August 9, 2011 / 10:19 AM / 6 years ago

World Chefs: Overcoming skepticism about meatless meals

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As the granddaughter of a butcher who ate a standard American diet as a child, cookbook author Sarah Matheny may not seem to be the most likely promoter of a vegetarian diet.

The Oregon-based former divorce lawyer started questioning what she ate when she was pregnant with her first daughter. After leaving her job to become a stay-at-home mother, Matheny started a blog that eventually led to her first cookbook “Peas and Thank You: Simple Meatless Meals the Whole Family Will Love,” which is published this month.

“Everybody can be happy and satisfied eating this way,” she said.

Matheny spoke to Reuters about making tasty meals, getting enough protein without eating meat and why a vegetarian lifestyle is accessible to everyone.

Q: Why did you decide to become a vegetarian?

A: “I had a moment when I become a parent. The realization came upon me that the same animals I was teaching my children to be kind to were basically the same animals that were ending up on our plates. That double message I was sending to my kids made me more conscious of how I was going to feed my family.”

Q: How did you go from being a divorce lawyer to a cookbook author?

A: ”It was quite the jump. As soon as I became a mom I always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. When I become pregnant and decided to stay home with my oldest daughter I was looking for an outreach in a way to have a sense of community and interacting with other people. That was when I started the blog

“Through sharing recipes and stories and following my family’s transition to a vegetarian diet, all the feedback I was getting and that sense of community came about. We decided to go ahead and write the book because readers were asking for more recipes and more stories. The book seemed like the perfect way to do that.”

Q: What was the reaction of your family to you becoming a vegetarian?

A: “At first it was a path I was taking on my own ... My husband had also been raised on the standard American diet so he was used to his meat and potatoes. Eventually after about a month or two of me cooking three separates meals -- one for myself, my husband and my kids -- I was exhausted. My husband was a saint and stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Let me try what you are having.’ As soon as he did, he was completely on board.”

Q: What did you substitute for meat?

A: “The way I went about it was to try to find recipes that we already enjoyed, like chicken and dumplings and tacos and burgers and pizza, but then recreate them in a way that was using whole foods like grains and beans but still using the same spices and flavors that we are accustomed to and have in our pantries already.”

Q: Was it an easy thing to do?”

A: “It really was because I just experimented.”

Q: A big concern for vegetarians is getting enough protein. How do you address that?

A: “Whole grains, beans and nuts are naturally rich in proteins and even vegetables that people don’t expect. My favorite thing to tell people is that a cup of steamed broccoli has five grams of proteins, so when you sit down and eat two cups of steamed broccoli you are going to eat 10 grams of protein, which is the equivalent to maybe half a chicken breast. When you incorporate all these things together in whole meals you will find that you have more than enough protein.”

Q: What advice would you give a family that wants to reduce the amount of animal protein in their diet?

A: “I would say approach it from the idea that you will do it slowly and take it one step at a time ... Make the food and it will speak for itself. When you have clean plates you will realize that your family may be more ready for this than you think.”

Green and Red Lentil Enchiladas (makes 8)

1 30-ounce cans of prepared green enchilada sauce, divided

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

8 to 10 corn tortillas or La Hacienda de Peas Tortillas

2 cups non-dairy (i.e. Daiya) or organic cheese

1 4-ounce can sliced olives, drained

Trimmings: non-dairy or organic sour cream, chopped cilantro, shredded lettuce, diced fresh tomatoes


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Bring one can enchilada sauce and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add lentils, onion and jalapeno, if using, and cook approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Liquid should be absorbed completely and lentils should be tender. Stir in chopped cilantro and set aside.

Meanwhile, wrap 8 to 10 tortillas in damp paper towels and microwave for approximately 30 to 45 seconds to soften

4. Pour the last can of green enchilada sauce in the bottom of a baking dish.

5. Put several spoonfuls of the lentil mixture into each tortilla and roll, placing the tortilla seam-side down in the prepared pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas

6. Pour an additional cup of green enchilada sauce over rolled tortillas (you may not use all the sauce), and top with cheese and sliced olives.

Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Paul Casciato

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