With the growing awareness of the importance of a healthy eating habit, many people are taking up vegetarian diet because it corresponds to the kind of low fat, high fiber meal recommended by dieticians. With the right ingredients, vegetarian meal could be made to taste fantastic and vary widely in choice and flavor.
Beans contain plenty of protein, iron and potassium, and are the best source of vegetable fiber. There are more than 20 different types of peas and beans, all of which can be sprouted. The mung bean is the most common sprouted bean, producing the familiar bean sprouts.
All beans should be soaked, drained and rapidly boiled in fresh liquid for 10 minutes before cooking.
2. Buck wheat
Also known as “Saracen corn”, buck wheat is the seed of a herbaceous plant. It is rich in protein and iron. It is available from healthy food stores, in the form of flour, groats or roasted buck wheat called “kasha”.
Most hard cheeses are made with animal rennet, but a number of vegetarian cheeses are now available and many of the softer cheeses, such as cottage cheese, Ricotta and feta, are made without rennet.
4. Dried fruits
Dried fruits provide protein, iron, calcium, vitamin A and several B vitamins. Many dried fruits, such as apricots, pears, peaches and apples, are treated with sulfur oxide to help keep their color. To remove this, boil the fruit in water for 1 minute before use and discard the water. Most dried fruit is sprayed or dipped in preservatives to give a moist appearance; remove this coating by washing the fruit in hot water.
Grains or cereals are probably the most important staple food in the world. Wheat, rice, barley, oats, millet, rye and maize are the major food grains. If eaten whole and unrefined they provide valuable fiber in the diet, as well as protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium.
Lentils are one of the oldest crops, cultivated since prehistoric times. Of the many varieties, the most common are the green or continental lentils, and brown or split red lentils. They do not need to be soaked before use, though it will shorten the cooking time if they are.
7. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are a high protein food, rich in B vitamins and minerals. Their high fat content is rich in linoleic acid.
8. Oils and fats
Most vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, sesame and corn oil) are high in polyunsaturated oils. These are preferable because they tend to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood. Olive oil is mono-unsaturated and can be regarded as neutral. Margarine, despite its labeling “high in polyunsaturates”, contains at least 50 % saturated fat. It is however, preferable to butter which contains only 3 % polyunsaturates.
9. Sesame salt
Sesame salt or “Gomasio” is a good alternative to salt. It is available in health food shops but can be made by grinding 5 parts roasted sesame seeds with 1 part salt.
10. Sea vegetables
Seaweed is one of the oldest crops. There are many varieties, the most common being Arame, Kombu, Wakame, Dulse and Nori. They are very high in vitamins, essential amino acids and trace elements, especially iodine.
11. Soy sauce/Shoyu
Naturally fermented soy sauce made from soya beans with wheat or barley is known as “shoyu”. The manufactured soy sauce usually contains sugar and other additives. shoyu makes an excellent flavoring for soups, stews, sauces and dressings and as it is quite salty, it allows you to cut down on added salt. Soy sauce can be used but the flavor will not be as strong.
Tahini is a sesame seed paste widely used in the Middle East. It is useful as a flavoring in dips and sauces and can be used as a binding agent in rissoles and nut roasts.
Tofu is soya bean curd. Its high protein content makes it a nutritional substitute for meat, fish and dairy products. It is also rich in iron, calcium and B vitamins. Tofu is a versatile ingredient: it can be stir-fried, deep-fried, marinated and added to dressings and sauces. It is available from health food stores as lightly pressed “silken tofu” and “firm tofu” which is more heavily pressed. Regular tofu has a texture in between the two.
Yogurt is a popular fermented milk product. It is very easily digested, especially goats’ milk yogurt and people who are allergic or sensitive to milk are often able to tolerate yogurt.
With appropriate planning on ingredients, vegetarian meal could cost less than meat based items. In addition, being healthier on a vegetarian diet also means spending less on health care.