I used to think my vegetarian friends’ lives were seriously lacking. Meat is so tasty, why go without it? Other times, I’d think, Man, they’re brave, knowing that I wouldn’t last a week. Sometimes, this led to resentful, defensive dialogues (with my own thoughts, mind you) about how they just couldn’t appreciate food as much as I could, what with my extremely developed taste buds, and were simply incapable of understanding how to enjoy a cut of savory, succulent meat like I could. In a whirlwind, I would suddenly pity them, their mediocre palates and inevitably malnourished bodies (ya know, since there’s no way to get sufficient nutrients without consuming tender slabs of cooked animal flesh).
Well. After sitting down with a few good nutritional reads (including Clean Plates NYC and Food Matters), watching Food, Inc., familiarizing myself more with the misinformation distributed by our government (and you trusted the Food Pyramid all these years) and doing some general boning up on the subject of food nutrition, I’ve learned a thing or two.
The first is that my malcontent toward diligent veg-heads stemmed from jealousy, rather than pity, that they could not only muster the self-discipline to eliminate an entire category of foodstuffs from their diet but could actually manage to be satisfied while doing so.
The second is this: Americans eat a lot of meat. It’s probably not just us but rather most of the Western Hemisphere. And no, this isn’t a political stance against meat or the American public. It’s just that edible plants have been way underplayed over the years, consistently being cast in minor roles as spineless, wimpy sidekicks to brawny, egocentric main courses that formerly mooed, oinked or squawked.
As a food lover, I am an avid and adventurous eater of nearly all walks or stalks of life, but unlike what you may have learned in elementary school, meat is not a mandatory requirement of a balanced meal… or diet for that matter. In fact, skipping it at least once daily is a simple way to cut back on calories and cholesterol, not to mention your budget.
I won’t be giving up eating meat anytime soon, but I’ve surged into the world of the flexitarian, making a conscious effort to reduce my meat-based intake and explore plant- and legume-forward entres, which has led me to discover a wide variety of tasty dishes that are often surprisingly satisfying, sans meat. One such dish I first made back in college with one of my favorite vegetarian, bohemian babes. With a short list of ingredients – and not a meat among them – this meal manages to be fuss-free yet indulgent, a perfect comfort food for a blistering winter evening.
I’m still coming around to the texture of eggplant as I experiment with different preparations, but I freaking love this dish. By simmering it in veggie (or chicken) broth while cooking the tortellini, the eggplant loses its sponginess, breaking down to become part of the zesty, garlicky sauce.
Tortellini with Eggplant and Peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 red bell peppers, cut into ½-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 pound cheese tortellini (I’m partial to spinach pasta)
- ½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- ½ cup Parmesan, grated
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, bell pepper, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies begin to soften, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add broth and tortellini, cover, and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tortellini are cooked through and most of broth is absorbed, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Fold in parsley, top with grated Parmesan and serve with a bold red wine, if desired.