I think it was George Burns

. . . who once said that steak wasn’t really worth eating because of the effort it took to chew it.

But one of the growing trends in obtaining cheap eats is to either forgo meat entirely or use it as a way to add flavor instead of being the main attraction.

This flexible approach to consuming meats has been coined flexitarianism and has drawn its fair share of criticism from full-time vegetarians.

“It’s unclear how many people are official ‘flexitarian’ converts, but nutritionists believe there are a growing number of people who are simply eating fewer meat entrees whether it’s for health, or economic reasons or because there are more good meatless dishes on offer,” Karen Springmen, Newsweek.

This flexible approach to dining and cooking doesn’t just apply to steaks and chops, it also a practical way to incorporate quality seafood into recipes while keeping an on the bottomline.

So how does flexitarianism create cheap eats? Try working some of these meaty ideas into your weekly repertoire:
  • look for flavorful meats and proteins that will season a dish with just the right savory touch, examples include chorizo, pork belly, bacon and lean sausages
  • create flavorful braises out of shoulder and blade roasts and fill them out with winter squashes and hearty, meaty beans
  • use meats and seafood as accents or ‘substantial garnishes’ to pureed vegetable soups, pastas with simple butter or cream sauces and of course, to salads of all kinds.
  • try serving smaller portions of protein differently – paillards (typically chicken pounded thin as when making caccitore) are a great idea – they’ll cook quickly, trick the eye and can also be rolled and stuffed into roulades

Flexitarians not only avoid meat because of costs, they also feel they are making healthier decisions for their bodies and the environment. If you’re unsure of where to find good vegetarian recipes, or you’re afraid you’ll be limiting yourself to pasta and salads, Springmen recommends looking to the experts such as Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” or Mollie Katzen’s “Moosewood Cookbook.”

If going completely veggie, try creating depths of flavor with these economical ideas:

  • save vegetable peelings in the freezer to make flavorful stocks
  • substitute mushrooms for meat in a variety of dishes
  • caramelized onions are worth the effort for the flavor they can add as a garnish, soups/stews, pastas and more (so is oven-roasted garlic)
  • create gratins or scallops out of a variety of root vegetables, winter squash or potatoes
  • beans really are magical – from hearty butter beans to caviar-sized lentils they can be used as sides, in soups/stews, in salads and, well mashed into purees or to make veggie burgers

“It might seem like being a vegetarian of convenience isn’t particularly inspiring, but growing number of experts and even some famous foodies are fans. They say cutting back on meat, rather than abstaining completely, may be a practical compromise that benefits our bodies and our environment,” Springen writes.

So, however you get there, being a little flexible in how you fit protein into your diet has health benefits and can save your pocket book.

-GE, 10/12/08

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