Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vegetarian super protein recipes

Saludos Boludos!

OK today I’ll write a bit more practical and a bit more cheery than yesterday (my sick day).  As many of you know, I’m a vegetarian: five years and going strong.  I think vegetarianism runs in the family.  Grandma Ellie was a vegetarian for decades; Grandpa too, although I think he probably cheated.  Dad never liked red meat, although he has a weakness for BBQ ribs, and Jessie, my sister, has been an on-again-off-again vegetarian since adolescence.  My cousin Taylor is a vegetarian too.  (If you’d prefer to skip ahead to the recipes, be my guest.  Just scroll down.)

This isn’t a blog about why I’m a vegetarian; there are many authors who have talked about vegetarian and food politics more convincingly than I could here (see the New York Time’s Mark Bittman, for example).  In short, I became a vegetarian for simple reasons: I don’t need to eat meat in order to maintain a healthy diet, which means I don’t need to kill other living, sentient beings; the quantity of meat that the average US resident eats is unhealthy, as is the quality of the meat; and lastly the production of meat in the United States (and in most industrialized countries) is bad for labor and for the environment.  (And before anyone starts to form the counterargument about all the environmental damage that is done by the overproduction of corn and soy, be it in the US or Brazil or elsewhere, let’s remember that the vast majority of the corn and soybean crops are used as animal feed.  Don’t believe me?  Google it.)  Enough politics, back to the point.

I love being a vegetarian.  First because I am healthier now than I ever was.  Until I became a vegetarian at the age of 20, I didn’t eat vegetables.  No veggies.  Not one.  My diet largely consisted of meat (every day), refined carbohydrates, melted cheese, and fruits and nuts.  One time when I was 10 my dad paid me 5 bucks to eat a green bean and I gagged on in.  Seriously.  Once I gave up meat I become a conscious eater; I paid attention to what I was putting in my body.  Not only did I gradually begin to eat veggies, but also I learned a lot about what a healthy diet looks like, and more importantly what a healthy diet feels like.

I get lots of sympathy from folks when they hear that I’m a vegetarian who lives in Buenos Aires.  “But they have the best steak in the world there, man!”  Yup, they also have incredibly high rates of heart disease and chronic constipation.  I learned how to cook as a result of being a vegetarian in Buenos Aires; and to this date I’m not sure that I have a more valuable skill. 

I never felt the limitations of vegetarianism until I decided I was too skinny.  A couple of years ago I worked my ass off to put on 10 pounds.  It took 6 months of weight training and constant eating (and I mean constant).  It wasn’t fun.  Nonetheless, I never thought about adding any animal to my diet other than dairy products, which I had never given up.  I did, however, begin to have doubts a few months ago when I found myself regularly lethargic and in need of at least nine hours of sleep a day.  I had started Crossfit ( and the intense workouts left me exhausted.  Crossfit as a philosophy is rather anti-vegetarian and the message boards are filled with arrogant information about legumes, carbohydrates and general misinformed vegetarian bashing.  But there was one thing that I couldn’t deny, I was tired, I mean really tired.  I tried to eat more iron, more vitamin B, more vitamin D.  I tried doubling my soy protein consumption.  But soy protein isn’t the best quality, and it’s rather expensive on my budget.  I was on the verge of giving in and adding fish to my diet, but after encouragement from my grandma and from my doctor (who ran a blood analysis and told me that all of my nutrient levels were excellent), I decided to get serious about cooking vegetarian super foods.

After two months back in Buenos Aires, I feel great.  I have more energy than ever before and I’m still working out 4-5 times a week plus I’m up to my nose in thesis research (will blog on that later).  The main addition to my diet is eggs, and lots of them.  I eat at least four large brown eggs a day.  I know, I know, the cholesterol!  The concern is legit, but the jury is still out whether or not eggs should be considered good or bad cholesterol, and for an active vegetarian lifestyle, I’m not all that worried (if you are, just take the yolks out).  The other big difference has been quinoa.  If you don’t know what quinoa is, you need to.  If you haven’t tried quinoa yet, you need to.  Quinoa is a versatile grain grown in the Andes mountain region (Northern Argentina, Boliva) and contains all twelve amino acids.  That means it’s a complete protein.  (check out Wikipedia for more info:  I pretty much have swapped brown rice (which had replaced white rice) for quinoa, making a big batch at the beginning of the week (along with a batch of black beans) and storing it in the fridge. 


I want to share two vegetarian super protein recipes that are healthy and packed with protein for the vegetarian athletes.  Feel free to play with them to suite your diet and tastes.  The first is an original breakfast recipe (or lunch).  The second is a recipe I adopted from Whole Foods.  Both recipes are easy and cheap!  I would add photos, but my camera is broked!

Power protein breakfast burritos
Flour tortillas
Refried beans (black or pinto, your choice) (homemade or canned, your choice)
Scrambled eggs
Shredded cheese
Pico de gallo (or other Mexican salsa)
Hot sauce (optional)

This is a super easy recipe.  Scramble your eggs and gather the rest of your ingredients.  Spread a thin layer of refried beans onto a flour tortilla and set on a warm griddle over low heat.  Layer the scrambled eggs, shredded cheese and pico de gallo and cook until the tortilla is crisp.  Season with hot sauce and enjoy!  I eat one while preparing the next!

Quinoa Tarta
Adopted from “Quinoa egg bake with tyme and garlic” (
(photo from the original recipe)

This is a great recipe that you can do pretty much anything you want to.  See below for additional ideas.

1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
8 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
4 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon chopped thyme (fresh or dry)
1 teaspoon chopped oregano (fresh or dry)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Cayenne pepper or other chili powder to taste
1 medium to large shredded yam or sweet potato (your choice)
1 cup finely shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch x 8-inch glass or metal baking dish with butter; set aside.

Put quinoa into a fine mesh strainer and rinse with hot water; drain well.  Note: if you buy pre-rinsed quinoa (most of what you buy in the US will be pre-rinsed) then you don’t need to worry about rinsing, but if you buy untreated quinoa you’ll need to rinse it vigorously with hot water for about five minutes.  This removes an outer layer that is very bitter.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, garlic, thyme, oregano salt, pepper and chili powder. Stir in quinoa and shredded yam, then pour mixture into prepared dish. Jiggle dish gently from side to side so that quinoa settles on the bottom in an even layer. (This probably won’t happen but don’t worry about it because the added yam will help form the crust). Bake until just set, about 45 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on top and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool before slicing.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can throw pretty much any vegetable you want in it.  The original recipe calls for spinach but I replaced it with the yam in order to give it a denser crust.  You can replace the spices with Mexican spices and add tomatoes and onions and have a Mexican quiche (serve it with a dollop of sour cream on top) or you throw in additional root vegetables for an even heartier dish.  I’ve cubed the left-overs and pan fried them with onions, peppers, and tomatoes for a break breakfast skillet.

Much love and many vegetarian besos

1 comment:

Linda said...

I am going to try this recipe for a party Sunday night. I'll let you know how it goes over.....Mom