Give Meatless Monday a Try

Spinach-stuffed portobello mushrooms make a great Meatless Monday dinner.By Zester Daily Staff

Food prices are on the rise, and meat costs are going up even faster than the prices for other items.

Meatless Monday web editor Tami O'Neill made the case for her group's campaign to get people to go vegetarian one day each week.

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Cutting back on meat is probably the easiest way for consumers to balance their grocery bill. MSNBC offers a concise breakdown: "The cheapest cuts of beef, such as ground round, average $3 per pound in U.S. cities (lean and extra lean); boneless chicken breast costs about $3.40 a pound; and canned tuna is about $2 per pound. Contrast that with dried beans and lentils at less than $1 a pound and rice well below $1 per pound ... Even tofu, the chicken of the vegetarian world, is usually well under $2 a pound."

Going vegetarian, even part time, may help save the planet. If you're not particularly concerned with the price of your dinner, keep in mind that the occasional meatless meal may have significant impact on food budgets in other parts of the world. A tremendous amount of grain, corn and soy goes toward feeding livestock: a single pound of beef, for example, takes 10 to 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce. As noted in Foreign Policy magazine, when "global consumption of grain-intensive livestock products climbs, so does demand for the extra corn and soybeans needed to feed all that livestock."

Here's how you can participate:

Go Meatless on Monday: A new national campaign encourages people to skip meat one day a week for their health and the environment. Meatless Monday can be an easy, weekly way to remember to cut back; it may even reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Have half a helping: Seamlessly reduce your grocery bill by slicing your usual meat portion in half. Make room instead for rice, beans and vegetables (canned and frozen are just as nutritious and tend to be cheaper). Not only will you save some money, you'll be sampling a wider variety of nutrients.

Know when you won't notice: I can tell you that my mother's homemade lasagna tastes just as delicious when it isn't packed with a pound of chop meat. The same goes for your five-alarm chili or a freshly wrapped burrito: Some things are so tasty on their own that they don't need anything extra.

Take a more traditional approach: many cultures have eaten a mostly vegetarian diet for generations (and have better health for it). This means that the world is full of delicious, meatless meal ideas! The occasional ethnic dish can help you expand not only your food budget, especially if you're enjoying something made with rice or beans, but also your pallet and culinary skills.

If vegetarian meals are new to you, ease into the practice with dishes that use familiar ingredients. You'd be surprised how many "vegetarian" options you have in your pantry already. This hearty stuffed mushroom dish, courtesy of Zester Daily contributor Kathy Hunt, uses ingredients you may already have on hand.

Spinach-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 portobello mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed

6 tablespoons olive oil

juice of 2 lemons

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

1 pound spinach, cooked and strained to remove water

1 cup diced tomatoes, drained

4 ounces Fontina cheese, cut into strips

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the mushrooms smooth-side down in a baking dish.

2. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Pour equal amounts of dressing over the mushrooms. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. The mushrooms will appear soft and slightly browned when finished baking. Turn off the oven and remove the baking dish.

3. Preheat the oven broiler on medium.

4. Spoon equal portions of spinach followed by tomatoes onto each mushroom and then lay the strips of Fontina cheese on top of the tomatoes. Return the mushrooms to the oven, placing them on the top rack, directly under the broiler. Broil until the cheese is soft and melting, about 1 minute. Remove the baking dish from the oven, sprinkle freshly ground black pepper over the melted cheese and serve immediately.

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