Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meatless Monday: Three Go-To's for Great Flavor

Do you eat meatless on Mondays?  If you do, is it easy for you to pull off?  Or do you find yourself missing the meat in every meal?  

I have long had the assumption (and I have no idea how accurate it is) that meat-eaters feel deprived when they eat a vegetarian meal.  As a result, I have labored over every menu I have planned where the target audience included carnivores.  In the process I have developed some techniques for satisfying even the meat lovers out there.

The most important element to a phenomenal vegetarian meal is flavor.  In other words, don't skimp.  If you're using garlic, use a little extra.  If your recipe calls for herbs, pile them in.  And don't cut back on salt or oil either.

When I'm especially concerned with pleasing the palate of meat lovers, I usually go for some smokey heat to give it a little something extra.  Even when the smokiness is subtle, I find that it helps to round out the flavor of just about any dish. And it just might make your favorite meat eater feel more satisfied by mimicking the flavor of meat.

I have three secret weapons I often turn to for this purpose, and they are all in my spice cabinet.

Cumin, ground chipotle, and smoked paprika are my go-to ingredients when I want to add a little something extra to a dish.  Cumin is the mildest of the three.  I find that a couple dashes of cumin will add an earthiness that works well in almost any dish.  I even use cumin with pumpkin or other types of winter squash. (I worry that a more robust smokiness might overpower them.)

Both smoked paprika and chipotle are more intense.  They also have a lot of heat to them, so use sparingly.  I tend to choose either smoked paprika or chipotle as a flavor enhancer in dishes that are traditionally seasoned with meat.  For example, I add smoked paprika or chipotle to vegetables (such as greens) or beans that are often seasoned with ham or bacon.  I also use them to flavor sauces that traditionally include meat, such as an Italian ragu or chili.  My best advice is to have fun experimenting.  Regardless of how you decide to use them, these are great tools to have in your arsenal.

Do you have any tips for adding flavor to your favorite veggie dishes?  Please send them my way!

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