On our first date my now-husband told me that he had been a vegetarian for 15 years. I responded with polite interest: asking how he had made the decision and what he liked to eat.
I had already decided that this wasn’t going to work.
My knee-jerk reaction is one I imagine many people share. Even though I cook professionally and my own single girl diet featured plenty of vegetarian dishes, the prospect of dating a real vegetarian still derailed me. How could I share what I love, share me, with someone who wouldn’t eat half of it? I lacked the foresight (and, I’m ashamed to say, the optimism) to anticipate how thoughtfully including vegetarian dishes into our weekly rotation would recharge my love of cooking, enliven both our palates and expand my repertoire.
That’s why Lydia and I are thrilled to begin devoting our Monday posts to the Meatless Monday Campaign. The folks there came up with the brilliant idea to integrate just one day of vegetarian eating into your regular diet, whatever that diet may be. The benefits are manifold: for your health, for your community, and for the eco-system at large.
Going meatless for one day will also improve your palate. I have no scientific evidence to support this claim, but food lovers know that absence not only makes the heart grow fonder, it also makes the tongue more aware of what flavors it craves. No burger tastes better than that burger, the one with the caramelized onions and mushrooms melting into a thick, rich sweetness that you’ve dreamt about for days. Privation makes us think, period. And thinking about food helps us plan for and savor it. When it comes to meat, hopefully we’ll consider how we should go about buying, preparing, and enjoying it more. If it worked for Meathead…
Going meatless also de-centers our plate, challenging us to focus our attention on vegetable flavors and how they interact without a meat anchor. Meatless Monday may make vegetable connoisseurs of us all. We won’t lust after that burger only, but also those sweet potato fries—the ones with the paprika burn and sea salt sparkle.
In joining Meatless Monday, we’re creating a dedicated Apples & Onions space for developing vegetarian recipes and menus and sharing our thoughts on the experience. Will you join us in making the pledge? It’s only one day a week and we promise to help you along the way, beginning here with my recipe for eggs in purgatory. It’s the first dinner I ever made for Angus. After spending half the day fretting about how to impress him, I resorted to this 15-minute cooking-for-myself standby and was reminded of how easy and beautiful vegetarian can be.
Eggs in purgatory is usually made with a classic tomato sauce, but two pints of red and yellow cherry tomatoes inspired this play on the classic.
Eggs in Purgatory
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pinch dried red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, for grating
Fresh basil, roughly chopped
1. Preheat the broiler
2. Heat an oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the cold olive oil to the hot pan and add the garlic, stirring, until the garlic warms and infuses the oil. Add the cherry tomatoes, stirring occasionally as they blister and pop. You can give them a hand with the side of your spatula, but stand back, the hot seeds fly!
3. When the tomatoes have almost all softened and popped, season to taste with red pepper. I like to use a generous pinch so the red pepper makes the tomato sauce “hell” for the eggs. Then break each egg into a little pillow of molten tomato. Continue cooking on the burner for another minute, until the whites begin to solidify. Transfer the pan to the oven and broil until the egg whites are set and the yolks are done as you like them. I like my yolks runny, so 2 minutes is good enough for me, but leave it for 3-4 if you prefer a firm yolk.
4. Remove from the oven and scoop an egg and tomato sauce into each serving bowl. Top with salt, pepper, grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Serve with (or on top of) crusty bread that’s been drizzled with olive oil, toasted and, if you love garlic, rubbed lightly with the cut end of a raw garlic clove.
Enjoy with mixed greens and Basic Vinaigrette.