Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and it's time for those who observe the tradition to dig out their favorite recipes for meatless main dishes.
Some will find they actually feel better after weeks of limiting their meat intake and decide to continue the diet after the Lenten season is over.
There's even a name for those who are predominantly vegetarians but eat meat on occasion, explained Mary Ann O'Dell, a dietician for Akins Natural Foods. They are flexitarians.
"It can absolutely be a good thing," O'Dell said. "But it is like any diet. You still have to make good choices."
O'Dell said she eats meat and she is not opposed to eating meat, but other sources of proteins and other nutrients are available for people who choose to limit or abstain from meat intake.
"It is all about making sure that you get enough protein. But there are plenty of ways to get protein, such as eating soy, nuts and peanut butter," O'Dell said.
O'Dell also noted that if you decrease your meat intake, you should increase the amount of whole grains and fiber, such as fruit and vegetables.
"Of course, there are some people who will eat cheese pizza and vegetarian hot dogs," O'Dell said. "This is why you need to make good choices."
And for those who are observing Lent, the diet restrictions are also about being mindful or your lifestyle and improving yourself.
"So maybe taking the easy route with the foods that you choose is really not the point," she said.
And taking the easy route is what many chefs have done historically when preparing a vegetarian dish for a menu, noted Sam Bracken, chef and co-owner of The Canebrake resort in Wagoner.
Bracken's wife, Lisa, is a vegetarian, and Bracken takes care to make sure their restaurant offers plenty of filling and healthy vegetarian dishes.
"For so long, chefs just kind of served a plate of side dishes as a vegetarian option," Bracken said. "I think that mindset is kind of going away now."
Often chefs can be more creative with vegetarian dishes than they are with proteins, Bracken said, because they take the time to really consider the dish and plan to make it both filling and tasty.
The goal is to make the diners feel satiated by the meatless dish, Bracken said, but not heavy or sluggish.
Bracken shared some recipes for some of The Canebrake's popular vegetarian dishes. Here are three.
This colorful hash can be used for an entree or a fun side dish for another meal.
VEGETARIAN HASH AND EGGS
Root Vegetable Hash
2 purple potatoes
1 gold beet
2 Yukon gold potatoes
1 sweet potato
oil as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder to taste
2 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1/2 cup diced onion
1/4 cup white wine
1. Cut all vegetables into a small dice and place in a mixing bowl. Toss the vegetables in oil just enough to coat them evenly.
2. Season to taste with salt, pepper and garlic. Spread the hash out evenly on cookie sheets. Place the hash in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes until vegetables are tender.
3. Place enough oil in a large saute pan to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and brown lightly. Add
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