By Nigel Spence
It is quite a challenge to make the move from being a carnivore all of one’s life to suddenly needing to be vegan or vegetarian for health reasons. This usually means that the change is out of necessity and not by choice. The reality of that need to eat more healthy usually begins after a trip to the doctor’s office and the requisite counseling about any one of the myriad of ailments you may have succumbed to, and the guilt of that extra 25 pounds you accumulated since your last visit that speaks directly to the prescriptions you are about to fill.
Whenever I encounter someone struggling with the concept of maintaining a plant-based diet, the first thing I try to get them to understand is that they don’t have to be so hard on themselves.
If you were eating meat for the last 39 years, its ok to slowly incorporate a more plant-based approach to your dishes over time, rather than punish yourself with a cold turkey (pardon the pun) approach that almost always fails.
That’s the moment when I introduce them to what I now like to call my “transitional cuisine”.
This approach to preparing meals is very appealing to those who want to eat more plant-based food but who presume that eating this way is bland and boring. They also feel deprived if there isn’t a hunk of meat on the plate with all those greens.
I then try to dispel the myth that a plant-based diet means eating salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner, by showing how ingredients such as beans, mushrooms, cauliflower and ancient grains can easily take center stage on a plate and put animal protein instead as one of the supporting cast.
A great illustration of the concept that I tend to go to first is this bean dish that starts in the pressure cooker with vegetable stock.
The beans in this recipe are called vaquero or cow beans because of the color of the bean, but almost any type of bean works also.
They go from dry to fully cooked in a pressure cooker in 40 minutes. I like to use these particular beans for this type of transitional stew as they hold their shape well and cooks up hearty and savory which makes them good on their own or great with just a few supporting ingredients.
To quickly thicken the stew after cooking, I remove about half a cup of the cooked beans along with some cooking liquid, pulse them a few times in a blender and pour it back in with the rest of the beans.
Unlike a regular stew, I add the supporting ingredients at the end of the cooking process to allow their contributing flavors to shine brightly, rather than meld together and get somewhat lost in the overall flavor of the stew such as when it is cooked for an extended period of time. This transitional type of cooking relies heavily on this technique to elevate the simplest dishes to higher levels of complexity and palate satisfaction with minimal use of meat protein or flavor enhancers common to conventional cooking.
Adding an extremely flavorful meat protein in a small amount goes to great lengths to achieve that savory taste a carnivore is used to without the heavy meat protein content in the finished dish. In other words you get a great bang of flavor for the buck!
For 3 cups of cooked beans, I used 1 oz of finely chopped uncured smoked bratwurst sausage made with Mangalitsa pork, which has a high fat to meat ratio and extremely tasty. I will admit this is an extreme example as it’s hard to find as much flavor in 1 oz of anything else except maybe codfish (another favorite for this type of cooking).
I also use lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, dill, cilantro, fresh sliced green onions, fresh picked tomatoes, a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil and chipotle chili hot pepper flakes with a sprinkle of rosemary infused salt. The result is an extremely flavorful bean stew with all the savory flavors to satisfy a carnivore’s senses, along with the brightness of the additional ingredients added at the end of the cooking time, without the guilt of an animal protein heavy plate of food.
I firmly believe this approach is healthier than meat substitutes for carnivores looking for a fix, as the ingredient list on most vegan meat substitutes are scarier than meat itself and might do more damage to your system than a mere sprinkling of meat.
I do understand that many don’t eat meat for ethical reasons, but that’s beyond the scope of this particular approach, although the ultimate goal is still reducing and eventually eliminating the craving for meat.
So for those looking to get over the hump of letting go of meat and living with a more plant focused diet, this concept has helped many to do just that.
Almost Vegan Bean Stew
1-pound dry Beans
1 oz smoked Bratwurst Sausage (or any smoked sausage)
1 cup Tomatoes, fresh, medium dice
½ cup Parsley, roughly chopped
½ cup Cilantro, roughly chopped
½ cup Green Onions, finely sliced
¼ cup fresh Dill, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh Garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Coconut oil
1 teaspoon Lemon zest, fresh
2 tablespoons Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon Chipotle pepper flakes (can substitute hot Paprika)
1 tablespoon Rosemary infused salt (can use regular salt)
Add six cups of water to pressure cooker. Add the beans and pressure cook on high for 40 minutes. Quick release the pressure. Allow the beans to cool for 10 minutes, then add ½ cup of the beans with some of the cooking liquid to a blender. Blend for 10 seconds and pour that mixture back into the stew and stir to thicken.
Add all additional ingredients into the stew and cook for 5 minutes more over medium heat, stirring to incorporate. Remove from heat and serve.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.