. And that’s dinner!
You can get the full recipe for Roadside Noodles over in our cookbook here.
We’re happy to be participating in Food Network’s Summer Fest, a weekly blog tour of all the incredible produce we’ll be enjoying this summer. This week, the topic is peppers! You can see the other bloggers’ delicious sweet pea creations by following the links below.
Cooking traditional Southern corn fritters is one of the best ways to use two of the season’s sweetest vegetables: fresh peas and corn.
To gild the lily? We scored pea tendrils–the pretty green curlicues from the climbing vine of the pea plant. (Think of them like the branches of a tree, as opposed to the shoot, which is like a baby pea or a big sprout.) In this recipe, we toss the tendrils with a little bit of lemon and olive oil, and their sweetness complements the crunchy fritters.
Fritters are a perfect vessel for conveying the season’s vegetables to your mouth. The idea is to create a light batter to hold together all the season’s best vegetables. Lightly fried in a bit of oil, the fritters are an incredible, filling, and eminently presentable way to serve corn and peas in this recipe.
In this recipe, we use a batter of cornmeal, milk, flour, and chives to coat the fresh corn and fresh peas, allowing you to take advantage of these terrific ingredients in every bite. We couldn’t help but decide on a condiment, remoulade sauce, the famous creamy sauce of Louisiana Cajun and Creole cooking, as the perfect pairing for anything pan-fried, to top these sweet and savory pancake-like fritters.
You can get the full recipe over on our recipe card here.
We’re happy to be participating in Food Network’s Summer Fest, a weekly blog tour of all the incredible produce we’ll be enjoying this summer. This week, the topic is fresh peas. You can see the other bloggers’ delicious sweet pea creations by following the links below.