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Meatless and lovin' every minute of it

Many of us grew up in homes where meals were built around meat and potatoes. And if I might say, heavy on the meat. But you know what I've found out? You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals. I attribute that in part to the more ...

Many of us grew up in homes where meals were built around meat and potatoes.

And if I might say, heavy on the meat.

But you know what I've found out? You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy meatless meals.

I attribute that in part to the more readily available fresh produce in supermarkets, but mostly to growing up in a Catholic home and attending parochial school during the 1950s and '60s, when we couldn't eat meat on Fridays or Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. (We ate an awful lot of tuna casserole and mac and cheese in those days, and there was always the Friday night fish fries in the American Legion that featured walleye.)

Nowadays, the church has relaxed its rules a bit, allowing Catholics to eat meat on Fridays, except during the 40-day liturgical season of penance, which begins today.

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Growing trend

But that small inconvenience is of little consequence to me, since we rarely have more than two meals a week that feature meat.

In fact, I'm not alone. These days, more and more people (not just Catholics during Lent) are seeking the health benefits of a diet rich in plant-based foods.

Don't get me wrong; I love meat. But in trying to stay fit and trim and keep my blood pressure and cholesterol under control, eating a big meal every day that has meat as its main star just doesn't cut it.

The last couple of years, I have discovered several tasty vegetarian dishes, many of which are just as satisfying as a tender steak or a juicy pork chop.

Several of those dishes contain the meat substitute textured soy protein, which I've become quite fond of. I've used it in dishes such as burritos, enchiladas, casseroles and stews.

Containing at least 50 percent protein, free of fat and cholesterol, very low in sodium and an easy and inexpensive source of dietary fiber and naturally occurring bioactive components, textured soy protein is a health bonanza.

In addition, scientists have found that soy protein may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol and increasing the flexibility of blood vessels.

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Meatless chili

Recently, I put together a nice meatless chili, using TSP along with the other usual ingredients (beans, tomatoes, spices, etc).

While some people may turn up their noses at the thought of substituting TSP for ground meat in chili, it's hard to notice any difference.

When I recently mentioned the chili to a fellow Catholic, Bob Litzinger, he said the recipe would come in handy with Lent approaching.

Bob, a retired railroad man, is one of those meat-and-potato guys. He's always telling me about some German-Russian recipe that contains beef or pork and/or potatoes and cabbage.

But for those of you who just can't embrace the idea of a meatless meal featuring TSP, there's always fish. Ocean fare such as salmon and tuna, both high in the highly beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, are a good choice.

And with Lent here, don't forget the Friday night fish fries. They'll let you in even if you're not Catholic.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. He can be reached at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, ext. 136, or jtiedeman@gfherald.com .

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