All I want for Christmas is a personal vegetarian chef

A recent meal at Middletown's It's Only Natural has me rethinking my diet (check out my review in this week's Night & Day). The delicious meal I'd shared with three companions reiterated a suspicion I've had for some time: if someone could provide me with vegetarian meals of ION's caliber, I could easily go vegetarian. (Closer to home, seek ye the wonderful Mangetout.)

Which isn't a very good excuse. I enjoy the cuisine; I honestly like tofu; and technically I'm sure I could regularly prepare something decent-ish and vegetarian (NOT vegan; I could never break up with real cheese). In my head, I imagine I don't have the time to master the art of chickpea-mashing. But how much longer does that take vs any other meal? I've had far more epic fails making non-veggie dishes, so why do legumes et al intimidate the hell out of me? How tough can it be to rustle up some BBQ tempeh? Who doesn't love miso soup? Mac and cheese is vegetarian, dang it! (Don't hate me vegans, seriously. I'm Polish. Butter is a way of life for us.)

Motivating/complicating things is a recent trip to an Indian grocery store in Orange, which left me certain that I truly know nothing about food and its many alchemical properties. (PS. A golden dal experiment of mine last year was a big fail. Beans really need to soak, people. Really.) I mean, I know there's lots of ways to manage a few veggie dishes here and there (pizza!), but when I saw the full aisle of bean, veggie, and grain flours and fresh produce I'd never seen before, I was newly struck by the many, many ways meat-free food can be nutritious, delicious, and gorgeous. For a wonderful example of how great vegetarian food can be, check out Udupi Bhavan in Middletown. Lentil crepes anyone? They're fabulous.

So here I am, Queen Lazy Cook, reevaluating my approach to food, as the college-era reliance on meals in a box is no longer cute and certainly not healthy. And if I'm GOING to cook more often, why not eliminate some animal fats* and factor in some color courtesy of sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and beautiful beans? Even my sweet tooth can be sated living the veggie life, if ION's delicious vegan red velvet cake is any indicator.

I made the mistake of checking out PETA's website, which is stocked with hundreds of very tempting vegan and vegetarian recipes, variations of which I already eat regularly (rice and beans; meatless pasta dishes; hummus) or count among my favorites (potato pancakes, tofu stirfrys.). Should I get ambitious, I'm going to try the recipe below, but if you all have some vegetarian cooking tips or recipes to share, reply back here or hit me up on Twitter (@TheMDesk).

*I reserve the right to always love bacon. Always.

Thai Chickpea Soup

1 large onion, chopped

2 red peppers, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

4 Tbsp. olive oil

Cumin, to taste

Coriander, to taste

Cayenne pepper, to taste

2 qts. cooked chickpeas in liquid

3 cups canned chopped tomatoes

1 cup coconut milk

1 cup good-quality peanut butter

1/4 cup lime juice

1 Tbsp. salt

1 cup freshly chopped basil

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot, sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne. Sauté until fragrant.

Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, and salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil, cooking for 1 hour.

Purée half in a blender and return to the pot. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper.

Make 10 servings

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