Animal protein, that old culinary standard, is moving away from the center of the plate and making way for colorful, tasty vegetables. The reason? We’re ready to eat in a different way. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, two out of every three Americans are eating less of at least one type of meat. The survey also reported that 55 percent of Americans said they are reducing their consumption of processed meat and 41 percent are cutting back on red meat.
Beyond baby food
One of the quickest, easiest ways to address this decrease in meaty meals is by adding plant-based purées to your menu. “You might be thinking ‘baby food,’ but in fact you can use plant-based purées to make dishes creamy and rich with much less dairy, butter and cream,” says Robin Asbell, a chef and cookbook writer whose latest book is Plant-Based Meats: Hearty, High-Protein Recipes for Vegetarians, Flexitarians, and Curious Carnivores. “There’s something really comforting about purées, and people always enjoy them. Plus, it can be fun to present vegetables in a different way.”
One of the great benefits of making purées is that they allow you to capitalize on in-season produce bargains and create an easy-to-freeze product. Purées are also a great way to reduce food waste and keep expenses in line. “If you have an overabundance and things are about to go bad, just trim up the veg, roast or boil, and then you’re ready to purée away,” Asbell says. “Spread the finished mixture in half sheets and freeze it, then repackage, or freeze it in portions.”
Her tip: “Make it as thick as possible, and don’t add liquid, because that gives you more possibilities when you want to use it later,” she says. “If you hold off on adding garlic and onion, you’ll have more versatility in serving options, too.”
Your “money in the bank” plant purée will be ready to add to soups, stews and sauces, or as a colorful base for a larger entrée. Some of Asbell’s favorite purees include pumpkin, parsnips and sweet potato, which can be sweet or savory. Colorful vegetables like red peppers make a great “swirl” for the base of a plate. You can add purée to soup to give it body, or cream it with stock and diary or nondairy product.” Purées also can be used as spreads on sandwiches, or layered with yogurts for a sweet or savory parfait.