The 12-ish Gifts of 2020: Meatless Mondays (Holiday Edition)

I’ve been reading these columns about the big cooking trends of the year, and honestly, I haven’t done any of them (for example, baking sourdough bread). Most of them, I haven’t even heard of, although it seems like a lot of them took off on TikTok, which I don’t know that I’ve ever even seen.

But looking back, I believe that like many, I spent more time cooking and/or preparing meals, although I already cooked most of our meals in previous years. And I don’t know that this is true, but it feels like I spent more of that time on my meatless meals than on the others.

This is not because it takes more time to make meatless meals, because it doesn’t. However, because my go-to for so many years has been meat-based meals, I think it takes me longer to research and check out and follow recipes for many of my meatless meals. I do believe, though, that it has been time well spent.

One of my brothers was a vegetarian since he was 10? I think, and I’ve done Meatless Mondays for years. So meatless cooking is not like some brand-new thing that I’ve never done before. However, over the years but particularly this year, I’m trying to have more meat-free meals because I think that is healthier both for me and my family and for the planet. However, I’ve been trying to find meals that will be satisfying enough not only for me, but more my more meat-committed husband. to enjoy and feel good about. So I think I’ve spent much more time this year looking into and experimenting with and learning about my Meatless Mondays (and other days). I’m please with what I’ve learned/accomplished, which makes it one of my gifts of this year.

To exemplify my journey with more vegetarianism this year, let me present the meatless meals we’ve have over the past weeks of holiday.

First, there was the Winter Solstice. Since it was a planetary event with Jupiter and Saturn conjoining, I wanted to reflect that in our meal that night. Plus, it happened on a Monday, so it was a Meatless Monday night. So I researched what foods might be associated with each of the planets.

I found an astrological website that linked not foods, but at least plants, to the planets. It said that Jupiter was a hot and moist planet, so hot-tasting plants like garlic and ginger and chilis were associated with it…along with mustard greens. That caught my attention, because the Saturday before I bought mustard greens from one of the vendors at the Cary Downtown Farmers Market. Honestly, I had no idea what to do with them because I’ve never cooked them before. But they looked so beautiful that I couldn’t resist:

Then I read that Saturn, a dry cold planet, was associated with spinach, which I had also bought at the Farmers Market. So I decided to make Saag Paneer, with is an Indian dish of Indian cheese (traditionally made from water buffalo milk rather than cow’s milk) in a creamy sauce made of mixed greens, served over basmati rice (in our case, brown basmati rice).

On December 21, I started things cooking and we went outside to watch the heavens. I know this is a terrible picture, but it shows we could actually see the conjunction:

We came back in, I made the Saag Paneer, and it is one of the best Indian dishes I’ve ever made:

Four days later, it was Christmas. For dinner, I made what I called the Jesus Feast, which is a Mediterranean buffet made almost exclusively of vegetarian food:

So, yes, the uppermost left hand side dish has meat sausages. But following the rest of the dished in a Z pattern, we had hummus, borek (cheese-filled pastry), grilled pita bread, spanakopita (spinach and cheese pastries), grapes, carrots and celery, greek yogurt, and two types of olive. We had so much and liked it so well, we had it the next night as well.

Now, for full disclosure purposes, I will say the following night, December 27, we had a traditional English Christmas dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, English cucumbers, roasted vegetables, those little oranges, and chocolate-dipped digestible biscuits for dessert. I only make roast beef once a year, and this was it.

But honestly, I think the thing my husband and son like the best about the entire meal is the Yorkshire pudding. So here it was, Meatless Monday again, and I was trying to think about what to make while staying in the holiday spirit. I considered making Yorkshire puddings again, since my family loved them so much, so looked up what vegetarian fillings one could add to a Yorkshire pudding. Then I discovered something I had never know before…

PEASES…as in “Pease porridge hold, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old”…was an ACTUALLY traditional English dish. Who knew? It is big comfort food in Northern England, and often served with Yorkshire pudding.

I think we’ve got it…

So it turns out that Pease porridge is not actually PEAS, as in green peas, which I would have thought it was if I thought it was anything at all. Actually, it is a mush made of well-cooked yellow split peas, contains some cooked vegetables but not much else. I wanted to try some, not having every tried it before, but I thought it would be pretty tame for our family. So I cooked the yellow split peas and vegetables in my Instant Pot, drained them, and then took half and added a pretty healthy amount of hot curry powder to that. Also with some sautéed vegetables–what the English would call a “fry-up,” we had this for dinner:

Our beautiful Yorkshire puddings:

Our pease-filled/fry-up dinner (the darker one on the right is the curry version);

As I expected, the curry version was more popular than the plain version in our household. But both my menfolk were so delighted to have another round of fresh Yorkshire puddings they would probably have eaten anything in them. It wasn’t my greatest meal, but I think it will be a memorable one.

So, the bottom line is: I worked on and was more experimental with my meat-free meals this year. And that made them some of the most interesting or memorial meals of the year, even if they weren’t always my favorite. I’m grateful for having pressed myself and for the successes I have had. I think this year I really expanded my meal repertoire, mainly in the meat-free category. I hope to do even more even better next year!

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