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What are vegetarians missing?


indiagirl
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Quote: from Sandra Levine on 10:19 am on Feb. 5, 2002

Which you can then enjoy after saying grace.

A verse, the Gokan-no-ke ( the Five Rememberances), recited in Zen Buddhist monasteries before meals says:

This meal arises from the labour of all beings,

may we remember their offering.

Delusions are many, attention wanders,

may we justify this offering.

Greed arises from self-cherishing,

may we be free in moderation.

This offering sustains us, gives us strength,

may we be grateful.

We use this strength and attain the Way.

Prajnaparamita!

No life is a half-life. Is the plate half-empty, half-full, or a #### measly serving? But some ways of living can be fuller and richer than others.

Vegetarian cooking can tend to default (amongst westerners) to broccoli with cheese sauce, ratatouille with cheese, or the dreaded Brown Gunk Chickpea Stew. Having been vegetarian for many years, now an omnivore, but cooking and presenting vegetarian meals to around twenty people several times a week I say this:

The profundity and depth of a pot au feu or any braised meat dish will never be available in vegetarian cooking. The sublime and transcendent heights of sashimi are nowhere touched. Even the richness of a few ladles of chicken broth brought to deglazing a pan of caramelised onions are a loss.

But vegetarian cuisines, when explored deeply, can open avenues that some or perhaps most meat eating people would never consider.

I am thrilled, moved, weep openly over the beauty of roasted fennel and celery dressed with a few drops of balsamico. Or agedashi tofu. But I am continuously amazed by the range of flavours, textures, tastes, colours that come and nourish me by the complexity of a pig's flesh.

I think the best of all bests is to appreciate how life eats life and use it with veneration and joyful care.

But that's just my opinion aqnd I even like Marmite.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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If I were ever to compile a list of favorite posts jinmyo, this touching, profound one would be included.  Thank you for sharing such reverance and clarity.

(Edited by Steve Klc at 5:56 pm on Feb. 5, 2002)

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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First, my profound gratitude to everyone. An incredibly thought provoking discussion and one that will hugely inform my decision on whether to become an omnivore (yes, as I was so correctly corrected, I have no intention of becoming a carnivore in Merriam-Webster's eyes!)

And thank you for your post, Jinmyo. That was beautiful, profound, informative and well-reasoned - a rare combination anywhere. Food has evoked all of those emotions in me and your post should be an anthem for people who love food. (And so what if you like Marmite, we just won't tell anyone!)

I do realize, more so having read all the posts, that there is a moral and spiritual responsibility associated with the decision I will make - and for all those that care, I assure you, I do not take those aspects of the decision lightly. And if sheer quantity were any sort of moral absolution, I am certain I shall never register in the meat eating world as a consumer of any significance. Whether quantity can provide moral absolution, of course, is a whole different thread,

And yes, Tony, a simple solution would be to just try it. It is after all my choice in the end and mine alone. Indeed. And although my need to ask the questions I asked has been justified more eloquently by Macrosan than I could have ever done myself, here is another perspective - a vegetarian one, if you will.

Learning how to eat flesh will be a gradual and painstaking process for someone like me. An acquired taste. I love tofu and mushrooms but I hated them when I first tasted them. It was a strange experience eating them for the first time - one that I would conjecture vegetarians experience more often than others. Putting something in your mouth whose taste is attractive and intriguing but whose texture you can barely abide. So, learning to eat meat (more so red meat than white meat. See? I am not a complete virgin in these matters (to borrow what was not a metaphor earlier) I have been overwhelemed by curiosity and tasted these things) will be a slow, painstaking process  and what I was looking for (and have recieved in full measure) was whether it is a journey I should embark on. Because I think this is going to be one of those rare times when the end will be what matters, not the journey.

(Ellen, I think you referred to the texture issue in your post and as I was reading it I marvelled and hoped I will be able to demonstrate a similar fortitude. I was glad to know it did not make you sick in any way to thus radically transform your diet)

So here I am. At this point, I feel like I will start walking down that road, perhaps with crustaceans as someone suggested. I suspect it will be a long journey, with smelly crabs and lobsters as my only company, and pehaps I will have changed my mind in the morning but tonight I am ready!

