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Spring forward in a healthy way by cutting out meat

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

For months we’ve been comforting ourselves with braises and stews chock full of protein with heavy cuts of beef, pork and chicken. But now that spring is on the horizon (a girl can hope) we want to start slimming down and reduce our meat intake.

Numerous studies have shown that fatty red meats and processed meats are high in saturated fat that raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol. And while the calendar signals us to spring forward, sadly the weather is lagging behind with a blanket of snow and bitter cold. So we still need comfort, but it’s time to limit the animal fare.

A Mayo Clinic study reports that a plant-based diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes and nuts, is rich in fiber, vitamins and other nutrients. And people who eat only plant-based foods — aka vegetarians — generally eat fewer calories and less fat, weigh less, and have a lower risk of heart disease than nonvegetarians do.

Just eating less meat has a protective effect. Studies, including one of more than 500,000 people published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, have shown that eating high quantities of these meats (for instance, a small steak every day) also increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. The National Cancer Institute study found that those who ate the most red meat daily were 30 percent more likely to die of any cause during a 10-year period than were those who ate the least amount of red meat. Sausage, luncheon meats and other processed meats also increased the risk. Those who ate mostly poultry or fish had a lower risk of death.

Before you think that you have to go stocking up on tofu and tempeh to make a meatless meal, consider that you can rely on hearty ingredients such as beans and lentils to make your meals hearty. A head of roasted cauliflower is practically a meal in itself and meaty mushrooms add flavor and texture to an otherwise meatless dish. Spicy curry is another way to warm you up and, when it’s studded with a variety of vegetables, that’s a double health bonus.

If you’re worried about not getting enough protein, the fact is that most Americans do indeed get enough protein in their diets. Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories to come from protein. Based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, this amounts to about 50 to 175 grams a day. Of course, you can get protein from sources other than meat.

In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing a variety of protein foods, including eggs, low-fat milk and products made from it, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

If the health aspect isn’t enough to get you thinking about reducing your meat intake, perhaps concern for the health of the planet may. According to the National Geographic magazine, a recent study from the U.K. suggests diets low in beef and lamb take less of a toll on the environment. Indeed, epidemiologist Peter Scarbourough says that “if a typical carnivore switched to eating like a typical vegan, his or her dietary carbon footprint would be halved.” Scarbourough suggests that even “consuming 50 percent less red meat can trim annual emission by an amount equivalent to a jetliner flight from London to New York.”

Going meatless is also a good way to save money. Prices of beef and pork have skyrocketed in the last year, making a rib-eye steak as dear as a diamond. And I’m not saying you have to cut out the meat for all time, I am an avowed carnivore. After all, the snow’s got to melt sometime and then it will be time to roll out the grill. That means steaks, burgers and chops — or maybe some simple grilled portobello mushrooms, if the meatless idea becomes a lifestyle trend you’d like to embrace.

klawson@detroitnews.com

KateLawson14@twitter.com

Cuban Black Bean Stew with Rice

Satisfying bean soups often have to simmer for hours; this vegetarian stew tastes as if it did, but uses canned beans and broth as shortcuts. If you like, serve this protein-rich vegetarian dish with brown rice to boost the health factor even more. It’s also delicious with chips or tortillas alongside. Canned beans are a great time-saver to stock in the pantry, but they’re often high in sodium, so rinse them in a colander before using. Recipe from Everyday Food.

1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium red onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), chopped

2 cans (19 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (14.5 ounces) vegetable broth

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon cumin

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Garnishes (optional): lime wedges, fresh cilantro, and sliced radishes

Prepare rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add beans, broth, vinegar, and oregano. Cook, mashing some beans with the back of a spoon, until slightly thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Fluff rice with a fork. Serve beans over rice, with garnishes, if desired. Serves 4.

Per serving: 439 calories; 5 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 10 percent calories from fat); 92 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 740 mg sodium; 15 g protein; 13 g fiber.

Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower

Recipe from purewow.com

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 head cauliflower

1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt

1 lime, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons chile powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a small baking sheet with vegetable oil. Set aside.

Trim the base of the cauliflower to remove any green leaves and the woody stem.

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt with the lime zest and juice, chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, curry powder, salt and pepper.

Dunk the cauliflower into the bowl and use a brush or your hands to smear the marinade evenly over its surface. (Excess marinade can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days and used with meat, fish or other veggies.)

Place the cauliflower on the prepared baking sheet and roast until the surface is dry and lightly browned, 30 to 40 minutes. The marinade will make a crust on the surface of the cauliflower.

