Flexible alternative: Vegetarians and carnivores merge with flexitarianism

Some might think they’re just bad vegetarians, but no, flexitarians are here to stay, and for good reason.

Flexitarians — vegetarians who eat a little meat and meat-eaters who add vegetarian meals to their diet — are a growth group for two reasons. One, vegetarian families have renegades who want meat or fish included in their diet. Two, carnivores want to incorporate vegetarian meals for either health or environmental reasons.

Nettie Cronish, with co-author Pat Crocker, recently wrote Everyday Flexitarian (Whitecap Books) the first Canadian cookbook for this group. Cronish, a cooking instructor and cookbook author, saw the flexitarian movement unfold before her eyes in her own strictly vegetarian family when her daughters and husband revolted, rattling the cage to include meat or fish proteins in their diets.

“It’s estimated 30 to 40 per cent of the population of Canada are flexitarian,” Cronish said in a phone interview from Toronto. “That market’s growing about 40 per cent annually. The numbers keep growing.”

The cookbook features two-way recipes, with options for both carnivore and vegetarian. They’re recipes to help vegetarians and carnivores coexist.

Her cooking classes are filled with this demographic, Cronish says. “Sometimes they’re blended families. I meet a lot of older people who want to increase their nutritional profiles.”

As youngsters, her daughters (now in university) visited friends and would be exposed to dishes they’d never had. “They’d come home saying ‘bacon tasted good!’ They didn’t want to feel restricted and I think part of it was curiosity and certain foods seemed cool. They tasted lobster and oh my gosh! My, they loved it, thought it was delicious.”

At first, Cronish rebelled too and didn’t want to cook meat, but she quickly realized it was going to cause problems. “When you look at the word [flexitarian], ‘flexible’ is the important root,” she says. “I have stopped telling people to eliminate meat in their diet. I’m going to lose.” Aging, she says, puts an emphasis on what people eat. “Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, scientific information saying fruits and vegetables and fibre is good for health, as well as environmental issues come into play.”

But she sees the reverse happening, too. “People aren’t very vocal about starting to eat meat. There’s negativity attached to it. That’s just what I see in my circles.”

Tony Minichiello, chef/owner of Northwest Culinary Institute in Vancouver, sees a wide cross-section of people in his amateur and professional cooking classes. “More than ever, people are concerned with health issues and food is one way to keep bodies in a good state. They’ve read Michael Pollan saying ‘eat more plants’ but aren’t too sure what the options are, how to cook vegetarian. In North America, we’re concerned about eating properly but you can’t if you don’t know how to cook. If you don’t know knife skills, it’s going to be very frustrating. You won’t know how to transform a vegetable.

“With young people, especially, becoming a vegetarian or vegan happens instantaneously, from the neck up. You have to learn to drive before you buy a car. Michael Pollan’s books have evolved, too. They started with esoteric messages. The latest books say you gotta get into the kitchen and learn to cook. Don’t expect others to cook for you. … If people say they don’t have time to cook and they’re sitting watching reruns of Friends or Seinfeld or sitting in front of a computer, there’s no excuse.”

In the end, Cronish thanks her daughters for relaxing her rigid attitude. “It’s an attitude I had to develop out of respect for my family. Once I learned to respect their approach to food, I had to figure out ways the family kitchen could function for all of us.”


Grilled Lentil Pizza with Seafood and Asparagus

These recipes are for both vegetarian and meat-eaters. Vegetarians can ignore the sections between asterisks as they are adaptations for carnivores.

I love this lentil pizza as it is, but sometimes if I have the ingredients and the desire for a bit of a change, I add shrimp or scallops and fresh or canned asparagus to one half of the pizza. Scallops are cooked when they turn opaque and shrimp are cooked when they turn bright pink; for both, the flesh should be firm, not hard or rubbery. I recommend using the very small scallops or shrimp for this pizza. — Pat Crocker, co-author, Everyday Flexitarian

1 1/3 cups (325 mL) canned red or green lentils or adzuki beans, drained and rinsed

One 14 oz. (398 mL) can artichoke hearts, drained

1 clove garlic

1/2 to 2 teaspoons (2 to 10 mL) chili powder

1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt

1 tablespoon (15 mL) toasted sesame oil

1/4 cup (60 mL) yellow cornmeal

1 pound (500 g) pizza dough (store-bought)