One thing I am certain about, eGullet has me hooked. I'll share my experiences with you and if you don't hear another post from me about my transforming into an omnivore, be sure to remind me that I'm being chicken.

Okay, okay, did I break any rules? One lousy pun and one set of nested parentheses?

Oh and BTW, I am indeed Indian. Lived there for the first 21 years of my life and now live on the other side of the world, across two ponds, both teeming with crustacean life, I hear.

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This thought may be buried in an earlier post, but you may want to start slowly by trying vegetarian foods that mimic meat flavor.  At least to see if you like it.  I think the biggest physical hurdle however will not be the taste, but the digestion.  Most of my friends who try meat after not eating it for years say that they love the taste again, but that their bodies couldn't handle it.  I don't know if any vegetarian food would have an effect on the digestive tract similar to meat.

If I knew more about vegetarian food I'd offer suggestions.

(I am available to help explain sex to virgins, so if any of the ladies out there need help . . . . )

(Edited by Dstone001 at 5:09 pm on Feb. 5, 2002)

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Ground soy can sometimes be a reasonable alternative to ground meats. TVP (kibbles 'n bits) take much more work to make edible than is worth it.

The best vegetarian "mock" meat product is meinjin (in Chinese, in Japanese could it be... seitan?). This is derived from washing the starches away from the gluten in wheat. Meinjin literally means "the marrow of wheat or noddles". It can be found at health food stores for around ů for a few ounces or in cans in Chinatown for about ũ.75. The health food store stuff is as wan, pale and unhealthy as the employees usually are. The stuff from Chinatown is usually labelled "mock pork" "mock duck", or "mock chicken". They need to be thoroughly rinsed of can gack and then seasoned. A mixture of Dijon, olive oil, ancho chile powder and so on does the trick. Roast it at around 375 for half an hour and it will get kind of crispy at the edges.

Generally, I think it best to not think of stuff like this as meat substitutes but as alternatives. They can in no way approximate the flavour profiles of meats. But they can be good sources of protein.

The Chinese excel at mock meats, though. Chinese Buddhism was heavily influenced by a vegetarian strand of thought in some Indian texts, particularly chapter 6 of the Lankavatara sutra so they've been doing fake meat for a long long time. Buddhism arrived there in 80 C.E., the Lankavatara in the 400s.

A meal a long time ago at a restaurant in Hong Kong whose name I forget provides a great example. They had mock everything. Mock duck involved:

layers of yuba (soy milk skin) deep-fried until crispy for the skin

soft silken tofu for the fat

meinjin for the meat, moulded around...

wooden bones.

Tasted nothing like duck of course but a great deal of fun.

Oh, the tinned mock duck stuff has a stippling on some of the pieces to represent skin.

indiagirl, might I suggest you buy a few u10 shrimp (really big bugs), split their shells, extract the colon-thread thing, grill them and have them with your favourite curry and rice? (You can save the shells to make stock or deep-fry them until they are crunchy, salt them, and eat them like chips.)

(Edited by Jinmyo at 9:54 pm on Feb. 5, 2002)

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Jinmyo -- Thanks for the discussion on mock meats.  See also "The long road to eGullet" in "Member Bios".  (Yes, Steve P's bio).

indiagirl -- I'm looking forward to your updates.  While I am not positioned to furnish advice on your choice in your circumstances, below are some thoughts on meat (with seafood not yet being covered):

1. Baby Steps?  If you choose to pursue meat, consider as another possibility using your sense of smell on meat first -- a piping hot, thick, aromatic and long-cooked chicken soup with noodles and vegetables (for familiarity as well as taste!).  Meat is not like truffles, where the smell of the item is essential to its overall appreciation.  However, this may be a way of easing yourself into the meat consumption process.  After sniffing the soup, you could decide whether or not to draw a little bit of the precious liquid, without the chicken, into your mouth.  

2. All Sorts of Possibilities.  Soup leads me to mention that, by not consuming meat or seafood, a person is also not benefitting from the varied stocks and other sauces or bases that could emerge from this raw material.  