Let the cauliflower cool for 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges and serving alongside a big green salad. Serves 6.

Per serving: 99 calories; 3 g fat (.2 g saturated fat; 27 percent calories from fat); 10 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 744 mg sodium; 10 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup with Mushrooms

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

2 bunches scallions, white and light-green parts coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup), dark-green tops thinly sliced

4 sprigs thyme, plus leaves for serving

1 dried bay leaf

12 ounces cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

4 slices of 1 1/4-inch-thick sourdough bread

1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere (about 4 ounces)

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, chopped scallions, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently and gradually lowering heat to prevent scorching, until onions are soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping browned bits from bottom of pan, until mushrooms have released most of their moisture, about 15 minutes. Stir in 4 cups water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Discard thyme sprigs and bay leaf; season with salt and pepper.

Preheat broiler with rack 6 inches from heating element. Divide soup among 4 ovenproof bowls. Top each with a bread slice; sprinkle with cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and golden brown in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with thyme leaves and scallion tops. Serves 4.

Per serving: 453 calories; 30 g fat (17 g saturated fat; 60 percent calories from fat); 34 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 80 mg cholesterol; 539 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Vegetable Curry

Recipe from Everyday Living

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds

1 medium yellow onion, diced small

1 cup long-grain white rice

coarse salt and ground pepper

1 tablespoon red curry paste

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (from a 13.5-ounce can)

1 sweet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small cauliflower, cut into florets

1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Fresh cilantro, for serving

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high. Add mustard seeds and half the onion and cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, 3 minutes. Add rice and stir to combine. Add 1 1/2 cups water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer; cook until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high. Add remaining onion and cook, stirring often, until soft, 3 minutes. Add curry paste and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Add sweet potato and cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir chickpeas into curry and increase heat to high. Simmer rapidly until liquid reduces slightly, 2 minutes. Serve curry over rice with cilantro. Serves 4.

Per serving: 545 calories; 20 g fat (13 g saturated fat; 33 percent calories from fat); 80 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 468 mg sodium; 15 g protein; 13 g fiber.

Lentil and Sweet Potato Stew

The yogurt makes a cool, creamy counterpoint to this mildly spicy soup. As a budget bonus, this recipe makes enough to have a cup or two for lunch the next day. Recipe from Body & Soul magazine.

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

2 medium celery ribs, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice

1 package (9 ounces) frozen cut green beans

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Coarse salt and black pepper

Plain low-fat yogurt, for serving

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion, carrots, celery, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and curry powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

Add 7 cups of water and lentils. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Add potatoes and continue to cook, covered, until lentils and potato are just tender, about 15 minutes.

Add green beans and tomatoes with juice. Cook until warmed through, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Add cilantro; season with salt and pepper. Serve with yogurt. Serves 4.

Per serving: 569 calories; 8 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 13 percent calories from fat); 96 g carbohydrates; 23 g sugar; 1 mg cholesterol; 425 mg sodium; 33 g protein; 38 g fiber.

Chickpea Bolognese

Recipe from food52.com

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup boiling water

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

1 medium carrot, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

3 cups cooked chickpeas, or two 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

One 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (or another good plum tomato)

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup light cream or half-and-half

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

Parmesan cheese for finishing

1 pound dried pasta, cooked to al dente

Pour the cup of boiling water over the porcini and let steep for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until not quite smooth. You want a little texture here.

Heat the 4 tablespoons of oil in a Dutch oven and add the chickpeas. Sauté over medium heat for a few minutes, making sure the chickpeas are coated with the oil. Add the processed mixture and continue to sauté until the vegetables soften and become fragrant.

Add the basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes and continue to sauté another minute or two. Remove the porcini mushrooms from the soaking liquid and chop finely. Add them to the pot. Strain and reserve the liquid.

With your clean hands, crush the tomatoes and add them to the pot along with the wine and the porcini soaking liquid. Bring up to a simmer and simmer, partially covered, for about an hour. Stir occasionally.

After an hour, use an immersion blender to break down about half of the chickpeas. Add the light cream and bring back up to a simmer. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Off the heat, stir in the torn basil leaves.

Serve over pasta garnished with Parmesan and drizzled with a little olive oil if you like. Serves 6.

Per serving: 463 calories; 13 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 25 percent calories from fat); 70 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 11 mg cholesterol; 353 mg sodium; 15 g protein; 9 g fiber.