Five Ways to Eat When You’re Eating Less Meat

For about six weeks this winter, I didn’t eat any beef, chicken, or pork, as I experimented with some new flavors and learned a few new ways to cook vegetables. My change in diet wasn’t for any particular health-related or religious reason, and I don’t have an especially strong moral or environmental objection to eating meat. Rather, it was just something to shake up my routine during the late stages of the pandemic. If you’re considering eating less meat, here are five strategies that worked for me. While I certainly might have enjoyed a tasty burger from time to time, these foods helped give me enough variety that I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.

1) Eat more fish

Most of the seafood I eat tends to come in sushi form, but during my meat hiatus I mixed things up by checking out a couple of fish markets for the first time. Seattle Fish Guys in the Central District offers a wide selection of fresh fish as well as poke bowls and chowder, but also serves up a delectable, if a bit messy, crab sub on a toasted bun with green onion, Japanese mayo, and Sriracha.  I also enjoyed a Dungeness crab roll at Market Fishmonger & Eatery in Edmonds. The sandwich is stuffed with fresh crabmeat, served on a warm Macrina bun, and topped with arugula, house aioli, and brown butter. For a familiar taste, I also visited my favorite poke spot in Wallingford, 45th Stop N Shop, for an always-delightful bowl filled with salmon, izumidai, rice, greens, seaweed salad, Japanese pickles, and more.

Meanwhile, I also used this time to cook more fish at home. For one dinner, I used one of the Omsom starters I wrote about in February to create a delicious Vietnamese lemongrass shrimp stir-fry. Recently, I pan-grilled scallops with a simple miso and mirin glaze. And I also ate some briny Kusshi and Kumamoto West Coast oysters with a classic mignonette.

2) Eat more Middle Eastern food

Falafel is your friend when you’re not eating meat, and Seattle has no shortage of great options. One of my favorite food finds recently has been Yalla in Capitol Hill, which describes its menu as having Palestinian, Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian roots. The falafel there were crispy outside and creamy inside, and the fermented turnip pickles that accompanied them provided a sharp contrast. I also tried the eggplant wrap called batinjan, served on homemade saj bread with tomatoes, olives, greens, and the fermented hot sauce known as shatta. (I tried making my own shatta as well, but the balance of tomatoes and chilies wasn’t quite right on my first attempt.)

Another great spot for falafel is Mean Sandwich in Ballard. In its “Midnight at the Oasis” sandwich, the deep-fried chickpea fritters are accompanied by hummus, harissa beets, and Persian pickles, and come with a side of salt-and-pepper seasoned potato skins. And I also tried the falafel plate at Iyad’s Syrian Grill, a food truck that operates four days a week at lunchtime on Vashon Island, and serves its specialty with hummus as well as salad and pita.

At home, I cooked a few dishes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, including asparagus and gochujang pancakes, cucumber salad with sumac-marinated onions, and “ultimate roasting-pan ragu” with oyster and dried porcini mushrooms, miso paste, and rose harissa. While I enjoyed the complex flavors in the sauce, this was one recipe where lentils weren’t really an adequate substitute for ground beef. A more successful cooking experiment was shakshuka, which I made from a New York Times recipe featuring avocado, lime, and feta. It’s a Middle Eastern dish which in this preparation has both Mediterranean and Mexican flavors, and stars the subject of my next category.

3) Eat more eggs

According to French legend, a chef’s hat known as a toque is said to have 100 folds, representing a hundred different ways to cook eggs. And the versatility of eggs that I wrote about last week is incredibly helpful for people who are eating less meat. I won’t recount all of the suggestions from that post, but it’s possible to eat different preparations of eggs for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, and never run out of ideas. Over the past six weeks I’ve particularly enjoyed the deviled eggs at Junebaby in Ravenna, which were part of an Easter takeout feast,  and khachapuri, the Georgian bread boat topped with a barely-cooked egg, at Skalka downtown.

4) Eat more Asian food

Seattle is fortunate to have an incredible diversity of Asian restaurants, and all of these cuisines have plenty of options that cater to diners who are eating less meat. Over the past six weeks I’ve enjoyed the royal biryani (with shrimp) and mango curry (with tofu) from Taste of India in the University District, a catfish banh mi from the Vietnamese Le’s Deli and Bakery in Rainier Valley, and fancy rolls from Sam’s Sushi in Ballard. And on weekend excursions outside of Seattle, I’ve also eaten a handful of Chinese and Thai dishes without feeling like I was giving anything up by not including meat as my protein.

I’ve also made good use of Asian flavors in a few recipes I’ve cooked at home this winter, including two dishes from Christopher Kimball’s new cookbook called Cookish: green beans with ginger and coconut milk, and rice pudding with star anise and cinnamon.

5) Eat more fresh produce

One final suggestion to expand your dietary repertoire is to cook dishes that include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, using seasonal produce and fresh herbs whenever possible. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made risotto using a technique by Kenji Lopez-Alt that featured mushrooms, as well as a spectacular asparagus, goat cheese, and tarragon tart, and a tangy, fresh mango gazpacho. And I topped my homemade pizza with fresh basil and lots of mozzarella.

You might have noticed that during my recap of six weeks without eating meat, I never mentioned trying the Impossible Burger or other fake-meat substitutes. While these might be great choices for some people, I never felt like I was lacking for options for delicious things to eat, even if they didn’t look or taste like beef or chicken.

Now that my meat hiatus is over, I’m sure that I’ll continue to regularly incorporate fish, eggs, produce, and Middle Eastern and Asian flavors into my diet. But I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a plate of fried chicken, a grilled pork banh mi, and a juicy burger. I’ve missed my tasty, meaty friends.

What are your favorite ways to change up your diet by eating less meat? Leave a comment and let me know!

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What I Ate: Asparagus, goat cheese, and tarragon tart

When you're eating less meat this asparagus and goat cheese tart is a great recipe to try

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