Shying away from meat and seafood would also preclude the sampling of those flavors when they are paired with wine.  In other words, the effects of meat could be in combination, and may not be "linear" due to "mixing" effects with wine and other food items (including vegetables and fruit -- like the effect of pork on the onions in the pork vinadloo you mentioned).

Of course, dishes with meat or seafood become parts of meals that have their own pace, progression and idiosyncratic gloriousness.  A progression of dishes containing meats can be more fulfilling, under certain conditions, than a single meat dish.  For example, a dinner (not, obviously, suggested at this point) beginning with game bouillon, followed by other dishes, and progressing to the intensity of woodcock nursed by plump, peeled, confit green grapes and a truffle jus.

3. On Specifics.  For me, the appeal of meat includes: the juices ebbing from flesh not cooked beyond medium rare (except for pork or chicken); the tenderness, density and/or elastic "give" in certain meats; the sensation of something "substantial" when bitten into and taken into one's mouth; the diverse effects of fat, whether bulging along the rim of the cut, coarsing through it in tree-root-like veins or enmeshed into its body; the seductive "raw" visual appeal of less-cooked flesh, flushed with shades ranging from burgundy to a blush pink.

In very small birds, I like the fragility of their bones when cracked in my mouth.  (That sounds a lot more gross than it is.)  For certain other birds -- their inside cavities when somewhat bloody; the intensity of their liver and other inner parts; the feel of the meat adjacent to their thigh or wing bones.  

In chicken, I appreciate the gradations in flavor when both white (e.g., breast) and dark (e.g., thigh) meat are sampled in a single dish.  When there is a layer of fat between the skin and the flesh of the chicken and the dish is hot, I like the contrast between that fat and the suppleness of the flesh.  I like the subtlety of the taste of Bresse chicken, when compared with, say, most beef items, and, depending on the method of preparation, I like to pair it with old, old champagnes (notwithstanding conventional wisdom).  

For current meat eaters: Bresse chicken cooked in a champagne sauce at Jean-Michel Lorain, of La Cote Saint-Jacques in Joigny, France, was yummy.  I took it in with Bollinger R.D. 1981.  The dish is mentioned in an article by Steven Shaw on the restaurant.

I enjoy beef, particularly unusual breeds.  I like the uneven browned portions on the edges of an appropriately prepared steak -- their little fragrant bits and the slight bitterness from the charring.  Hot portions of fat can kind of "burst" when bitten into.  I like the "blood" connotations in the juices inside the beef; a little dollop of marrow next to it, perhaps.  I like beef presented simply, or with a more aggressive peppercorn sauce, or in various French methods.  Sauteed onions or mushrooms (esp. small, small chanterelles) can be elevated when sitting in a pool of beef jus.  Similarly, for some of my dining companions (if not me), potatoes take on greater possibilities when accompanied by beef.

For current meat eaters: I have sampled more beef since my post under "Kobe Beef" in "Cooking", including(1) Charolaise at Ambassadeurs (Crillon, Paris) -- with foie gras on top; (2) Charolaise at Chez Denise (Paris) -- simply sliced thickly and "au jus" and reasonably priced; and (3) Aubrac at Maison d'Aubrac (Paris) -- tartare, and separate entrecote.

Finally, I'd like to note the possibilities inhering in game, especially such stronger tasting game as woodcock and grouse.  Certain game have an intensity and distinctiveness (difficult to describe) that appeal.

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Indiagirl--as if cabrales has not given you a wonderful sensory checklist with which to start, allow me to add two more and possibly correct a mistaken assumption on your part:

1) Fresh shellfish and crustaceans, handled well, do not smell--in fact, one will often find these items, be they crabs or oysters, described as smelling clean, fresh, of the sea, whatever.  They actually do have a smell--but the range and depth of their raw smell is very slight, very hard to delineate and detect.

2) apropos of cabrales' little bird bone fascination--with which I concur--may I add the sensation of crunching through a soft-shell crab and eating salted shrimp, shell-on, that have been deep-fried Vietnamese style.

