My "Go To" Meals

The two biggest questions I get from those curious about my following the whole foods, plant-based diet are:
  • Where do you get your protein? and
  • What do you eat?
By asking what do I eat, people are primarily interested in what are my main courses. For example, on the standard American diet, a child might ask her mother "What's for dinner?" and the mother might respond by saying "Fried chicken" or "Pizza" or "Meatloaf" or something like that. The person answering the question doesn't go into all the details of what the rest of the dinner is. They just respond with what the main course is, which is usually some kind of meat.

So, when I first started doing this, I had trouble answering that question. The things that I might answer, like "Sweet potatoes" or "Brussels Sprouts" were all things that sounded like a side dish to other people. They didn't sound like a main course.

And yet for me they were a main dish. One of my favorite meals in the summer is to cook up three ears of corn and have that with a salad. If cooked while the corn is still inside the husks, then it stays nice and moist and no additional moisture, like butter, is needed. Instead, I just get the sweet taste of the corn.

But I have developed a "go to" menu. I'm borrowing that term from Mark Bittman of the New York Times. A couple of months ago, Mr. Bittman said that he was always being asked about what he eats when he's home and looking for something to eat. He said that he had a "go to" menu and that meant that he had a few ingredients that he always kept on hand and he would find various ways to prepare them.

Well, I've come to realize, that's me now too. My "go to" menu in its most basic form is beans and rice. I have some variation of beans and rice with virtually every meal. I like to eat my big meal in the middle of the day, so I might have a jambalaya or a curried cauliflower and bean dish over rice as my main course in the middle of the day. At night, I try to eat lighter, so I usually have a soup that includes beans and rice along with cooked tomatoes; some dark green leafy vegetables; a variety of other in-season or frozen vegetables and different spices. Just by changing the spices, I can go Mexican one night and Italian the next night. 

The varieties of main courses and the varieties of soups that can be made starting with beans and rice are endless. And by mixing up the different types of beans and vegetables and spices and even rices (sometimes I have black rice and sometimes I have brown rice), a whole variety of dishes can be made -- from Mexican to Asian to Italian to Cajun to whatever.

And the nice thing about a "go to" menu like that is you don't really need a cookbook to prepare it. Just mix everything together to taste in a pot or in a pressure cooker and cook it. There's no great skill required. By not using recipes, it also means that I don't go out and buy a lot of this and that for a specific recipe that I will never use again. Then all these one of a kind ingredients start to pile up.

Instead, I keep my pantry filled up with a lot of different kinds of beans (black, pinto, garbanzo, white, kidney, adzuki, etc.) and a variety of rices or starches (black rice, brown rice, quinoa, farro, etc.). I also keep on hand lots of cans of different kinds of tomatoes (whole, diced, pureed, stewed, etc.) and lots of different spices. In the freezer, I keep it full of bags of vegetables, including lots of dark, green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.

By always having those ingredients on hand, I never have to worry about not having something for dinner. And even with the same ingredients, I can go Asian one night and Mexican the next, simply by varying the spices. And when somebody asks me what I eat, I can now easily say, "Beans and rice." That's my "go to" meal.