Health, Beauty and Earth Benefits of Vegetables

Want to add more variety and spice to your life? Consider becoming a flexitarian, which involves regularly fitting meatless meals into your diet. Also called “sometime vegetarians” or “temporary vegetarians,” flexitarians enjoy the health benefits of vegetables, legumes, grains, seeds and nuts without forsaking the meat, fish and poultry columns of the menu.

Planet-friendly Benefits of Vegetables
In her weekly newsletter, Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow recently touted the benefits of Meat Free Mondays, a campaign launched by Paul McCartney in the United Kingdom. Going meat-free one day a week is a painless way for people to “do their bit” for the environment, according to the ex-Beatle.  

Consider that it takes about 634 gallons of freshwater to produce a single 5.2 ounce burger patty, but the same amount of tofu requires only 143 gallons. Or that about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of beef protein, whereas a calorie of corn is produced with just 2.2 calories of energy. As Mark Bittman puts it in his book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, a steak dinner for the typical family of four uses about the same amount of energy as driving around for three hours in an SUV while you’ve left the lights on back home.

Beauty Benefits of Vegetables
The Meat Free Mondays movement (a sister campaign here in the U.S. is called Meatless Monday) is really about the foods you discover as you put together meals of plant-based ingredients. “It’s amazingly easy to take one day in your week and not eat meat,” says McCartney. “When you think about it, there are so many great alternatives. For instance, in Italian cooking, so many of the dishes are vegetarian already, and Thai and Chinese cuisine are the same. All it means is that you have to think a bit about what you’ll eat that day, but it’s a fun challenge.”

There’s a beauty benefit to vegetarian meals too. Protein is found in every cell, organ and tissue in our bodies and is essential to glossy hair, radiant skin and strong nails. Vegetarian sources of protein -- beans, nuts, lentils, peas, soybeans, and whole grains such as quinoa and kasha -- give you the beauty boost without the fat of animal proteins. A cup of cooked lentils, for example, contains 18 grams of protein but less than 1 gram of fat. Three ounces of porterhouse steak, in comparison, have 19 grams of protein and a whoping 22 grams of fat, according to The Harvard School of Public Health.

Tips From Paltrow’s Chef
Lee Gross, who was once Paltrow’s personal chef and still cooks for her from time to time, says, “consuming a largely vegetarian diet gives me a feeling of lightness and euphoria that I don’t find in a meat-based diet.” Celebrities seem to relish the high of lotus root and tofu as well. Gross is the consulting chef to M Cafe, a trio of contemporary macrobiotic eateries in Los Angeles, where Drew Barrymore, Renee Zellweger, Eva Longoria, Kirsten Dunst, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon regularly dine on dishes like tempeh wraps, shitake-avocado sushi rolls and green kale lemonade. 

A Recipe for You
A favorite on M Chaya’s spring menu, the chickpea and dandelion salad below features dandelion greens, which are slightly bitter and astringent and “balance the richness of the lemon-tahini dressing and frizzled onions beautifully,” says Gross. Feel free to substitute arugula, mache or any other spring greens. And either almond butter or peanut butter can be swapped for the sesame tahini.

Chickpea and Dandelion Salad

Salad Ingredients

15-ounce can organic chickpeas, drained

1/2 cup red Bhutanese rice (or long-grain brown rice), cooked

1 cup celery hearts and inside leaves, sliced thin

1 1/2 cups fresh dandelion greens, washed well, dried and chopped

1/4 cup frizzled onions (recipe follows)

Tahini-lemon dressing (recipe follows)

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Tahini-lemon Dressing Ingredients

1/4 cup sesame tahini

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

To make dressing:
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Adjust dressing with additional sea salt, black pepper or lemon juice, to taste.

To make frizzled onions:
Slice one yellow onion into paper-thin half-moons. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in frypan and add onions. Fry onions over medium heat until they are golden-brown and “frizzled.” Transfer to absorbent towel to drain excess oil. Season with sea salt and reserve.

To assemble salad:

1. Combine chickpeas, cooked rice, celery hearts and dandelion greens in mixing bowl.

2. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of frizzled onions to bowl.

3. Moisten salad with about 1/4 cup tahini-lemon dressing and mix well to combine.

4. Taste salad and adjust with additional dressing, sea salt and black pepper as needed.

5. Transfer salad to serving bowl or platter; drizzle additional dressing, if desired, and garnish with additional frizzled onions.