3)  If the blood/juice angle is initially off-putting with regard to meat, perhaps a long, slow and fully-cooked cut like a lamb shank is the way to go initially--especially since a shank is often so synergistically cooked and paired with vegetables.  

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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cabrales, what an excellent post.

For further on meinjin, do check out the links she supplied here: http://www.egullet.com/cgi-bin....start=0

Scroll waaaay down. But then go back and read the thread from the beginning.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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With respect, Steve, I have to think that if not fish, poultry would be more of a "baby step" towards meat eating than diving head first into a lamb.  Cabrales' description aside, Poultry can be found in "cleaner" forms than those little birds.

In the long run, the red meats, or pork for that matter, may be more fulfilling, but in the short term (in my opinion) they are a bigger step to take.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Or how about something like Chicken Tikka Masala?  You're probably used to heavy Indian curries, so that wont be a bother.  White meat chicken doesn't look like an animal, and doesn't have much taste or smell of its own.  

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jhlurie--I wasn't trying to suggest an order, or a sequence, just following up on the door cabrales opened.  I'm in no position to comment on a "proper" order--that's too personal--nor suggest which animal might present the biggest obstacle.  I just tried to add to the complexities that might await, and for some, a very well-cooked shank might present less of a visual obstacle than blood.  Your observation is well taken by me and I do agree with you.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Quote: from Sandra Levine on 1:25 pm on Feb. 6, 2002

On the other hand, a shank, with the bone and all, looks unmistakably as if it came from an animal.  Maybe a less identifiable cut would be an easier way to start. Chicken or pork cutlets, for example.

Um.  The participation of a recent member named Col Klink on this board has reminded me of meat-heavy German food.  So how about shnitzle as a "break-in" food?  Very "meaty" tasting, but somewhat seperated from the organic appearance in the rough.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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I have avoided meat and fowl for, oh, almost a decade now. It's been so long that I'm finding myself in the category of vegetarian Jeffrey Steingarten called "vegetarians who aren't sure why they're vegetarian." I guess at this point it's mostly out of habit, and secondarily because the scent of meat is not a fragrance I identify as "food" at this point.

I started eating fish again about a year ago, mostly for weight loss reasons (it's a helluva lot easier to dine out and dine lower-calorie when you eat fish). I find that I adore fish and that I'm getting to experience this whole new area of cookery that was heretofore in the self-imposed verboten category.

India, I had no trouble consuming fish when I went back to eating it. I did start slow but I never felt physically or emotionally like my restraint was necessary. I now eat fish three to five times a week and it's never made me feel anything but good. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I had gone from veganism to eating fish (or if I managed to come across a bad mussel, heh heh).

I am considering re-adding these other animal foods into my diet on a limited basis, mostly because I am interested in pursuing a career related to my culinary interests and I suspect that my way will be easier if I am receptive to as many dining experiences as possible. That being said, I don't imagine myself preparing such foods in my own home, and I have no idea how one eases into eating them out in restaurants. I don't feel physically revolted by the idea of eating meat, but I don't feel particularly attracted either.  

Has anybody started to eat meat after a long period of avoiding it? Why? How did that feel? I think Indiagirl asked about this, but I don't recall seeing a straightforward response.

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I haven't eaten meat or fowl for about 8-10 years, but I do eat fish. I have never felt limited by the way I eat, but this is mostly due to the reasons why I stopped eating meat: I felt it was too heavy (eating it made me tired, not energized) and, especially, I do not really like it. However, I could not live without fish! I do not miss meat, but, since there are no spiritual reasons for my diet, I can have a very small taste is someone else is having meat and if it is interesting enough for me to want to try it (it usually isn't). So I have a bite perhaps once or twice a year, and it only confirms my opinion that I prefer fish and vegetables.

Recently, though, I have considered starting to eat chicken again, for two reasons: family gatherings/dinners are getting pretty complicated when some people do not eat meat and some do not eat fish. Chicken would be ok for everyone (now I'm the only one who does not eat it). And second, I'd like to try some recipes that use chicken. A few days ago, I had a piece of chicken pie, and it was not an unpleasant experience, so I guess I could start to eat chicken after avoiding it for a long time - but I don't think I'll be able to go back to eating meat again.

