Growing up in the Midwest, I was raised in a meat-eating family. We ate meat with breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it was usually the main feature of the meal. When my daughter began eating baby food, she refused to eat anything with meat in it. To this day, she remains a devout vegetarian. For years, my most difficult challenge was planning meals that would satisfy her desire for vegetables and everyone else’s desire for meat.
After suffering serious health problems that left me unemployed, I accepted a part-time job working as a prep chef at a health food store. Although the deli served a few meat entrees, the bulk of the meals were vegetarian. It was there I learned how to make foods that would please both vegetarian and carnivorous appetites.
Salads, soups, and pasta dishes are some of the most versatile foods that can be transformed to satisfy vegetarians and meat-eaters. The possibilities are nearly endless. Better yet, most of the foods can be prepared ahead of time to make dinnertime less time-consuming and stressful.
Salads are a perfect choice for vegetarians, but with the addition of chicken, beef, pork, or seafood they can also satisfy the meat lover in your household. Salads do not have to be boring and can include a smorgasbord of ingredients.
One of my favorite salad blends is to combine a variety of lettuces such as Romaine, Iceberg and Red or Green Leaf, along with diced carrots, English cucumber, red, yellow or green Bell peppers, red onion or scallions, radishes and tomatoes.
Adding cooked beans will help vegetarians achieve the daily recommended allowance of protein. Good choices include: kidney beans, garbanzo beans, cannellini (white kidney beans), and black beans.
Cheeses can further enhance flavors of a bountiful salad. It’s best to match cheeses to the type of meat that will be added, as well as the combination of vegetables. Parmesan-Reggiano, Cheddar, and Mozzarella pair well with chicken. Bleu cheese and Gorgonzola pair well with beef.
Believe it or not, goat cheese compliments the flavor of pork. When adding seafood to salads, it’s best to forego adding cheese as this is considered a culinary no-no. But, if you’re a rule-breaker try adding Brie cheese with grilled or breaded shrimp.
Fruits can also be added to salads. Some of my favorites include mandarin oranges, apples, grapes, cherries, figs, and avocados. When adding fruit, I often toss in a handful of chopped nuts such as pecans, walnuts, or macadamia.
All types of meat can be added to salads. For lunch salads, I sometimes add a selection of deli lunch meats. Make it fancy by rolling the meats and slicing diagonally into bite-size pieces. You can also add a scoop of chicken, tuna, or egg salad to the bed of greens.
When making salad as a dinner entrée, add a grilled chicken breast, breaded chicken strips, baked salmon, blackened mahi-mahi, shrimp skewers, pork tenderloin medallions, or strips of London broil.
By using a variety of greens, vegetables, fruits, cheeses, nuts, and meats you could literally eat salad for each meal, every day of the week and never eat the same entrée.
Creating vegetarian and carnivore-friendly soups is nearly as easy as creating salads. Most soups that incorporate meat can be turned into a vegetarian soup. Chili is one of the easiest soups to adapt. There are literally thousands of chili recipes, but most include hamburger, beef, or sausage. These meats can be cooked ahead of time and added to the chili when it’s being served. It’s best to keep the meat warm on the stovetop or reheat in the microwave prior to adding to the soup in order to maintain the temperature.
Chicken noodle soup is another soup that is easily adaptable. Chicken chunks or shredded chicken can be added once the soup is made. The stock can be made from homemade or canned vegetable stock. Meat-eaters that prefer more chicken flavor can dissolve a chicken bouillon cube in veggie stock and add to their bowl of soup prior to serving.
Vegetable beef soup is one of my personal favorite soups to make. It includes a mix of cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, corn, peas, dark red kidney beans, cut spaghetti, and stew beef. Again, it is simple to cook the beef ahead of time and add it to the soup upon serving.
Pasta is a staple in our house because of its extreme versatility. Besides being able to choose from endless varieties, pasta can be served hot or cold, as a side dish, casserole, entrée, or added to soups. As long as there is pasta in the cupboard, there will be dinner on the table.
Good old fashioned spaghetti is a great choice for vegetarian and meat-eater families. Ground hamburger is a common ingredient in pasta sauces, but hamburger can be cooked ahead of time and placed on top of cooked spaghetti, then adding vegetarian sauce on top.
Lasagna can be made as half vegetarian and half meat-lover by adding meat sauce to one half of the layers. Mark the meat side by adding a layer of ground beef on top or by inserting a few wooden skewers down the middle of the casserole.
Stuffed shells can easily be converted into a meat-eater dish by adding meat sauce once the shells are baked. Just as with the spaghetti sauce, meat can be added into the sauce prior to serving.
Vegetarians and meat-eaters can co-exist in culinary harmony by allowing yourself to tap into your creative side. With a little planning, most recipes can be tweaked to satisfy the taste buds of family members without the need for total compromise from anyone.