Interpreting a Meatless Menu
By Beth Liu
it can present quite a challenge to find a good “meatless” meal at the
average restaurant. Our family enjoys eating out often but, being
vegetarian, it’s not always easy to find items that suit our diet. Here
are a few ideas that we have tried that you may find beneficial for
modifying meals that are not necessarily listed as “Vegetarian” on the
menu. With a bit of creativity and ingenuity, you can usually find
something suitable to eat almost anywhere.
When you are at a restaurant that does not have any vegetable or starch
dishes listed separately on the menu, look at what is being served with
the main entrees. You may see that the fish is served with a rice pilaf
and broiled mushrooms, or that the steak dish is served with steamed
broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes. You will find a lot of tasty
vegetable dishes that you can combine to make a hearty meatless meal.
When your plate comes out with all the variety of flavors and textures
of the side dishes, it might just be the envy of everyone at the table!
Another good trick is to look at the appetizer menu. Items served in
this category are often more vegetarian in nature such as a Spinach Dip
with Crostini, or Stuffed Artichoke Hearts (of course you will want to
be aware of the ingredients used for the stuffing).
In a place like a steakhouse, going “vegetarian” can be as easy as
simply ordering a green salad and a baked potato. With this combination,
you could ask to have vinegar and oil to be served on the side, as well
as some salt and pepper. That way you will know exactly what goes into
the ingredients for the dressings and condiments for these items. This
is especially important if you are trying to avoid such things as
hydrogenated oils and other less healthy fats.
An Italian restaurant will often serve dishes that can be easily
modified to be meatless as well. For instance, most pasta dishes can be
made with a lighter version of a tomato-based sauce rather than a heavy
meat sauce or cheese-based sauce. You might also try the Eggplant
Parmesan. If you’re trying to take it easy with the dairy, you can ask
them to go light on the parmesan, or just to leave it out altogether.
It’s usually a breaded dish, which is quite hearty the way it is with no
added cheese. If you prefer, you can have them lightly sprinkle some
shaved Parmesan over the top. This way you can enjoy the flavor and also
have control over the amount being used. For a totally dairy-free
option, you can always order pasta with veggies in a garlic and olive
oil sauce (just be aware that if the restaurant makes their own fresh
pasta it is often made with eggs).
If you opt for a place that serves sandwiches or burritos you can alter
them in many different ways for a more vegetarian rendition. At a burger
place, you can forgo the big “meaty” burger patty and have them layer
the bun with all the veggies that they have to make a wonderful veggie
sandwich. For a great veggie taco or burrito, you can order a corn or
flour tortilla, fill it with beans and your favorite veggies, and some
salsa for added zest. This works even at Taco Bell!
When dealing with the waiter at a restaurant, state clearly and right up
front what your needs are to avoid any confusion or miscommunication.
Usually most waiters will be very accommodating and, if they can’t help
you directly, will be able to consult with the chef or manager regarding
your requests. If the restaurant is new to you, it is best to call
ahead and talk to someone there about your dietary desires. That way you
will have more information about what is available beforehand, and you
won’t have to discuss it at great length with the waiter at the table.
The restaurant may even have some dishes and combinations that aren’t
mentioned on the regular menu available for vegetarians.
In spite of all the various options now available for vegetarian dining,
you may still sometimes find yourself in a situation where there’s not
much to choose from. In this case, just do what you can and try not to
worry. Don’t let yourself feel deprived! Look instead at the things you can
have rather than all those you cannot. Even if there are only one or
two items on the menu that are suitable, your digestion may be better
off just working on a simple meal rather than a large mixture of many
different foods. At the very least, you can always have something to eat
when you get back home. Remember most of all just to have fun and enjoy
the experience. You may discover many new ideas along the way that will
serve you well in your quest for a tasty and meatless meal!