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Malawry & Brija -- When you switched to not eating meat and fowl, I wonder if a principle similar to the "law of diminishing marginal returns" in economics had a (small) adverse effect on the fulfillment you derived from the remaining food categories. (That "law" posits that a person's "utility" or fulfillment from taking in an extra unit of a given good decreases the more the person already has of the good.)  

Did you enjoy non-meat products at least as much after your switch in dietary regime, even though you were taking in more of it during any given week or month?  Perhaps a category like fish is diverse enough, and individual types of fish differentiated enough, that any effects of similarity and the law of diminishing marginal returns were dissipated?  Or perhaps similarity in dishes can, for certain diners under some circumstances, even become helpful?

For me, diminishing marginal returns have not applied to date. In a limited time period, I often take in (1) more of a given food product (e.g., turbot, Jerusalem artichokes, eggs, blood oranges, seasonal items), food category or drink, and/or (2) several meals at a single restaurant (even where the menu has not changed and I am ordering from it).  For me, this may be fulfilling because it permits comparison of subtleties (not that that is my primary goal in dining).  Perhaps comparison furnishes another cerebral aspect to dining.

Recently, I have at times ordered the same type of dish at different restaurants.  For example, I ordered dishes containing oysters set in a gelee (similar to jelly) of the water/juices trapped in their shells (at times described on menus by reference to sea water) at Meneau's L'Esperance (Vezelay-St. Pere), Dutournier's Carre des Feuillants (Paris) and Lorain's Cote Saint-Jacques (Joigny).  I liked each version of the dish quite a bit.  Not only were the oysters differentiated (with Lorain's being less "flat", although the other two chefs were not using belons by any means), but the utilization of the oyster jus and the nature of the gelee were distinct.

In Meneau and Dutournier's versions, each oyster was presented in its own shell.  In his signature dish, Meneau set the gelee somewhat more firmly and had a vegetable leaf suspended in the gelee above the portion containing the oyster.  The gelee was even, smooth and "clear"-tasting.  It had been imbued with a bit of the brininess, saltiness and other scents of the sea.  

Dutournier placed each oyster above a paste containing, I believe, horseradish and a light cream (not helpful to the dish).  When only the oyster and the much more "wobbly" and smaller pieces of "crushed" clear gelee were eaten together, however, the dish was appealing.  Also, the dish offered two little pieces of coarse toast-like crackers with a smearing of foie gras.

Finally, Lorain's signature terrine of oyster, included in the "Les Musts" parts of his menu, was a wedge from a larger preparation.  The oysters were no longer served in their own shell and were no longer whole.  Intriguingly, as many as ten plump ones had been laid in the larger terrine in the direction counter to that in which the terrine had been sliced.  This revealed cross-sections of oyster that, in some cases, had a discernible greenish interior.  Also, paper-thin slices of seaweed and of softened endive and shallots (I believe) were utilized in the terrine.  The oyster jus was in a brownish terrine gelee with a reddish tint, mixed in with tastes of an ingredient bringing to mind light soya sauce (although that was likely not utilized).  The Lorain oyster terrine was the last in this series I took in, and the differences were a welcome surprise.

Members' thoughts would be appreciated on the benefits and detriments of sampling very similar dishes, food products or food categories with greater frequency, particularly in the context of switches to or away from meat consumption. Members' descriptions of foods they would want more of in the "If I were rich . . ." thread under "General" could be seen as somewhat related to this question too.

(Edited by cabrales at 7:01 am on Feb. 7, 2002)

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Cabrales, I'm not sure if I understand your question… but yes, I did enjoy non-meat products at least as much after I had stopped eating meat as I did before. More, actually. One of the reasons I abandoned meat was just that: I did not like it anymore. I guess that when I was younger, I liked meat and fowl a little more than I liked fish, though I've always eaten a lot of fish (my parent love it and my mother's family are fishermen so…). However, when I was about 16-18 years old, my preferences started to change. I realised that I liked fish more and more and did not like meat as much as I used to. To me, it just is not as tasty as fish.

