Then I found myself gravitating toward vegetable-centric, if not vegetarian, dishes in restaurants, because I knew that eating less meat is better for the environment and better for my health. On the latter, there were no medical scares. But I’ve known that as I age, large quantities of meat are harder and harder for me to handle, physically and even philosophically.
It all came to a head — a pig’s head, of course — at the Cochon 555 competition, a celebration of nose-to-tail pork cookery that I helped judge in Washington in 2011. As I sat around the judges’ table eating bite after bite of sometimes-delicious, sometimes-not concoctions of ears, jowls, loins and trotters, I started to see the nose-to-tail thing (“everything but the squeal”) a little differently. I embrace the philosophy that if we are going to eat animals, we should respect them enough not to waste perfectly edible parts. But that doesn’t mean we — or I suppose I should say I — need to eat it all in one sitting. Not if it sends me into a food coma, anyway.
When’s the last time you went into a food coma from a vegetarian meal? I usually feel fabulous afterward, no matter how much I indulge.
More important, over the past few years I’ve been falling for vegetables: learning more about them in their seemingly infinite varieties from farmers like Zach Lester at Tree and Leaf and from market managers like Robin Shuster at 14th and U, and then growing my own in a now-defunct community garden on 15th Street NW and during my year of homesteading at my sister and brother-in-law’s in southern Maine. And I’ve been tasting more and more dishes at restaurants that prove that vegetables can be the star of the plate — sometimes the only star, with no need of meat even to serve as a garnish, as fashionable as that has gotten, too.
I plan to showcase those vegetables every week in this, a new recipe column for the Food section called Weeknight Vegetarian. (Cooking for One will become occasional rather than monthly.) First up: a five-grain risotto adapted from a version chef Cedric Maupillier serves at Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan.
The recipes — mine and from others — will be vegetarian, not vegan, because I’m too enamored of cheese, milk and eggs, and I can’t imagine that changing. Although, come to think of it, that’s what I used to say about meat.
Yonan is author of the upcoming "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, August 2013).