You have searched your conscience and your soul and you are decided. You have made the choice to become a vegetarian. But how do you actually transition from an omnivorous to a vegetarian or vegan?
I did it gradually. I transitioned into a vegetarian while living in Hong Kong, a city of meat and more meat. In the 90’s there was several incidents of contaminated imported meat and I decided to cut down on all meat, red and white. Although the deciding overnight shift to vegetarianism was a night dive in the Philippines.
Initially, I went on a macrobiotic diet for about 18 months during which time I was eating mainly fresh fish and seasonal fresh produce. During this time I did a lot of reading on vegetarianism and nutrition and was lucky enough to have friends were already vegetarian.
A husband and wife team who taught me how to cook and eat properly. Their gift to me, and until this day is a much-treasured item, is a cookbook. And in my opinion this is the best cookbook to have on your kitchen shelf: The New Laurel’s Kitchen by Laurel Robertson et al, published by Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California, 1986.
This is the ultimate handbook for vegetarian cookery and nutrition, not so much for the recipes but more so for the wealth of information on how to maintain a healthy diet as a vegetarian. By the way, the recipes are great. But the real value of the book is the actual well-researched information on nutritional requirements for different people with different situation who are considering making the switch to vegetarianism.
Initially, making that transition seemed daunting, even a bit intimidating. I was not fully committed to becoming a fulltime vegetarian. I was not sure how to feed myself, and if I could make this lifestyle change in my eating habit.
The first conscientious change I made was to my pantry. This involved getting rid of all canned tuna and sardine and replacing them with dry lentils and pulses. (For more information on vegetarian pantry, please refer to my post on this topic May 20th.) Looking back in hindsight I was glad to be living in Hong Kong when I made the transition.
I suddenly discovered the world of tofu. In Hong Kong, tofu comes in all shapes and sizes: dry, fermented, fried, blocks, hard, soft, silky, sheet-like, skin-like, sponge-like and even knotted. This discovery presented endless possibilities in culinary experiments.
Much to my delight, I discovered that tofu could be grilled, steamed, fried, stewed, curried, barbecued and added to sauces as a thickener. That was when I realized that I do not need meat to survive and have a good time cooking and feasting. I can make the change without compromising my love and passion for food and cooking.
Becoming a vegetarian today is even easier. Sanitarium makes decent veggie sausages and patties, nuggets, soy bacon and deli-like cuts. Most Asian groceries carry a small selection of mock meat and fish made from soy, seaweed, mushroom and gluten. Read the label if you are coeliac. I like using these so-called mock meats. They are very versatile, adaptable and keep their shape and texture after cooking. And yes, they are tasty.
And I truly believe as a vegetarian, my culinary experience has expanded beyond my imagination. My options are staggering and the food that is available to me as a vegetarian is so rich and diverse. I am constantly inspired by new ideas. I have put together some of my favourite recipes into a cookbook which should be out in July: No bacon, I am vegan.
I hope to inspire others who are the quest of becoming a vegetarian with recipes and tips on making the transition. I hope some of the recipes will tickle even the most jaded palate and satisfy the taste buds of the discerning foodies. Watch this space!