I eat fish, shellfish, mushrooms, vegetables and all dairy products, and I think it is quite a diverse diet. After I stopped eating meat, I have discovered some foods I did not use to eat, like beans and lentils. There are so many foods or dishes that you can prepare without meat that I cannot get bored by any similarity of the products I have left now that I don't eat meat. As for eating out, I feel I have more choices than before… this is perhaps not really true, but it is because my attitude has changed: when I still liked meat, I almost always ordered a steak. It did not much occur to me that I could try something else - but, I was 10-15 years old then, and though I liked to taste everything, I wanted to eat something I knew I liked. But when I did not like meat so much anymore, I noticed that there were many different vegetable, fish, shellfish etc. dishes that I could try… What I'm trying to say is that after I switched to not eating meat (or fowl), I've had a lot more variety and choices than I used to have. Or, of course I had had them before, but I had not seen them. Still, I did not become familiar with these non-meat products just because I "had to" (since I would not eat meat) but because I they started to appeal to me more than they had before. I guess this is one example of how your preferences can change as you grow older. Mine have changed a great deal.

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Quote: from Brija on 8:12 am on Feb. 7, 2002

Cabrales, I'm not sure if I understand your question… but yes, I did enjoy non-meat products at least as much after I had stopped eating meat as I did before. More, actually. One of the reasons I abandoned meat was just that: I did not like it anymore.

Brija -- Sorry if my post was unclear; less complexity in posting is something I'm working on.  You responded to what I was trying to say, though.

Let me frame things from the flip side.  Instead of asking whether having a given food more frequently might, in some situations, lead you to enjoy each additional amount of it less (which is not the case, as you note, given the endless opportunities remaining even without meat), were there particular dishes or particular types of meat or cuts that you yearned for during the no-meat period?  Perhaps a grain of memory about the luscious fattiness or other aspects of a given meat that, even if you would not ordinarily like it, your not having sampled it in a long time would make the first "re-taste" of it (e.g., in the small bites a few times a year you describe) delicious?

It sounds like the answer to these questions is "no"  :)

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Brija--to pull out one of your examples,  a classic way to serve du Puy lentils--those tiny emerald green wonders--is in a vinaigrette with a few crisply sauteed lardons.  I find the pairing ethereal and is another example where meat is used only as an accent, a supporting flavor and to provide textural contrast.  I have yet to have another lentil dish rise to this height--do you think it's possible you are missing something in this case that cannot be duplicated or compared properly?  Yes, you certainly can have the lentil salad w/o lardons--as you have newly discovered as you lost your taste for meat--but it is just a good lentil salad.

Do you wish you had had the lardon version before you switched away from meat consumption?  Previously unappreciated variety and unexplored choices have opened up to you--but have any of the dish descriptions on this thread, especially those of the poetic cabrales-- given you pause to consider that you may still be missing out on the highest, transcendent pairings of vegetarian elements combined with meat and shellfish and seafood?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Quote: from cabrales on 6:50 am on Feb. 7, 2002

Did you enjoy non-meat products at least as much after your switch in dietary regime, even though you were taking in more of it during any given week or month?  Perhaps a category like fish is diverse enough, and individual types of fish differentiated enough, that any effects of similarity and the law of diminishing marginal returns were dissipated?  Or perhaps similarity in dishes can, for certain diners under some circumstances, even become helpful?

This is a hard question for me to answer. I stopped eating meat and fowl (and fish, though as I said I picked that up again a year ago) in 1992. I was 17 at the time. My palate was just starting to develop, and I really didn't know what the #### I was doing with my diet. I ate baked potatoes and grilled cheese sammiches and not much in the way of vegetables, which I didn't especially care for.

Lots of things have changed in my tastes over the years I've been vegetarian. Probably the biggest shift happened when I went on an allergy-free diet for 6 months. (I ate no gluten, dairy, or egg in addition to my self-imposed meat/fowl/fish restrictions. And it didn't help my allergies a bit! Wah.) I started eating all kinds of things I'd never cared for before...including broccoli, which is one of those green veggies that avowed veggie-haters always seem to tolerate. I am sure my expanded palate was a result of the serious restrictions I faced...I had to eat new things to avoid getting bored.

