By Ernest Barteldes
A few years ago Renata and I joined some friends for barbecue, and when I pulled out Andouille chicken sausages and some vegetables to add to the grill, one person asked me how come I didn’t bring any beef.
My response was simple: we never buy or consume any beef at home. Instead, we go for seafood, poultry of meat-free dishes. My reply was met with shock from one of our meat-loving companions: “How do you live?” she asked, completely surprised that we never ate beef save for very exceptional situations – an example being, say a trip to Poland where Gołabki (stuffed cabbage) is inevitably made with beef.
My personal reason is that years in Brazil – where beef is king – got me tired of the stuff – living in the northeastern part of the country where the weather is mild year-round, every party was a barbecue, and it was beef all the time. When I started dating a girl that didn’t like beef, I realized that yes, there were other foods beyond the usual. Since I am the cook of the house, I guess Renata got used to it and has never complained about it.
Back when we first started living together, Renata and I attempted a vegetarian diet, but ultimately that didn’t work since we are both very fond of seafood – I recall that when we took our first trip to Brazil together in 2007, we couldn’t have enough of the boiled crabs they routinely serve at the beach restaurants at Praia do Futuro, Fortaleza’s main beach area – and the many other typical fish-based dishes prepared in local restaurants.
But we do keep meat-free days at least once or twice a week, and this is something that we both find effortless to do, since we don’t have that silly sensation of having “a hole in the plate” whenever meats are not present. Also, there are many dishes that are naturally meat-free, such as gnocci, spinach tortellini, falafel sandwiches and many, many more.
And it’s not like any kind of struggle is necessary – there are countless ways to substitute meats, since most supermarkets often carry vegetarian versions of hamburgers, sausages and other products. For instance, Trader Joe’s carries many varieties of veggie burgers – one we often buy is their vegetable masala burger, which is made with potatoes, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, onions, corn and green peppers with Indian spices such as coriander, cumin, red chili powder and turmeric. The flavor is not too intense, and they have been a breakfast on Fridays, since Renata was raised abstaining from meat while growing up in Poland.
One favorite option at home are vegetarian koftas, which are made with shredded cabbage, cauliflower and chickpea flour (besan) plus whatever spices you want to add. I make them either with curry sauce and white rice or with spaghetti and tomato sauce – which taste almost like their meatball counterpart. I learned the recipe from Higher Taste, a book published by the Hare Krishna movement – all recipes vegetarian, of course.
Koftas with Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce
1 lb pasta
1 28 oz can marinara sauce
2 cups chopped cauliflower
2 cups chopped cabbage
1 ½ chickpea flour (besan)
½ teaspoon hing
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon ground tumeric
pinch of cayenne
ghee or oil for fying.
Instructions: Cook 1 lb. pasta according to package instructions until al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Heat ghee or oil in a deep frying pan or 2-quart saucepan. Combine all of kofta ingredients in a bowl. Roll in 24 balls, 1 inch in diameter. Place as many balls in the ghee as possible, leaving enough room for them to float comfortably. Fry over medium heat for 10 minutes, until the kofta is a rich golden brown. Drain in colander. Place the kofta in the tomato sauce 5 minutes before serving. If after sitting the kofta soaks up most of the sauce, add a little water to produce more liquid. Cook spaghetti as directed on box. Serve kofta and sauce over spaghetti.