About thirteen years ago, I became a vegetarian. I remember when I came upon that decision – I was sitting in bed, feeling somewhat heavy and uncomfortable with having eaten some meat earlier on. It didn’t feel right to me, so I started to contemplate going vegetarian. I know, right – that escalated quickly!
For some time, I had been wondering why I ate animals when I adored them so much, so vegetarianism wasn’t a completely new idea to me, but I suppose it really hit me at that particular moment. So I decided to become vegetarian, partly for the animals and the other part for my health. I didn’t want to feel heavy and uncomfortable anymore because of what I chose to eat.
However, I did not quit cold turkey overnight. (Pun intended.) After all, I didn’t dislike the taste of meat, so yeah, it wasn’t exactly easy to say “stop” and do it. It was a gradual process; little by little, I cut out meat until I didn’t feel the need to eat it anymore.
The most difficult part, though, was that my vegetarian food got boring and repetitive. My dad was the main cook in our house (and might I add, a darn terrific cook!), but Chinese vegetarian food pretty much consisted of tofu, stir-fried vegetables, and rice. My taste buds craved variety, and so making this diet change led to this life-changer:
I learned how to cook.
Before then, my older sister and I had “dabbled” in cooking anniversary dinners and such for our parents. We once chose to make an Athenian Fried Rice recipe from a cookbook, which was chock full of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, oregano, and feta cheese. We didn’t know what some of the ingredients were, so we skipped the sun-dried tomatoes, oregano, and feta cheese. Basically, we made Athenian Fried Rice without the Athenian.
Anyway, cooking wasn’t something I was good at, but I knew that if I wanted to eat vegetarian meals that enticed my taste buds, I had to do it myself. So I started cooking. I whipped up frittatas stuffed with a bunch of vegetables, pasta dishes that made us go Mamamia!, and best of all, hearty soups that went perfectly with homemade cornbread.
By cooking my own vegetarian meals, I was able to discover a variety of new foods and didn’t even miss the meat one bit. How could I when a seared portobello was plenty tasty in between burger buns and topped with smoked mozzarella and roasted red bell peppers? Why think about meat when I was busy stuffing my face with tender, flavorful collard greens simmered with some simple seasonings?
I have never looked back ever since, and being vegetarian is as much a part of me now as creativity is. Of course, being vegetarian has its annoying parts (like how most non-vegetarians think you only eat – and want – salad; for the record, salad will never be picked first for my team), but finding new ways to enjoy vegetables has been one tasty adventure I am not ready to close the book on.
One thing I love just as much as cooking good food is drawing good food, so I figured I’d post food illustrations with you here as a way of sharing some tasty recipes as well.
Here is a recipe that I’ve tried recently that I couldn’t get enough of – Chipotle Portobello Burgers with Guacamole. The recipe is adapted from Cook Smarts, and you can get the full recipe here. (They also have options for non-vegetarian, gluten-free, and paleo.)
By adapted, I mean that I completely ridded the recipe of cilantro. I cannot stand the stuff!
*This recipe makes two burgers, so double all the ingredients if you want to make enough for four servings.
1. Marinate Mushrooms
Make the marinade by whisking together:
- 1½ Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- ½ Tbsp red wine vinegar
- ½ Tbsp adobo sauce (found in canned chipotle peppers)
Remove stems from 2 portobello mushrooms, then smother them with the marinade, making sure the sauce is coating every nook. Marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.
2. Make Guacamole
Before you make the guacamole, get the oven heated to 350 degrees F for the buns. Okay, now let’s make guacamole!
- 1 Tbsp shallot, minced
- 1 avocado
- Lime juice, to taste
- Salt, to taste
Another tip I got from Cook Smarts that I always use now is to add a bit of Sriracha. It adds a little spice and really good flavor. Or, you can mix in some more adobo sauce or minced chipotle for some more smoky spiciness.
3. Sear Portobellos
Season portobellos with some salt and pepper, and heat a grill pan or skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp of cooking oil to heated, then add the mushrooms, top down, and sear for about 3 minutes. Flip the mushrooms and continue to cook until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Add Cheese
This is optional, but trust me, the Swiss cheese makes this burger really, really good. Add a slice of Swiss cheese to the mushroom tops and let it melt and get all oozy goozy.
5. Toast Buns
While the mushrooms are cooking, pop hamburger buns into the preheated 350 degree oven and toast until toasty. This usually takes about 5 minutes in my oven. It will be quicker in a toaster oven, but either way, set a timer and check earlier than later! Nothing is sadder than burnt buns.
6. Assemble Burgers
Place a sizzling portobello with oozy goozy cheese on a toasty bun. Add a good scoop of guacamole, then top with the remaining half of the toasty bun.
7. Now Eat!
Mmm … so good and messy! Yes, you will need an extra napkin or two, because the juiciness from the portobellos is most insistent on dripping down your hands, and if you were generous with your guacamole (which I highly advise), it will want to fall everywhere.
Cook Smarts’ recipe calls for sweet potato fries, which of course, go wonderfully with this burger. Frozen fries are such an easy way to enjoy burgers-and-fries for dinner; just follow the package directions and get those in the oven before you make the guacamole. Oven-roasted kale chips would also be very good, if you fancy some greens!
If you make this recipe, do let me know in the comments what you think. Like I said, Cook Smarts also has meat versions of the burger, so if you make one of those versions, let me know as well!