In a more general sense, I do believe that judging among similar dishes can be useful. I don't get bored with simple foods (I'm a connoisseur of toast and jam, for example) and sometimes I'll eat the same complex dish over and over to see what I think of various versions. With restaurant meals it can be difficult as a vegetarian to compare different chefs' versions of the same dish. It's not like there's always X vegetarian entree on every menu. And if you want to talk about upscale, interesting food prepared by cutting-edge chefs, it's even harder to compare. It's not like every chef always works with summer squash, or experiments with vegetarian risottos, or puts meat analogues on the menu. Desserts are probably easier to compare than anything else, and I'm not a dessert connoisseur.

If I want to compare, I usually cook the same food using different methods myself, or I dine out and then tinker with the ideas I get from the chef in my own kitchen, or I try a few different recipes from different writers whose work I trust.

Hope that responds to some of your questions.

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Quote: from Malawry on 9:19 am on Feb. 7, 2002

Probably the biggest shift happened when I went on an allergy-free diet for 6 months. (I ate no gluten, dairy, or egg in addition to my self-imposed meat/fowl/fish restrictions . . .

In a more general sense, I do believe that judging among similar dishes can be useful. I don't get bored with simple foods (I'm a connoisseur of toast and jam, for example) . . .

Malawry -- Many thanks for your response :)

The self-discipline to adhere to your self-imposed meat/fowl/fish restrictions at the same time as the gluten/dairy/egg ban is not easy to muster.  If you are comfortable, I would appreciate just a bit more description on why you would turn to brocoli and other things you had not liked before, instead of relaxing your restrictions on meat/fowl/fish.  It would probably come as no surprise that I am not at all disciplined in all things food-related, although I am usually aware of what the situation surrounding me might be in that regard.

On judging simple foods, I am not particularly interested in eating bread (unless it's as a base for cheese, but there are alternative accompaniments for that).  However, I have found myself tasting a lot of butter in France.  Levels of saltiness, creaminess, connotations of cream, complementarity (or lack thereof) with different breads offered at the applicable restaurant, and other attributes can vary quite a bit.  In addition, some restaurants have the practice of offering both salted and unsalted butter.  I find myself sometimes tasting more of each, if they are decent.

Another apparently simple item I have been tasting at different places is verbena infusion.  I am a "die-hard" coffee person (not due to addiction to caffeine effects, more due to my liking the bitterness in a double espresso).  However, I have been ordering verbena infusion from time to time because its (mild) taste has noticeable variation too.

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Quote: from cabrales on 10:17 am on Feb. 7, 2002

The self-discipline to adhere to your self-imposed meat/fowl/fish restrictions at the same time as the gluten/dairy/egg ban is not easy to muster.  If you are comfortable, I would appreciate just a bit more description on why you would turn to brocoli and other things you had not liked before, instead of relaxing your restrictions on meat/fowl/fish.  It would probably come as no surprise that I am not at all disciplined in all things food-related, although I am usually aware of what the situation surrounding me might be in that regard.

Ah, see, by the time I did the allergy-free thing I'd been a vegetarian long enough that I didn't regard avoiding meat and fowl as a set of restrictions. I still don't really regard it as a set of restrictions, for that matter. I don't approach food with a sense that it's harmful and I have to barricade myself against the mean evil things it contains. Food is good. I like to eat it. :)

My attitude is best described thus:

Suppose you don't like broccoli. When you go to the grocery store, you don't touch the broccoli. You don't bother chatting with the broccoli farmer at the farmer's market. And when you see broccoli on a menu, you mentally skip over the item that contains it because you know you just aren't interested. It's not a restriction, it's more something you just don't mentally regard as "food." That's what I think of when I see meat at the store, in the market, on a menu.

