Local single cook and vegetarian Michael Suraci parted from the carnivorous world five years ago on an order of Chicken McNuggets. For quick meals that require no cooking, Suraci now eats raw vegetables, grains and fruit.
Single cook Jean McNeill, an attorney who gets home late from work, used to pop a frozen dinner in the oven. Now McNeill, who became a vegan (a vegetarian who does not eat dairy products) three years ago, cooks every night. But that doesn't necessarily mean soaking beans for two days, said McNeill. Among steamed vegetables, tofu scrambled with green peppers and onions, or a tempeh sauce for pasta, she can have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Both Suraci and McNeill are single cook/vegetarians who prepare meals in a minimum amount of time, but who have given up the fast food and frozen dinners that their carnivorous counterparts sometimes fall prey to.
While vegetarian single cooks share some of the same cooking and shopping problems inherent in any one-person household, the situation changes just a bit when meat is out of the picture.
For one, Suraci -- whose family ironically raises black angus cattle near Annapolis -- said he doesn't have to clean out greasy pans anymore and that his apartment smells like fresh fruits and vegetables (although sometimes the smell of bacon cooking in nearby apartments makes its way in).
For another, while some single vegetarians may spend more time shopping (patronizing both a food co-op and a regular supermarket) as well as preparing dinner, several interviewed report that they spend less money on groceries now that expensive meats are no longer on their shopping lists.
In addition, vegetarians obviously don't have to worry that the chicken casserole sitting in the refrigerator for a week is now moldy and smelly, although single vegetarian households may be more susceptible to fruit and vegetable spoilage. Some local single cook/vegetarians solve this problem by simply by buying one or two types of vegetables per week. For instance, McNeill said that one week she may buy brussels sprouts and zucchini and prepare them in various guises throughout the week, other vegetables the next week.
Local single cook/vegetarian Cecelia Connerton will buy small amounts of lots of vegetables and then will give whatever spoils to her landlady for the compost pile.
And at least two other local single vegetarian cooks solve the problem by sprouting their own vegetables. Eric Raun, an attorney, sprouts his own mung beans and alfalfa sprouts and sometimes his own lentils. To minimize wastage, Raun can sprout as much or as little as he wants at a time.
And Suraci said he gets double mileage out of the water he steams vegetables in by feeding it to the plants in his indoor sprout garden.
Steamers are essential for vegetarian single cooks, as are a good skillet or wok. And for long-cooking vegetables such as sweet potatoes, McNeill uses a pressure cooker.
Shelf staples of vegetarian single cooks are also staples of the cuisine. Brown rice and other grains, beans and spices such as curry powder and Italian seasonings will keep for months. Fresh vegetables that keep for a while such as potatoes, carrots and celery are kept on hand as are peanut butter, dried fruit and nuts for snacks or sandwiches. Suraci reports that his freezer is emptier now with his vegetarian life style, although Raun stocks his with big batches of beans that he uses in dishes during the week.
Dating or socializing with people who are not vegetarians is an issue that single vegetarians have learned to deal with. Ethnic restaurants, such as Chinese, Indian or Italian, are chosen for socializing for vegetarian or mixed groups. (In fact, McNeill said the baby vegetables served at French restaurants are perfect for her regime.) And some local vegetarians report that area restaurants are getting more accommodating in preparing meatless dishes on request.
If Howard University law student and vegetarian Phil Shapiro is invited to a potluck dinner, he knows not to volunteer for the dessert; he'll bring the main dish.
Claire Wilson, who teaches a vegetarian cooking course at First Class, is married to a carnivore and said she may make two versions of the same dish for herself and her husband. Her husband's portion of the pasta dish with chick peas and tomato sauce will get the ground beef; her portion won't. Or, she'll just prepare traditional meat-containing dishes minus the meat. The "meat sauce" for her eggplant parmesan contains ground up walnuts or crumbled oat burgers. Her eggrolls might contain shredded cabbage and carrots with chopped grapes and raisins. Often, Wilson said, if she doesn't tell people she's entertaining that the dish doesn't contain meat, they won't even notice.
Some quick dinner dish ideas from Wilson and local vegetarian single cooks include:
Use two or three cheeses on a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread. Sprinkle cheese with chopped or sliced green peppers before grilling.
