To a new vegetarian or just someone new to organizing their meals in advance, menu-planning can be daunting. I tend to find it reassuring– that I know exactly how I’m going to use the food in my fridge and pantry each week and I can ensure things don’t go to waste due to being forgotten in the back of the fridge (the type A in me comes out!). D is very helpful, but when he’s on grocery duty, he tends to buy things out of excitement and then we’re left to incorporate them into our meals! That isn’t to say we aren’t impulsive at times, but it’s harder to slip in some things than others before they go bad….trust me.
As I’ve said, being vegetarian isn’t usually a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle. It necessitates planning and careful thought putting together a balanced meal that will be satisfying, filling, and taste DELICIOUS– being vegetarian doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor, and in fact, I think I enjoy eating more now that meat is out of my diet than I did when I was a carnivore because I pay attention to the ingredients and where my food comes from!
Starting your weekly planning necessitates looking at the days to come and what your schedule looks like. For us, that’s taking into consideration which days we have night events (meetings for work, D’s comedy shows, or just time with friends) and which nights we’re home to eat. Time to eat doesn’t always mean time to COOK though, especially if we want to eat before 9pm, so we plan our menu in advance to ensure things are as easy as possible midweek.
Once you know what your week looks like, think about some recipes in your repertoire and plug them into your week. (If you are a beginning home-cook, find some recipes that entice you in a cookbook or online and pay attention to the prep time— it’s put on there for a reason!) You’ll want to consider different cuisines, protein sources, and how much time you have that day— here’s what we did for this week (the summer is unique because D is home most of the day, but the general concept applies):
June 10-14 calendar:
Monday: S gets home around 5:30pm
Tuesday: S gets home around 5, D helps a friend move at 6pm
Wednesday: S gets home at 6:15pm, D leaves at 6:45pm for comedy show
Thursday: S home around 5:30pm
Friday: S and D have dinner at a friend’s home– it’s a potluck and we’re bringing a Mediterranean side dish!
Gnocchi with marinara (our marinara has tempeh in it)
Quinoa with balsalmic tofu and a green salad with pesto
Tofu stir-fry with vegetables and rice noodles
We had Italian for dinner on Sunday night out at a local restaurant, so we wanted to do the gnocchi later in the week to spread out how frequently we were having pasta. Homemade gnocchi is quick and easy to throw together (stick with me to the end for our recipe) so we put that on Tuesday’s menu, enabling D to work on making fresh sauce throughout the day and then putting together the dish quickly before he had to leave. Since we had the most time to cook on Monday of this week, we decided on the tofu stir-fry, since there’s a good amount of prep-work involved in chopping vegetables and I didn’t want to leave all of that to D (and I secretly love chopping veggies–the monotony is therapeutic)! Wednesday we’re planning to fend for ourselves since it’ll be a revolving door, and Thursday will be a delicious balsamic marinated tofu over quinoa with a fresh green salad. With this basic menu, we can then make a grocery list to head to the store prepared and less influenced by enticements and things we don’t need right now. Since tofu needs time to marinate, it’s also important to think ahead actually take advantage of your newly planned menu! Don’t worry about things not always working as planned– life happens.
Excuse the half-empty bowl–I wasn’t patient enough to take a photo before I dug in!
Gnocchi with Tempeh Marinara
1 onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic
Italian seasoning (dry oregano, basil, red pepper flakes)
4-6 oz of tempeh (we buy ours at Trader Joes)
28 oz of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (Costco in SC carries them periodically but so does Harris Teeter—they’re more expensive than the national brands but totally worth it)
fresh basil– easy to grow at home or buy fresh in a package from the grocery store or a local garden store
Parmesan rind–available in the fresh cheese section of the grocery store–it’s literally the rind they cut away from the cheese when selling chunks of Parm and you can get it for cheap to enhance your sauces)
Sweat the onions and garlic in a saute pan with dried basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and a dash of red pepper flakes. Grate in the tempeh and add another round of the same seasonings–combine and cook for about 5 minutes . Pour in the tomatoes and some basil, then Parmesan rind. Cook for as long as possible— at least 20 minutes– but sitting on the stove on low for hours is best. Remove the Parmesan rind before serving–it’ll be flexible and gummy—just throw away.
We make our homemade gnocchi as needed, because it’s incredibly easy to make one weekend or even a weeknight and then freeze until needed. We follow Michael Symon’s recipe but just make the gnocchi and add it to our own sauces— put them on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer until they’re not soft anymore, then transfer to a plastic bag or plastic container until you’re ready to cook. To prepare, boil water like for pasta and drop in the frozen gnocchi– when they float (3-5 minutes) they’re ready! Fish them out with a slotted spoon or spider and toss with the marinara– then grate fresh Parmesan over the top.
I promise you won’t miss the ground beef in this sauce and it’ll keep you full and satiated without being too heavy like potato gnocchi can be! The gnocchi are creamy, soft, and literally little pillows of flavor cradling the sweet and tart marinara, as well as the spicy and nutty basil. MMMMMM–what do YOU think?