Interest in meatless dishes -- from cheese enchiladas t veggie burgers -- is definitely on the upswing.
The National Restaurant Association says that a third or more of Americans who dine out are likely to order a vegetarian entree, according to a Gallup poll conducted in August for the group.
But going meatless for a meal needn't mean skimping on flavor or appeal.
"I think that they (diners) are discovering meatless food has many advantages," says David Goldbeck, co-author with wife, Nikki, of five books on vegetarian eating.
"The [meatless] menu is a lot more interesting than a starch and a vegetable side dish."
Meatless doesn't always mean low-fat or low-calorie, although cutting out red meat often lowers overall fat for a meal. The Tamale Peppers in the recipes listed below, for example, come in at 32 percent calories from fat, just over the maximum 30 percent recommended by most health groups. A typical beef-and-rice stuffed pepper contains nearly 50 percent calories from fat.
Eating protein-rich meat less often also is economical, says Mr. Goldbeck.
"Eating protein above the daily requirement (30 to 50 grams, depending on age and size) is a pure waste of money," Mr. Goldbeck says.
"Most Americans get twice as much protein as they need, and . . . protein is a very expensive part of the diet," he says. "Excess protein is not used by the body as protein. It becomes either calories [energy] or fat, depending on how much you've eaten during that day.
"We are taught in school that meat, fish, eggs and dairy [products] are the best ways to get protein," he says. "Now there is a certain truth in that because they are very convenient bundles of the [essential] amino acids. But what we see in the ethnic cuisines -- Chinese, Mexican, Italian -- is the ability to combine other foods to create the same quality protein."
Makes 4 servings.
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups drained, canned tomatoes
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked pink or black beans, drained
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (divided use)
4 large green or red peppers
Heat oil in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan and saute onion and garlic until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin; cook briefly, then stir in tomatoes, cornmeal and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in beans, corn and 1/2 cup cheese.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
While cornmeal cooks, slice tops off peppers, remove seeds and tough inner ribs, and blanch in boiling water or in a steamer for 5 minutes. Drain.
Spoon cornmeal mixture into peppers. Top thickly with remaining cheese. Place peppers upright in a baking dish and surround with hot water to a depth of half an inch.
Bake about 40 minutes, until peppers are tender.
Per serving: 399 calories, 15 g fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 665 mg sodium, 32 percent calories from fat.
Small green pattypan squash
Makes 2 to 3 servings.
1 small yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
6 to 8 sprigs parsley
6 small green pattypan squash
Chop shallots, onion, garlic and parsley and saute in oil. Wash squash and add while wet to saute. Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes.
Per serving: 126 calories, 6 g fat, 3 mg sodium, 36 percent calories from fat.