Thursday, September 25, 2008

Subbing for Starch

Like many cooks before me, I frequently rely on the much-maligned “protein-starch-veg” combo when planning my weekday (and some weekend) meals. Frankly, I think the combination is unfairly criticized, since a protein, starch and vegetable is a lovely, satisfying, time-honored tradition. Often I could personally skip the veg, but I know that’s not a good idea. And, if I don’t eat the protein and starch I won’t feel satisfied and usually find my spoon in the peanut butter jar later in the evening. For me the starch is usually the highlight of my meal: coconut rice, garlic roasted potatoes, sweet potato fries, quinoa, risotto, pasta salad, or even warm, crusty bread.

Recently I have been cooking for clients who don’t want gluten, potatoes, or rice in their diets. Creating menus for their dinners has been a fun challenge, because I want the meals to be both well-rounded and satisfying. So far I’ve found two strategies that seem to work.

One is to make a soup the stand-in for the belly-filling starch. A smooth carrot-ginger puree was particularly successful. Tomato and butternut squash are also looking like winners.

Another trick is to employ beans and lentils in the place of rice or potatoes. Roasted salmon on a tangy white bean salad with steamed vegetables on the side leaves even me satisfied, and when red lentils accompany a meal of rosemary-grilled shrimp and a classic Greek salad, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

While I don’t plan on giving up my potatoes anytime soon (such amazing variety! such toothsome texture!), creating these menus has helped me think outside of my traditional meal-time box and encouraged me to add some variety to my own meals at home.

That said, on tonight’s menu: beer-battered tilapia, mango salsa…and rice.

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