So no, it never occurred to me to put meat and fowl and fish back in my diet when I decided to try the allergy-free restrictions. I did recognize that I needed asisstance, and I consulted with a nutritionist whose dour attitude and insistence that mustard and vinegar with no oil makes for good salad dressing led me to a strong distrust for all people in said field. I did get some ideas from her that were useful, like using corn tortillas to make sandwiches and making regular snacks out of brown rice crackers. Just the same, as I said before, I got BORED SILLY with these plain foods. I started eating different things that I had previously believed myself to dislike because I just HAD to try something different. I thought it was worth revisiting previosuly rejected foods since I had so many restrictions on my head, and I found I really liked some of them.

Meanwhile, your stories about French butter are making me swoon over here. I love butter! There can be a real joy in simple, old foods like butter. I wish there was a dairy vendor at my local farm market who I could convince to try a European style butter. I'd buy it in a heartbeat. One of these days I'd love to do just what you did and go on a little butter tour. I do sometimes pursue other foods in similar ways. Raspberry jams being the best example. Everybody sells them, but there are huge differences...and I've barely started in on international jams. Mmmm, butter and raspberry jam...

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Malawry -- Thanks, again -- for the added description!

I like jam too.  I use jam and jellies a bit at home.  Since I cannot cook, I might open up a little tin of foie gras and dress it with a few scoops of bitter, bitter orange marmelade (perhaps not for everybody), or blood orange or dark cherry jam.  Many places here in London have a decent jam selection, and certain restaurants I visit in the French provinces (the ones with recognized chefs) have boutiques where all sorts of things (from aprons and knifes with logos, serving utensils, duck confit to jams) are sold.  Only some of these boutiques have jams made by the restaurant/chef (e.g., Bernard Loiseau), though; many offer (often equally good) jam by third parties.

I started liking jam because I liked it with scones (the ones with yellow-colored raisins embedded) when they were crumbly and not rigid.  I have not had an afternoon tea set in quite a while (Angelina in Paris being on my list, as I have never visited).  But, if it were up to me, I would not prefer the tall, vertical trays replete with sandwiches and mini pastries and tarts.  I would order scones with a selection of jam. Another aspect of jam -- the grains associated with certain fruit.

I had orange/vanilla jam with little madelaines at the end of a meal at Helene Darroze (Paris).  See "L'Astrance -- Paris" under "France".  There were probably 5-6 different flavors of jam on a little serving cart, and there might have been one type of honey available for the madelaines as well (?).  

For more on butter, see Steve Plotnicki's post under "Dinner at Arpege" in "France", which also contains interesting descriptions of vegetable-based dishes.

Quote: from Malawry on 9:19 am on Feb. 7, 2002

With restaurant meals it can be difficult as a vegetarian to compare different chefs' versions of the same dish. It's not like there's always X vegetarian entree on every menu. And if you want to talk about upscale, interesting food prepared by cutting-edge chefs, it's even harder to compare.

Your mention of vegetarian dishes at restaurants led me to wonder whether you minded that your choice of dishes at restaurants (and, possibly, your choice of restaurants) may have been constrained when you ate neither meat nor fish. Were there many restaurants where there were no more than two  or three vegetarian entrees available?

indiagirl -- You appear to be very capable at, and interested in, cooking yourself.  This is in sharp contrast to my situation, with respect to capabilities at least. Might the potential advantages of eating at (and otherwise experiencing) more restaurants (including restaurants lacking a meaningful vegetarian selection) appeal to you?

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Quote: from Steve Klc on 10:44 am on Feb. 7, 2002

Then you must try the infusion trolley at Petrossian Paris with Serge.

Steve -- Your advice will be pursued and written up within the next few months, I hope.  Apart from orange blossom flower infusion and verbena infusion, I have not sampled any infusions.  The infusion trolley sounds interesting.

I ate at Petrossian Paris recently, but did not focus on the infusions.  The saumon blanc fume (white smoked salmon) was distinctive-tasting in a light, good way.  It was accompanied by a small glass cup containing confit tomatoes, coupled with gaucamole and aged Gouda (sic) cheese.  I went to the restaurant to sample Aquitaine caviar, but that disappointed because it was too similar to Iranian.  The place has a relatively modern, clean decor.  The cooking appears to be more modern than that at Petrossian NYC too.

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