Every week since I can remember, my mother decisively blurts out “I’ll start my diet this Monday.” Whether she does it or not, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and move on to say that there’s something about Mondays that inspire us to make great promises.
If I’m feeling too full from my weekend food extravaganza, I catch myself saying, “I’ll go to the gym on Monday.” I’ll be honest and tell you that I rarely do go. However, it doesn’t stop Friday from coming and you’re working feverishly on a project, when suddenly the clock is ticking past 5 o’clock and you say to yourself “I’ll do it Monday.” This hopeful, but dreaded day pulls us back to our routine and claims to restore our good habits.
According to the website for Meatless Mondays, studies have shown that “we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week,” a pattern we internalize from an early age. Meatless Mondays is a New-York based non-profit organization that partnered with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health nearly twenty years ago to encourage Americans to reduce their saturated fat intake by 15 percent. The organization proposes that we cut back from meat once a week in the hopes of reducing chronic and preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
This movement has had great success and has been supported by celebrity chef and food connoisseur, Mario Batali. The list of followers grows everyday (Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it!) and as it does, the demands on what should I cook? also increases.
Kim O’Donnel, trained chef and author of “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook” (MLMC), combines her artistry in the kitchen with her mastery of words to compile “a meatless collection created by a meat lover expressly for meat lovers.” O’Donnel, a devout follower and contributor to the Meatless Monday movement claims that her book is not about vegetarianism; in contrast, it is about “celebrating meat in moderation and dietary diversity.”
Some people decide to forgo eating meat altogether because of health, environmental, ethical, political, religious, and/or animal concerns. Yet, from all those reasons, O’Donnel stands by health.
“I have a family history of heart disease & needed to get more consistent with a diet lower in saturated fats (which primarily come from animal protein) and higher in fiber and antioxidants (which come from a variety of fruits, veggies, legumes & grains),” claims the author of MLMC. She speaks about the resistance of a certain Mister/Mrs. Sausage “the person who cannot imagine going a day without meat on his plate” and believes that a “really good chow, that happens to be meatless, is how you can win them over.”
Jen Sieve-Hicks, freelance writer, mother of two, and Meatless Monday believer, used Kim O’Donnel’s delicious meatless recipes to convince her husband to participate in this food revolution. Jen shares that her husband was a very meat-centric eater and was dubious to try meals based around veggies and grains. However, O’Donnel’s recipes were so good that the family have been observing Meatless Mondays for about a year now. Jen is utterly surprised at the amount of new recipes she’s been able to try. She firmly believes that this experience has made her a better cook because of all the new methods of preparing food.
O’Donnel is able to translate the “mouth-coating experience” that captivates us when we eat meat into all of her meatless recipes, after all, her motto reads: “delicious first, meatless second.” She tries to implement meat’s texture and flavor by using soy sauce, mushrooms, roasted vegetables (particularly peppers and garlic), aged and smoked cheeses (such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, smoked Mozzarella to name a few) and smoked Paprika.
Meatless Mondays presents a new way of life that allows you to keep track of your health without giving up on the good stuff, scrumptious food. “Food,” argues O’Donnel, “is so personal, it’s tied to our histories, the way we grew up, our relationships, so many things,” that anything that compromises how we connect to this world and others is simply not worth it. That is why the meatless movement is so enticing, it offers a new perspective on health without giving up on the pleasure of eating, or as Jen Sieve-Hicks finds it to be “a bit of a fun, culinary adventure.” The hope of the Meatless Monday project is to protect your health, my hope is that we find the will to move out from our state of perpetual Sunday and find our way into the Mondays that we’ve envisioned.
Following is a recipe from O'Donnel's "The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook" to get you started on this meatless/culinary adventure:
SHEPHERD’S PIE WITH CHARD-LENTIL FILLING
1 cup wine-braised lentils (details follow)
11/2 cups onion gravy (details follow)
2 pounds medium-size potatoes
(4 to 5 potatoes; my favorites are Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn), washed, trimmed/peeled as needed, and cut into quarters
2 teaspoons salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
5 tablespoons olive oil
Ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups chard (from 1 bunch), washed, stemmed, and chopped finely into “ribbons”
1 clove garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
Grease a 9-inch pie plate.
Fill a medium-size saucepan with 4 cups of water, and add the potatoes and salt. The water should just barely cover the potatoes. This is important.
Cover and bring to a boil. Add the whole garlic. Return the lid and cook until fork tender, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the potatoes and garlic to a large mixing bowl and mash with a hand masher. Stir in the reserved cooking liquid as necessary to moisten the potatoes. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in vigorously with a wooden spoon. Taste for salt, pepper, and texture and season and stir accordingly; mashed potatoes should be smooth and well seasoned.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and cook the chard with the chopped garlic, until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes, regularly tossing with tongs to cook evenly. Stir in the nutmeg and season with more salt to taste, if needed. Transfer to a medium-size bowl.
Portion out 1 cup of the lentils (the rest is cook’s treat) and stir into the chard until well combined.
Assemble the pie: Transfer the chard mixture to the greased pie plate. Top with the mashed potatoes, and with a rubber spatula,
smooth the mash so that it’s evenly distributed and completely covers the surface. Top off with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Place the dish in the oven and heat through, 20 to 25 minutes. During the final 2 minutes of cooking, set the oven to the broil setting to brown the cheesy-mashed top.
Remove from the oven, slice into wedges, and eat hot with a ladleful of onion gravy.
Makes about 6 servings
INGREDIENTS: Wine-Braised Lentils
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup carrot, peeled and diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or
1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup dried brown or green lentils, rinsed (the smaller French lentilles du Puy, with a more refined texture, are my preference, but they’re not always available. Use what you can find in your local market.)
2 tablespoons red wine you enjoy drinking
3/4 to 1 cup water
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, carrot, and thyme. Cook for about 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the lentils and stir to coat. Add the red wine (if using) and bring to a lively simmer. The wine will reduce a bit. Add 3/4 cup of thewater, return to a lively simmer, then lower the heat, cover and cook until fork tender, about 40 minutes. Check and add a little extra water if need be, to keep the lentils from drying out completely. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of the salt, taste, and add the remaining salt, if needed.
Makes 11/2 cups. If you love these lentils, amounts may be doubled for a big pot that will keep for days and pair up seamlessly with your favorite grain.
INGREDIENTS: Onion Gravy
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups onions, sliced thinly into half-moons
1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:
In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onions and thyme. With tongs, toss to coat the onions with the butter and cook over medium-low heat, until softened, reduced, and jamlike, about 25 minutes.
Add the balsamic vinegar, stir, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
Add the water and bring to a lively simmer. Reduce by half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook for an additional 5 minutes; the gravy will continue to reduce. Stir in the salt and sugar, and taste. Finish off with the soy sauce.
Turn off the heat, cover, and gently reheat at a simmer, just before serving with pie.
Makes approximately 11/2 cups