Whether your customers are strict vegetarians, vegans or you simply want to add a few vegetarian meals into your menu rotation, you can make full-flavored healthy meals as easily as any meat-based dish. As long as you serve a variety of vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and beans, your customers should get the protein they need without meat, and in many cases without animal products at all.
Include dark leafy greens such as kale, chard and spinach as well as whole grains in your vegetarian cooking. These provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, B-12 and zinc. If you are avoiding dairy products and eggs, include beans, nuts and seeds for protein. While soybeans provide a complete protein by themselves, similar to animal proteins, combining other beans or nuts with vegetables and grains will give your body all the amino acids it needs to assemble complete proteins from the incomplete proteins found in those foods.
When cooking vegetables alone, boiling is a simple method that lets you thoroughly cook vegetables for softness. However, it is easy to overcook boiled vegetables, making them lose their color, texture and nutrients. Steaming is an excellent alternative, and you can mix nuts and seasonings in with the vegetables before steaming to give them a cooked-in flavor. Stir-frying also lets you lightly cook vegetables, and you can mix them directly in the pan with seasonings, sauces and cooked rice for a complete meal. Baking or roasting also lets you cook the seasoning into your veggies, and works best for thick, hard vegetables like carrots, winter squash, beets and turnips, but you can also roast or broil peppers, tomatoes, corn, green beans, asparagus and other veggies.
You can season vegetarian meals just like you would meats. Marinade hard vegetables in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before roasting, baking, stir-frying or steaming, or toss the vegetables briefly in seasoning and oil before cooking. When making bean-based dishes, cook the beans in unseasoned water, then toss or blend in seasonings after the beans soften. If the beans or other vegetables are for a blended dish, such as refried beans or a split pea or lentil soup, add your seasonings when the legumes are soft enough to blend but before the final cooking to get the most flavor.
You can substitute vegetarian options for meat in most of your favorite recipes. Cooking times will generally shorten, and you may need to cut back on liquids because vegetables have a higher water content than most meats. When you’re just getting started, try substituting a blend of chopped mushrooms and cooked brown rice for ground meats in your favorite recipes, adding an egg white if you need the “meat” to stick together. Vegan egg substitutes are available for animal product-free diets. For your customer’s favorite non-ground meat dishes, substitute slices of eggplant, zucchini; instead of chicken breasts or beef slices, use extra-firm tofu.