One way of converting favorite recipes to vegetarian meals is to simply leave the meat out of a dish. That is not the best way, however. Instead, substitute something when you take out the meat.
If you take the ground meat out of spaghetti sauce, for example, add chopped or sliced cremini mushrooms for savor. Portobellos, which are mature creminis, can substitute for prosciutto in many recipes, too. Gourmet mushrooms are expensive, but they are usually not as expensive per serving as meat.
Red bell peppers accent food in a way that distracts from the absence of meat. Core, flatten and broil some peppers until the skin blisters. Enclose them in a paper bag until they cool, and then wash off the skins. The result is a lightly smoked taste and a somewhat meaty texture. You can also buy peeled red peppers in jars. Though they are not quite as good as fresh peppers, they are much easier to make.
Cheese is a favorite of many vegetarians. It provides complete protein and rich taste, though it is sometimes high in calories. Make a point of tasting cheeses you have never tried. Some natural food stores, such as Whole Foods, offer free samples of cheese. Cheese can go in anything, including dessert if you like cheesecake.
Tempeh is a soy product similar to tofu, but it has a unique, meaty flavor. It can be used in many of the same ways as meat. For example, it can be grated and used like ground meat in tacos or meatloaf.
Other meat substitutes include miso and marinated or baked tofu. Some people who will not eat ordinary tofu enjoy the commercially baked kind.
Cooking with meat often involves producing a main dish and several side dishes. Because the main dish is generally where the meat is, converting to vegetarian cooking can seem at first as if you are eating all side dishes.
One answer is to serve one-dish meals-such as stir-fries or casseroles-that are satisfying and complex. Another is to serve meals in courses, proceeding from salad to dessert, with each dish allowed a brief, starring role. Both of these meal plans de-emphasize the role of meat.
Many vegetarians eat seasonally, too. They might concentrate on artichokes and peas in spring; corn, squash and tomatoes in summer; and winter squash or baby bok choy in fall. A natural progression brings variety and anticipation to the diet and often saves money, too.
Becoming a vegetarian is a progression. Many vegetarians gradually convert old recipes while they find new favorites. It's a happy process of exploration-and a continuing adventure in taste.