Make a simple cold rice salad with shredded lettuce, grated cheese and salad dressing.
French fry tofu by slicing tofu in thin strips, dipping them in tamari and then nutritional yeast and deep frying.
Don't overlook the large variety of greens and vegetables that are available in local markets. Think of pretty color and texture combinations, too, such as a salad of red cabbage, chopped carrots, cucumber, avocado and a little oil and vinegar.
Use guacamole for more than simply a condiment. Spread it on pita with chopped onion, grated carrot and alfalfa sprouts.
A baked potato may be the ultimate single vegetarian dish. Top with pure'ed broccoli and a few whole florets.
Make enchilada suizas by rolling beans and salsa in a tortilla. Place in a casserole dish, pour over a layer of cream, top with shredded cheddar and monterey jack, and cook until hot and cheese is melted.
Here are some recipes for single vegetarians as well as their meat-eating counterparts.
SIDRA FORMAN'S ARTICHOKE FRITTATA WITH TWO CHEESES (1 serving)
1/2 small onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, diced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 ounces marinated artichoke hearts, drained
2 soda crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons grated jarlsberg or cheddar cheese
Butter for greasing pan
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese In a small skillet, saute' onion and garlic in vegetable oil until onion is translucent. In a bowl, combine eggs with artichoke hearts, soda crackers and grated jarlsberg or cheddar cheese. Add onion and garlic. Place egg mixture in a lightly buttered ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.
CLAIRE WILSON'S CURRY IN A HURRY (3 servings)
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon curry powder or more to taste
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Couscous or rice for serving Place eggplant in the base of a steamer basket. Steam for 15 minutes, or until tender.
In a large skillet, saute' diced onion in oil until translucent. Sprinkle in curry powder, parsley, red pepper flakes and garlic. Cook together until garlic is brown.
Mash eggplant with a fork or pure'e in a food processor or blender. Mix lemon juice into pure'e. Combine eggplant pure'e with onion-spice mixture and serve over couscous.
This dish is good leftover as a sandwich spread on whole wheat pita.
JEAN McNEILL'S TEMPEH SAUCE OVER GREEN AND WHITE PASTA (1 serving)
4 ounces tempeh
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup tomato sauce
1/8 teaspoon each basil, thyme and oregano
1 to 2 ounces spinach pasta
1 to 2 ounces regular pasta
Slice tempeh lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes. Saute' green pepper and onion in oil until onion is translucent. Add tempeh and stir until lightly browned. Add tomato sauce and herbs. Heat for 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat. Meanwhile, cook pasta and drain. Pour sauce over pasta and serve.
MICHAEL SURACI'S BROCCOLI, RED CABBAGE AND NUT SAUTE (2 servings)
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1/2 small onion, sliced into rings
2 tablespoons red bell pepper, diced
8 asparagus spears, tips only
2 stalks celery, sliced into chunks
1 cup broccoli florets
1/4 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mixed raw almonds and sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon tamari
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon basil
In a large skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Add onions, pepper and asparagus tips. Saute' until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery, broccoli and cabbage and saute' for 10 minutes. Add almonds, sunflower seeds, tamari, oregano and basil and saute' for 5 minutes more.
ERIC RAUN'S BULGUR AND BEANS (2 servings)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup uncooked bulgur
2 cups tomato sauce
3/4 cup cooked or canned beans (soy, pinto or navy)
Black pepper and cayenne to taste
In a saucepan over low heat, saute' the onion and garlic in water until onion is soft. Add bulgur, tomato sauce, beans and spices. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender. Add more water if necessary and continue cooking if bulgur is not tender.
CLAIRE WILSON'S OAT BURGERS (Makes 2 dozen burgers)
1 large onion, diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon parsley
1/4 cup brewer's yeast (optional)
5 cups old fashioned rolled oats (quick cooking or regular)
Saute' onion in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a saucepan. Add water, soy sauce, oregano, parsley and brewer's yeast and bring to a boil.
Add oats and continue to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
When cool, flatten out to a burger about 3 inches in diameter. Cook for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees on a lightly greased cookie sheet, flipping after 20 minutes. Serve as you would a hamburger. These burgers freeze well and can be broiled or reheated in a skillet. They can be eaten hot or cold, in a sandwich with lettuce, tomato and tahini spread or with hot mustard.