People adopt vegetarian diets for a variety of reasons, some usual, others uniqe, but vegetarianism in general isn’t all that common in Egypt.
(Read “Vegetarian Dilemmas” on the difficulties of being a vegetarian in Egypt.)
But frowns and raised eyebrows aside, one needs to get creative with food to endure the lack of alternatives in supermarkets and restaurants. Egyptian cuisine has various vegetarian-friendly varieties, but you can kiss dreams of that soy-burger goodbye, we just don’t do vegan or vegetarian convenience foods in Egypt.
So it is up to our creative cooking to add variety to our meals and not get quickly bored of your diets, and in that spirit, here are a few tips and quick, simple recipes to help ease you through vegetarianism.
It’s all in the Variety
• Fruits and vegetables are going to be your stapes, so eat a lot but change the kinds you eat every week, going with the fruit of the season for variety and freshness.
• Spices are your best friends to stave off boredom. Adding a lot of flavor and variety to your diet, spices can turn one vegetable dish from stir-fry to curry.
• Change your salad dressing every couple of days and add new spices to your salad to break the routine.
• When you are at a restaurant, order the dishes that originally come without chicken or meat and don’t ask for a chicken fettuccini alfredo, for example, without the chicken — they will either bring it with chicken, remove the chicken after it’s cooked so it still tastes like chicken.
• Cook your pasta and rice with vegetables and spices to make them taste better, don't just use them as filler.
• Always get different shapes and kinds of past, rice and bread to break the routine. You can go with brown or white rice, long-grain, short-grain or basmati and there are endless possibilities with pasta and bread, including pastas made with spinach or artichoke that would in and of itself make for a nice change to your normal menu.
• Go back to Egyptian cuisine’s basics: Most of our typical Egyptian recipes do not include meat, so go back to childhood’s favorites that are both nutritious and meat-free like molokhia and our ubiquitous vegetable stews. But be careful with those and make sure they aren’t cooked the conventional way with chicken broth or, even worse, chunks of meat.
• Don’t forget the tahina, baba ghanoush, hummus, fuul, koshary, taameya and grape leaves that are staples of Egyptian cuisine and available everywhere.
• Stock up on protein: Don’t forget your protein intake, your body needs it, so opt for lots of protein-rich beans like fuul and lentils and pulses. Also add protein-rich seeds and nuts to your salads, rice or pasta: roasted pumpkin, squash and watermelon seeds, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, sesame seeds and peanuts are all rich in protein and add flavor to your dishes. Vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, carrots and avocados are also rich in protein.
Get cooking: Here’s a few of my favorite vegetarian recipes. They are simple, versatile and nutritious.
Veggie Cheese Rice:
• Cook the rice as normal.
• In a separate small pan sauté diced olives and peppers using in olive oil and lemon juice.
• Take the pan off the heat and immediately top it off with your choice of cheese then add your cooked rice.
Red Bean Salad:
• Toss some red beans, corn, cabbage and carrots together.
• Spice them however you like, I suggest basil and thyme.
• Make a dressing using lemon, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
• Serve with your favorite bread.
• Boil two peeled potatoes.
• Cut the cooked potatoes up and mash.
• Form the mashed potatoes into small balls.
• Dip the potato balls into a mixture of bread crumbs, flour and basil.
• Fry the balls in pre-heated oil.
Potato, Lemon and Garlic Salad:
• Toss boiled potatoes with chopped parsley
• Make a dressing using garlic paste, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and drizzle over the potatoes.
Mixed Bean Salad
• Steam green and black beans using a steam cooker or a steamer basket.
• Let the beans cool and then add them to chopped tomatoes and parsley.
• Get creative with the dressing or mix together olive oil, lemon and your favorite herbs
And my last tip: If you are just dying for that burger, I recommend Cooking Light’s recipes for veggie burgers. et