Friday, October 3, 2008

Vegetarian (Meatless) Shepherd's Pie and the Accidental Vegetarian

I don’t know when or how it happened, but meat's been nearly absent from my diet lately. Only seven ounces of the stuff disappeared down my gaping maw this week, including a piece of pork at a 1st birthday party, a ham sandwich, and a few bits of chicken in a Mexican posole soup. Last Thursday, I opted for a soft pretzel over a hot dog at Shea Stadium, and I don’t even LIKE their pretzels. They’re like chewing on salty comforters.

Don't get me wrong - my appetite for tasty, tasty animal flesh is still there. It’s just … I can control it now. Imagine Bruce Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk only when he feels like it, and you’ve kind of got the idea: “HULK SMASH … tomorrow! Maybe after my nap, when I’m all caught up on Grey’s Anatomy. ROAR!”

These days, instead of chicken fajitas and the occasional foot-long, I find myself gobbling Patricia Wells’ Eggplant in Spicy Tomato Sauce (delicious), Weight Watchers’ Baked Winter Squash, Raisin and Pine Nut Lasagna (needs less noodle), and Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie from All Recipes. All three (with a few alterations) are just as filling as meat dishes, if not moreso. And afterward, there's no guilt or fear of PETA workers picketing my apartment.

(Just kidding, PETA! I love you!)

(But seriously, you scare me sometimes.)

I made the Shepherd’s Pie earlier this week. While it wasn’t a whiz-bang grand slam, it was a solid ground-rule double: worthy of a weeknight meal, and ideal for lunch leftovers. Next time, I might add some mushrooms for substance, and cut the curry even further, as mine is hot enough to give my tongue an unpleasant chemical peel.

A few other notes:

1) $1.20 per serving may seem a bit high, but this is a full, filling meal. No side dishes required.

2) The dish tasted good right after it was prepared, but was better served cold three days later. I don’t know why. Physics? Planet alignment? God?

3) Nutritional numbers are straight from AllRecipes, so only the dollar amount is calculated below.

Readers, have you accidentally gone vegetarian lately? For financial purposes? Did you just stumble into it? Do tell.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
Makes 6 servings
Adapted from All Recipes.

1 1/4 pounds small red potatoes, halved
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or skim milk)
1 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pinch Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small red or green bell peppers, chopped
3 cups cubed eggplant, with peel
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water

1) Preheat oven to 400ºF. Prep an 8x8-inch baking dish.

2) Cook potatoes: boil them in a medium-large saucepan full of water until tender. When finished, drain. Add potatoes back into saucepan. Mash. Add peas, parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to incorporate. Set aside.

3) While potatoes are cooking, prep veggies: in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, curry, and cumin. Cook about five minutes, until onions are softened, stirring occasionally. Place mixture in a bowl. Set aside.

4) Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet. Add peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and water. Cook 20 minutes, until veggies are tender/soft, stirring occasionally. (It's a good idea to let a lot of the extra moisture evaporate.) Add onion mixture. Stir. Place contents of skillet in baking dish. Top with mashed potatoes.

5) Bake 15 minutes. Turn broiler on. Place dish in broiler for a few minutes so potatoes can brown. Remove from broiler and serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
192 calories, 7.7 g fat, $1.20

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: $0.24
1 large yellow onion: $0.46
4 cloves garlic: $0.16
1 tablespoon curry powder: $0.12
2 teaspoons ground cumin: $0.02
2 small red or green bell peppers: $1.38
3 cups cubed eggplant, with peel: $0.60
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes: $1.09
1/2 cup water: $0.00
1 1/4 pounds small red potatoes: $1.14
1/2 cup fat-free half and half (or skim milk): $ 0.12
1 cup frozen or fresh peas: $0.49
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese: $1.36
1 pinch Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste: $0.02
TOTAL: $7.20


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