Cooking For Others: A Real Flexitarian

VENUE: Cara’s apartment, Park Slope
MENU: Red Wine-Braised Lentils with (Veggie) Sausage; Steamed Spinach; Whole Wheat Toast

There are dinner parties when it seems like every single person in attendance requires a different meal. As a vegetarian, more or less, I know well the shameful sense of appearing to be a picky eater, when, in fact, vegetarianism is not exactly that. I do my best to keep it separate from childish pickiness, which I depict as liking to eat only things like vanilla ice cream, skinless chicken breast, and spaghetti with butter. It’s more of a pointed preference, like preferring the ocean to a lake or the Q train to the R.

When I’m cooking for non-vegetarians, even people who claim they don’t mind partaking of the occasional veggie-centric dinner, I sometimes fear they see things a bit differently. I can be self-conscious then about what I choose to serve. I want to make sure they’re satisfied and happy, and I often wind up relying on cheese as something comparably fattening to the richest of sausages and the reddest of meats. Occasionally I’ll even punctuate my meal with a coldcut, like the ham I threw on these biscuit sandwiches. It’s all fine and dandy—really—but it can be a little heartbreaking to, say, prepare a brilliant new tofu recipe and then be hard-pressed to think of someone to invite over to enjoy it with. (Thank god, in this respect and others, for the veggie-centrism of Mag Club.)
Alex, the guest for the meal at hand, is, perhaps unusually, a bona-fide flexitarian. Not in a trendy way, and not in a meticulous way, but when I started dating him a month or two ago, I was thrilled to learn, over sushi, that while he doesn’t turn down meat, if left on his own he aims to eat simple food, veggies and grains and some fish. In other words, food that falls under the heading of Stuff Cara Eats.
So I’ve watched him eat rare steak and been ever so slightly disappointed by the fact that he won’t partake of cheese or cookies. But when it comes down to the wire, it’s nice to know that at a table laden only with pasta primavera, quinoa pilaf, or braised lentils, he won’t miss the meat.
He might, however, miss the fake meat, and in fact, he is responsible for introducing me to Field Roast’s veggie sausages (made from wheat gluten, mainly). I tried a slice once, from a dish he had leftovers of, and I was pretty impressed by the sheer tastiness of it all. With careful instructions from him to buy only the Italian or the Apple flavors, I purchased my own package of links and decided to imitate for him Phoebe’s Merguez Sausage and Lentils. I had once scoffed at the idea that it would even be worth trying a veggie substitue for the sausages in this dish. But now I was ready to make my own vegetarian rendition, only stove-top (it was hot out) and braised in red wine.
The result was a quick and easy dish, much of which could be made in advance so I didn’t have to sweat by the stove in front of my date. It oozed flavor and richness and provided an excellent bed for an inspiring fake-meat product.
One last note: Alex is a photographer and a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to his craft. That explains why these pictures are particularly well focused, colored, and framed, and also why the lentils were bordering on tepid by the time I convinced him to sit down, fill his plate, and eat.
From my kitchen, a vegetarian mecca—meatless meats and all—to yours,

Red Wine-Braised Lentils with (Veggie) Sausage
Serves 3-4

If you’re not convinced by my ode to Field Roast or my comparison of vegetarianism and subway train lines, I am sure you could make this with your favorite real-meat sausage.
1 cup dried black lentils (don’t use red lentils)
3 garlic cloves, 2 minced, 1 chopped roughly into thirds
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 veggie sausage, preferably Field Roast Italian, cut into thin half moons
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup red wine
Pick over the lentils for any bad ones, then rinse them in a couple changes of water. Put them in a small pot with about 2 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, and the garlic that is roughly chopped. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then simmer, partially covered, for 25-30 minutes until the lentils are soft but not at all mushy. Drain any excess water. If you’re doing this ahead of time, refrigerate the lentils; otherwise, set them aside.
Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large, cast-iron skillet. Add the sausage and let the pieces brown and crisp. Remove to a plate and set aside. Add another teaspoon of oil to the pan, then put in the onions, sauté a few minutes, then add the carrots and the minced garlic. When everything is soft, throw in the spices and salt, cook for a minute, and put in the lentils. Cover in red wine and bring to a simmer. When the liquid is nearly completely reduced, 5-10 minutes, add the sausage back in. Simmer another few minutes until the liquid is evaporated, taste for seasonings, and sprinkle with the remaining teaspoon of olive oil.
Serve with toasted slices of fresh whole wheat bread, with simple steamed spinach or broccoli on the side.
Posted in: Cooking for Others
  • Jessie

    Mmm, I will have to try out this veggie sausage.. and the lentils! Yum!

    I will admit I am concerned that you're dating someone who doesn't eat cheese.

  • Kate

    I must agree with Jessie on the cheese comment, but this does sound good.

    Out of curiosity, does the veggie sausage need to be blended with other ingredients, or can it stand on its own, in say a sausage and pepper sandwich? I can't wait to try it

  • Leora

    I really want to try this one! I'm not normally a "fake" meat lover, but this sounds like a great dish to make, and serve to others!

  • Sarah L

    this looks amazing c! nice pics alex!

  • The Pirate Queen

    Oooh, I REALLY dislike the Field Roast sausages having tried them on many occasions. The only ones I like are Tofurkey Italian sausages and they recently disappeared from my co-op!

    Sounds delicious, though.

  • MondayCampaigns

    Having grown up vegetarian, my family loves meat substitutes but we have never tried Veggie Sausage so this recipe is definitely going to be a weekend hit! I intern with the non-profit Meatless Monday and I love your innovative posts of delicious meatless recipes. As a project of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Meatless Monday has a strong nutrition focus and also has myriad meatless recipes on the website (featured this week, a dish with the meat substitute seitan Spicy Stuffed Seitan: in addition to cooking techniques and health news. For more on the Meatless Monday campaign, check out the Youtube video:
    Thanks! Ashwini

  • ThirstyApe

    For more flexitarian recipes I would highly recommend the book The Flexitarian Diet by Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. It has over 100 recipes and great nutrition advice!

  • Alex

    What the author left out was that the reason Alex (the dated) doesn't eat cheese is because he is lactose intolerant, not because he doesn't like cheese or animal products.

    (Thank you for the photo compliment!)

  • Sarah

    This looks delicious! I’ve never cooked much with red wine, but I’m a big fan of lentils (and Field Roast!), so I think I’ll have to give this a try :)


    • BGSK

      Glad to connect with another Field Roast fan – hope you enjoy!

Buy Now - In The Small Kitchen