Myth, busted: Animal products aren't the only source of dietary protein, nor are they the best. In her new book Whole Protein Vegetarian ($20; amazon.com), Rebecca Miller Ffrench eloquently answers the classic question, "How can you get enough protein if don't eat meat?"
The quick version: Vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can provide all the protein a person needs to function optimally. What's more, plant-based proteins offer two big perks animal products do not—fiber and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
So why all the skepticism about going vegetarian? Unlike meat, eggs, and dairy, most plants do not contain all nine of the essential amino acids that form complete protein, which means you need to eat a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day to make sure you get enough of each and every one of those amino acids, Ffrench explains. Cooking with fresh, whole ingredients makes the task much easier (not to mention yummier), which is why she has packed her book with delicious, veg-heavy recipes for every meal. Here, three ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each with 20 grams of protein or more.
Classic egg and cheese sandwich
Protein per serving: 25g
4 whole-grain ciabatta rolls or other hearty rolls, cut in half
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. white Cheddar cheese, thickly sliced
4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
1 large tomato, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1 avocado, sliced
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly butter the rolls and place them flat side up on the prepared baking sheet. Top with the cheese slices. Place the rolls in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tsp. of the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the spinach, sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt, and sauté until wilted, 1 or 2 minutes. Remove the spinach from the pan but keep the heat on.
- Next, lightly fry the tomato slices in the pan for about 1 minute on each side, again sprinkling each with salt and pepper. Remove them from the pan.
- Check your rolls if you haven’t done so already, and pull them out of the oven so you can slide a tomato slice directly onto each of the bottom rolls.
- Add the remaining 2 tsp. olive oil to the pan and continue to heat over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pan and fry sunny-side up until the whites start to set, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the eggs from the pan when the yolks are runny but whites are completely cooked, about another minute or so.
- To assemble your sandwiches, lay a slice or two of avocado on top of the tomato, then add an egg and top with a spoonful of sautéed spinach and the top bun. Serve immediately.
Vegetable noodles with hemp seed basil pesto
Protein per serving: 24g
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup hemp seed hearts
¾ cup (about 2¼ ounces) coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ cup garlic-infused olive oil, plus slightly more if needed (or use olive oil plus one minced clove of garlic)
3 medium yellow squash
3 medium zucchini
3 carrots (at least 2 inches in diameter), peeled
1 tsp. garlic-infused oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 pint heirloom grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
Hemp seeds, several fresh basil leaves, and shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish
- Make pesto: Put the basil, hemp seeds, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and garlic (if using) in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until coarsely chopped. Add the olive oil and pulse again until combined and the desired texture is achieved. Use immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.
- Using a spiralizer, turn each squash and zucchini into noodles. Do the same with the carrots, keeping them separate from the squash and zucchini. Cut any of the noodles that are extremely long.
- Heat the garlic-infused oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the squash and zucchini and sauté for another 30 seconds, until just slightly softened. Sprinkle with the salt and transfer the cooked noodles to a fine-mesh colander to drain.
- Dry the noodles between paper towels, place them in a large bowl, and toss gently with the pesto and tomatoes.
- Sprinkle the pasta with hemp seeds, basil leaves, and shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Spicy three-bean chili
Protein per serving: 20g
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch dice (about 1 3/4 cups)
2 celery stalks, cut into ½-inch dice (about 3/4 cup)
1 green bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. chipotle powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
8 ounces beer
2 cups vegetable stock
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. hickory liquid smoke
1 Tbsp. molasses
3 cups cooked or canned mixed beans, such as black beans, red beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas
Fresh cilantro leaves, sour cream, and grated Cheddar cheese, for garnish
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are softened (but not mushy) and charred on the edges. Next add the green pepper, jalapeño, garlic, and spices including coriander, smoked paprika, chipotle powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper and stir well until all the vegetables are coated. Lastly add the tomatoes and their juices, beer, vegetable stock, and tomato paste, raise the heat, and bring to a boil stirring a few times to prevent sticking. Lower the heat and continue to simmer slowly.
- Meanwhile, toast the mustard seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat, shaking the pan while they toast, and stop when they start popping, after about 3 minutes. They will darken slightly. Remove the seeds and grind them in spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
- Add the ground mustard seeds, liquid smoke, molasses, and beans to the chili, bring back to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro, sour cream, and Cheddar.
Excerpted from Whole Protein Vegetarian: Delicious Plant-Based Recipes With Essential Amino Acids For Health And Well Being, by Rebecca Miller Ffrench, Countryman Press 2016.