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Nourishments: Plant-based, Planet Friendly



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“Plant-based diet” has become a buzzword in the world of dietary habits, with emphasis on burgers designed to trick the tongue into thinking it is devouring a meat product.

My curiosity finally got the best of me, and I did a little research, wondering what exactly makes a diet a plant-based diet. Much to my surprise, I found that it is precisely a “diet” that many have followed for the last 40-plus years. We knew it as a “whole foods” approach to eating.

Multiple health outlets, including health.harvard.edu, define a plant-based diet as one that puts the focus on foods that are not processed; a diet with emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits. Choosing whole grains over processed grains, small amounts of canola and olive oils, and eating beans, seeds, and nuts for the majority of meals is key to a plant-based diet, though small amounts of animal products — fish, chicken, honey, butter, cheese — are occasionally used to round out a meal.

That, in a nutshell (literally and figuratively!) is a whole foods diet, and is also similar to the once popular Mediterranean diet. The quality of food is prioritized, above all. Forty years ago, finding local sources for food items, particularly organically produced, was not so easy. The label of “natural” was slapped on a variety of items, and with no legal definition demanded, it often failed a whole foodie’s test of not being tainted with additives not easily identified. Label reading was crucial to anyone adhering to a whole foods diet when buying anything prepackaged. (It remains a good idea to this day, for a variety of health reasons.)

What has always been a challenge for those following a whole foods, vegetarian, or vegan diet has been finding foods with that satisfying mouth feel. The new plant-based burgers purport to do so. The question becomes, is a diet being followed for its health benefits, or for ethical reasons? Ethical reasons (though the faux bloodiness of popular plant-based burgers can be a psychological turnoff) may be the reason that plant-based burgers have soared to the forefront of non-meat eaters’ shopping lists, despite frequently being higher in saturated fats, sodium, and carbohydrates than meat burgers. They also tend to be more caloric, but do provide an equivalent amount of protein and are a great source of fiber. However, there is a fair amount of processing (and some science) that goes into producing a meat analog burger… so that seems to fall outside the general definition of a plant-based diet focusing on unprocessed foods.

Burgers made from beans, grains, and vegetables tend to be a better health choice, providing significant fiber, vitamins, and minerals. As usual, there are exceptions. Calories can bump up with bean burgers, for one thing, and protein balancing is more critical.

Call it what you will, there are multiple upsides to a diet less dependent on meat. Reducing the amount of meat consumed contributes to a healthy lifestyle and is a plus for our planet.

But as usual, determining why you eat what you eat (or do not), and moderation in food choices makes for you being the healthiest you that you can be.

Mushroom Tempeh Burger

It seems like a lot of ingredients, but it comes together quickly. Mouth feel? Pretty good!

4 large baby portabella mushrooms, quartered

½ small onion, coarsely chopped

¼ medium green bell pepper, coarsely chopped

¼ large jalapeño pepper, coarsely chopped

1 small clove garlic

1 package tempeh (cultured soy product, found in the produce department of many stores)

1/3 c finely grated carrot (you can substitute finely grated raw beets if you seek some “bleeding...”)

2 Tbs canola oil

3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tsp tamari soy sauce

Juice of half of a small lime

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp chili powder

½ tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp ground cumin

1 Tbs fine whole wheat bread crumbs

1/3 c coarsely minced cilantro

Bring a small pan of water to a boil, cut tempeh in four pieces and place in boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain. Set aside.

Place mushrooms, onion, peppers, and garlic in food processor with steel blade (and beets if using in place of carrots). Pulse until finely chopped but not mushy.

Heat 1 Tb canola oil in heavy skillet. Add vegetables and cook over medium heat, stirring, until tender and mushrooms cease to release liquid.

Meanwhile, pulse tempeh chunks in processor with steel blade until small pieces. Add cooked vegetables, soy sauce, salt, chili powder, paprika, and cumin and pulse til all is combined.

Place in a bowl. Stir in carrots, bread crumbs, olive oil, cilantro, and lime juice.

Form into 3 large patties.

Heat remaining tablespoon of canola oil. Reduce heat to medium/medium low and cook burgers, turning once, until golden brown on both sides.

Serve on a bun with chipotle ketchup, your favorite hot sauce, or mustard – or serve “in the grass,” on a bed of lettuce.

Enjoy your plant-based meal!

A smokey hot sauce is a nice balance to the savory mushroom tempeh burger. —Bee Photos, Crevier
Hand-formed tempeh patties are ready to jump in the frying pan. Plant-based meal, here we come!
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