1 cup (250 mL) grape tomatoes, halved

1 1/4 cups (310 mL) shredded white cheddar cheese

1/2 cup (125 mL) thinly sliced green onions

1/2 cup (125 mL) pitted black olives, thinly sliced

2 Tbsp. (30 mL) chopped fresh basil

*1 cup (250 mL) fresh small scallops or peeled and deveined shrimp (about 3 oz./90 g)*

1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh or canned asparagus pieces (drained if canned)

2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil

Make the crust: Preheat the grill to low. Combine 1 cup (250 mL) lentils (or beans), 2 artichoke hearts, garlic, chili powder, and salt in a food processor. Process for three seconds and, with motor running, add sesame oil through opening in the lid. Process until mixture reaches desired consistency — chunky or smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining lentils.

Sprinkle cornmeal onto a large baking sheet. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 14-inch (35 cm) round. Press rolled dough round into the cornmeal to coat one side. Transfer round to the grill with cornmeal-coated side down.

Slide crust directly onto grill rack — do not cook on grill using stone or baking sheet — and pierce dough using a fork. Close lid. Cook for four minutes, or until underside is lightly browned. Using tongs or a large spatula, flip crust and slide back onto the grill. Close the lid of the grill to keep it hot until ready to dress.

Dress the pizza: Slice remaining artichoke pieces and assemble all other vegetarian pizza toppings. *Combine scallops, asparagus pieces, and 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) of the olive oil in a bowl and toss to coat. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and asparagus and cook, tossing and stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes or until scallops have turned opaque and asparagus is tender-crisp.*

Spread lentil-artichoke mixture over crust, leaving a 1-inch (2.5 cm) border around outside rim. Spread grape tomatoes skin side down over entire pizza and sprinkle 1/4 cup (60 mL) cheddar cheese overtop. Spread onions over cheese and tomatoes, and then olives over onions. Sprinkle 1/2 cup (125 mL) cheddar cheese over olives. Spread artichoke pieces evenly over one half of the pizza. Spread *grilled scallops and* artichoke pieces evenly over the other half of the pizza. Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese evenly over the top.

Return pizza to grill rack and cook with lid closed for 8 minutes, or until cheese is melted and underside of crust is browned.

Makes one 14-inch (35-cm) pizza

Tip: To cook pizza in the oven, preheat the oven to Broil (500°F/260°C). Broil for 8 minutes, or until cheese is melted and underside of crust is browned.

Tofu Curry with Lime and Nut Butter/Shrimp Curry with Lime and Nut Butter

This recipe is for both vegetarian and meat-eaters. Vegetarians can ignore the sections between asterisks as they are adaptations for carnivores.

The sauce for this curry is outstanding and, like any coconut sauce spiked with red or green Thai curry spices, it is perfect for firm fish (such as cod, monkfish, or bass), chicken, pork, and seafood — like the shrimp I use here. I love gently cooking shrimp right in the curry sauce, but you can opt to cook the shrimp in a separate pan and serve as a garnish or on the side. Note: If adding shrimp, I recommend using only one package of tofu. — Pat Crocker, co-author, Everyday Flexitarian

Two 14 oz. (398 g) pkgs firm tofu, rinsed (if using shrimp, see note in recipe introduction)

2 tsp. (10 mL) whole fenugreek seeds

1 tsp. (5 mL) whole cumin seeds

1 tsp. (5 mL) whole coriander seeds

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) crushed cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) ground turmeric

2 Tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) grated fresh ginger

1 tsp. (5 mL) red curry paste or 1 dried cayenne pepper, crushed

1/2 tsp. (2 mL) salt

One 14 oz. (398 mL) can coconut milk

1/4 cup (50 mL) peanut butter

2 tsp. (10 mL) lime zest

3 Tbsp. (45 mL) fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) brown sugar

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) dice

1 cup (250 mL) sliced carrots

1 cup (250 mL) broccoli florets

1/4 to 1 cup (60 to 250 mL) water

*4 oz. (120 g) shrimp, peeled and deveined (about 8 to 12)*

Drain tofu in a large colander over a bowl or in the sink. Cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes and set aside.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and then add fenugreek, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Dry-roast spices, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until golden and lightly toasted. Remove to a small bowl and let cool. Using a mortar and pestle, or an electric grinder, grind toasted spices. Add turmeric, mix well, and set aside. You should have about 1/4 cup (60 mL) of curry spice blend.

