Enjoying Local Food on Meatless Monday

Whether it be the vibrant yolk of "this morning's eggs," produce fresh from the field, or the treat of that summer's raspberry jam on a cold winter day, local food is something that enhances life in Minnesota all year round. But more than simply bringing enjoyment to our lives, our food choices can also have meaning beyond the plate, as evidenced by the ever-growing Meatless Monday campaign.

Meatless Monday is a non-profit, grassroots initiative of the Monday Campaigns and the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health. The movement's goal is to reduce meat consumption 15% to help improve personal health and reduce the carbon footprint associated with meat production. Meatless Monday fits perfectly into the local food movement, encouraging people to spend the day focusing on sustainable, healthy meals that promote the values we stand for. Meatless Monday can be less about what we're not eating and more about what we are doing -- for our health, for the planet and for the local food scene. 

For as long as I can remember, my favorite foods have been vegetables. For me, Meatless Mondays are not so much a challenge as a treat -- a chance to experiment with creating new recipes. Here are a few of my recent Meatless Monday dishes. The recipes aren't exact, so feel free to experiment and modify to your liking.

Tempeh Cassoulet 

(Adapted from Mark Bittman's Cassoulet with lots of vegetables.)

For this dish, I followed Bittman's recipe, using the cabbage instead of zucchini (I'll try that next summer), and replacing the sausage with cubed tempeh. It went like this:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound Italian sausages, bone-in pork chops, confit duck legs, or duck breasts, or a combination 2 packages tempeh (I use Westsoy original)

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 leeks or onions, trimmed, washed, and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths

3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium zucchinis or 1 small head green cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cups chopped tomatoes, with their juice (canned are fine)

1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley leaves

1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

4 cups cooked white beans (canned are OK), drained, with the liquid reserved

2 cups stock, dry red wine, bean cooking liquid, or water, plus more as needed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

  1. Cut two blocks of tempeh into 1-inch cubes. Marinate for as little as 30 minutes or as long as overnight in a plastic bag with chopped garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and vegetable stock and/or tomato sauce.
  2. In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat some of the chopped garlic and olive oil over medium heat, then add the tempeh and saute until golden brown and slightly crisp on the edges. Remove the tempeh and this batch of garlic, and reserve until the very end.
  3. (Now it's just Bittman's recipe) Add a little more garlic, leeks or onions, carrots, celery, and zucchini or cabbage; sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their liquid, and the herbs and bring to a boil. Add the beans; bring to a boil again, stirring occasionally; reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles gently but continuously. Cook for about 20 minutes, adding the liquid when the mixture gets thick and the vegetables are melting away.
  4. When everything is just about done, toss the tempeh cubes back in and give everything a good stir. Make sure to fish out the bay leaves, serve hot and enjoy!

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Stir-Fried Quinoa with an Egg 

(Modification of Bittman's version of Jean-Gorges fried rice.)

2 cups cooked quinoa

2 leeks, trimmed and chopped into coins

Chopped cabbage, about 1 small (I used a bunch of baby cabbages from the farmers market)

Chopped garlic and ginger

Oil (sesame would be good, but all I had was olive oil)

Eggs (1 for each person) - I'm a fan of the Farm on Wheels pastured eggs at the St. Paul Farmers Market

  1. Heat about 1 teaspoon of oil in a large skillet or wok. Saute the garlic and ginger until golden brown and slightly crisp. Remove from pan and reserve on paper towel.
  2. Add some more oil to the pan, if needed, and saute the leeks and cabbage until tender. Add the cooked quinoa and toss everything around in the pan until the quinoa is browned.
  3. In the meantime (or with a helper) heat some oil in another pan and cook one egg for each person. (Working alone, I heated a small steel pan, cracked the egg in, and covered it with a ramekin with the heat off while I finished the quinoa).
  4. Dish some of the stir-fried quinoa and veggies onto plates and top each with an egg. Hopefully the yolk will still be just a touch runny. Drizzle soy sauce over the top and enjoy.

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Red Chard in a Saffron-Paprika Broth with Red Rice (and because I felt like it, some scrambled eggs with smoked paprika - although it would have been good without them as well).

1 bunch red chard, ribs chopped into 1-2 inch pieces and leaves cut into random but manageable pieces

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup red rice (I got this at Mississippi Market, Alter Eco brand)

2 cups water

About 1 cup saffron-paprika broth (I made this with homemade vegetable stock, a pinch of saffron, black pepper, and a generous spoonful of smoked spanish paprika)

Chopped cilantro

  1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the rice, cover and reduce heat to low. Rice should simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
  2. In the meantime, heat a large, coverable stock pot or dutch oven and add the chard ribs and saffron broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and cover. After about 10 minutes, add the chard leaves and give everything a good stir. Cover the pot again for about 10 minutes. Remove the cover and cook until everything is tender, the chard leaves are wilted and most of the liquid has boiled off.
  3. Spoon the chard onto plates and top with some of the red rice. Garnish the rice with cilantro - and for additional "looks" you can arrange some of the red chard ribs on top of the red rice. (I put a little bit of the scrambled eggs on top of all that, but I bet black beans or something similar would be good too).

Andy Cook acquired his love of food and cooking while growing up in a family that understood the importance of good food. Outside of politics (where he currently works in communications for the Minnesota House Republicans), Andy enjoys reading, writing, road biking, and -- of course -- local, organic and sustainable food. You can follow him on Twitter at @amcook87.