Heat oil in the same skillet, over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring frequently for 3 to 5 minutes or until onions are soft and translucent. Stir in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the curry spice blend, red curry paste, and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add coconut milk and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add peanut butter, lime zest, lime juice, and brown sugar. Bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly.

Add red pepper, carrots, and broccoli, and bring to a light simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Taste and add more curry spice blend if desired. Stir in water, 1/4 cup (60 mL) at a time, if sauce appears to be too thick. *Transfer 2 1/4 cups (560 mL) of the vegetables and sauce to a separate saucepan for the shrimp portions.*

Add tofu cubes to the skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. *Bring other saucepan to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Add shrimp and simmer gently, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes or until shrimp has turned bright pink. Remove from heat and keep warm. (Do not overcook shrimp because it will become tough and rubbery.)*

Grinding Whole Curry Spices: When the toasted spices have cooled, grind them to your preference, whether fine or coarse. This recipe makes about 1/4 cup (60 mL) with the addition of the ground turmeric. In this recipe, use 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 mL) of the curry spice according to your taste. Store the remaining curry blend in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

*Cooking Shrimp in a Stovetop Grill Pan: Peel and devein shrimp. Rinse under cool water in a colander. Drain and pat dry. Lightly oil a grill pan or skillet. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and place shrimp in the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottom edges start to turn bright pink. Using tongs, turn shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on flip side, or until undersides are bright pink. Remove from grill pan or, if pan is large enough, move cooked shrimp to a section that is not directly over the heat. The tender protein in shrimp turns tough and rubbery when overcooked.*

Makes 6 servings (4 veggie + 2 with shrimp)

Pinto Bean, Quinoa, and Wild Rice Wrap/Beans Or Grains with Shredded Chicken Wrap

“I particularly like poached and shredded chicken in this wrap. When the chicken is tossed with mayonnaise or drained yogurt, it adds extra creamy texture to the filling. I like to thin commercial mayonnaise with a small amount of the brine from canned pickles or olives. Of course, you can dice the chicken instead of shredding it or cutting it into strips.” — Pat Crocker, co-author, Everyday Flexitarian

Six 9- or 10-inch (23 or 25 cm) flour tortillas

*11/2 cups (375 mL) chicken stock

1 skinless, boneless chicken breast (about 6 oz/180 g)*

1 tablespoon (15 mL) olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoon (10 mL) chili powder or flakes

1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt

1 cup (250 mL) tomato sauce

One 14 oz (398 mL) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

1 cup (250 mL) cooked wild rice or quinoa

1/4 cup (60 mL) mayonnaise or plain yogurt, drained

Sea salt and pepper, to taste

1 avocado, diced

1/3 cup (80 mL) finely chopped red onion

1 cup (250 mL) shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup (250 mL) sour cream (optional)

2 rimmed baking sheets, lightly oiled

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150 C). Set tortillas in a stack on lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover with foil and place in the oven to warm while filling is being prepared.

*In a saucepan, heat chicken stock over high heat until boiling. Add chicken breast and reduce heat to keep stock gently simmering. Simmer, turning the breast once, for 8 to 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove pan from heat and leave chicken in the stock until it’s cool enough to be handled.*

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and red pepper and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add garlic, chili powder, coriander, and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

Add tomato sauce, beans, and parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in rice and quinoa.

*Lift out poached chicken breast and cut into thin strips and transfer to a bowl. Toss with mayonnaise and season to taste with salt and pepper.*

Fill and roll one warm tortilla at a time, replacing foil over remaining tortillas in the oven to keep them warm. Lay tortilla flat on a working surface and spoon about 1/4 cup (60 mL) tomato-bean mixture overtop, to within about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the edges. *(If you’re making chicken wraps, follow the next step for only 4 of the 6 tortillas.)* Spread a portion of the avocado and red onion mixture down the centre of each tortilla. Sprinkle about 3 tablespoons (45 mL) cheese evenly over the top. Roll into a wrap and place on other prepared baking sheet. Tear off enough foil to cover the sheet. Cover and keep filled wraps warm in the oven.

*You should have about 1/2 cup (125 mL) tomato sauce left for the remaining 2 tortillas. Divide chicken evenly into 2 portions and spoon down the centre of the tortillas. Sprinkle remaining cheese evenly overtop and roll up.* Serve with sour cream (if using).

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