The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 16, 2012

Bittman’s Recipes for the Semi-Vegan — Plastic-free Style

Two weeks ago, food columnist Mark Bittman published ten Recipes for the Semi-Vegan in The New York Times Magazine along with photos that left many of us salivating.

Mark Bittman's semi-vegan recipes New York Times

What a great source of inspiration, I thought, for those of us who aspire to eat more plants and fewer animal products.   I, in particular, need help.  See, in May 2010, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals,I resolved to stop eating meat. My reasons were personal. (You can read them here.) And I kept my resolution until the end of February 2011.

Then my mom died.

After the memorial service, my sister came home with a giant sack of Wendy’s cheeseburgers, Mom’s favorite food, and, dumping them out on the kitchen table, she announced, “Everyone must partake.”  I couldn’t refuse this ceremonial gesture.  I ate a cheeseburger.  And then another.  And then for the rest of my trip home it was all meat all the time.   Something inside me craved the comfort it provided.  The problem was that once I came back to California, I still craved meat.  So last year, a tough year, I let myself eat as much of it as I wanted.   Probably less than the average American, but still, I want this year to be different.

In addition to reducing the suffering of farm animals and being healthier for our bodies, cutting down on the amount of animal products we consume can also help mitigate global climate change.   The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production generates about 18% of human-derived greenhouse gas emissions.  The animals themselves, of course, produce methane, and large portions of the world’s carbon-sequestering forests are destroyed for grazing lands.

I’m not ready or willing to go all the way vegan, but I will return to my previous vegetarian state and add one vegan day per week.

Preparing Bittman’s Vegan Recipes without Plastic

To jump start my vegan experiment, I plan to make all 10 recipes, while generating a minimal amount of plastic waste.  Some of the recipes — roasted squash with kale, for example — will be easy to make plastic-free.   But others include ingredients that are usually found in either plastic packaging or BPA-lined cans.   They will be challenging but not impossible.

I made the first recipe last weekend, and it was just lovely.

Recipe #1: Saffron-and-Mushroom Barley Risotto

I love making risotto.  And I love criticizing restaurants that serve something they call risotto that really isn’t.  If you have to add a ton of butter and cream to make your risotto creamy, you’re doing it wrong. (I’m talking to you, Pasta Pomodoro!) A good risotto takes time.  I’ve heard you can do it quicker in a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one, and to me, spending several hours on a weekend afternoon cooking risotto is meditative and relaxing.  And the wine doesn’t hurt.  A little for the risotto.  A little for me.


Mark Bittman's mushroom barley risotto ingredients

  • Dried porcini mushrooms from the bulk bin at Berkeley Bowl West
  • Shiitake mushrooms from farmers market in a paper bag that I reuse over and over
  • Saffron in glass vial. I bought this stuff many years ago and am not even sure it’s still good, but I used it anyway because I had it.
  • Pearled barley from Whole Foods bulk bin in my own reusable hemp bag from the ChicoBag produce stand collection
  • Onions from farmers market — except I can’t actually eat onions, so I used onion powder instead
  • White wine — I always look for wines in glass bottles without any capsule (wrapper) around the neck and without a plastic cork or plastic-lined screw cap. I’ll write more about plastic-free wine in an upcoming post.
  • Olive oil in our own bottle that we refill at Whole Foods or Market Hall
  • Vegetable stock. I used Better Than Bouillon in a glass jar, but many of you have left comments about how easy broth is to make from scratch, and I actually have a post from a guest blogger coming up in a few days explaining how she makes her own plastic-free vegetable broth.
  • Parsley from produce aisle

In addition to Bittman’s ingredients pictured above, I added a few more as I went along:

  • Nutritional yeast from Berkeley Bowl bulk bin to add protein and B vitamins and give some extra umami flavor
  • Juice of one lemon because I wanted just a bit more tanginess

Making risotto

You’ll have to read Mark Bittman’s recipe for the exact instructions, but I’ll just say that to make any risotto, you saute your grain (rice — or barley in this case) in some kind of fat and then very slowly add liquid, a cup at a time, stirring almost constantly to help the grains release their starch.  You don’t add the next cup of liquid until the previous one is absorbed.  The liquids are usually wine and broth, and you can use your own taste buds to determine how much of each.  I substituted wine for some of the broth in this recipe because I love the flavor of wine in food.  Use as much liquid as it takes to create a super creamy food that melts in your mouth.   When the barley or rice is soft enough to eat, the risotto is probably not done yet.  Keep going and have patience to create the perfect texture and mouth feel.   Yum!

Mark Bittman's mushroom barley risotto

The next Bittman recipe I’m going to make is Spinach and Chickpeas. Care to join me?

You might also enjoy...


Etsy handmade and vintage

I only post ads for companies I patronize myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
11 years ago

Hi, I’d be glad to try these foods. Thank you! For months now, been trying to eat less of meat and to my surprise, I’ve been losing some pounds, too. Which is good as I’m also trying to lose weight. Eating balanced and healthy food is the same as taking good care of the body. See this: <a href=””></a&gt;

11 years ago

Hi, I’d be glad to try these foods. Thank you! For months now, been trying to eat less of meat and to my surprise, I’ve been losing some pounds, too. Which is good as I’m also trying to lose weight.

11 years ago

I <3 the term semi-vegan! I hate when I get looked down upon because I consume a little humane cheese from a local farm or local raw honey!

Brenna @ Almost All The Truth
11 years ago

Yum, that risotto looks delicious! I just realized how long it has been since I have had it and that recipe makes me want it even more. For the wine, I do wonder if there is a list somewhere that lets you know which are cork? That would be an interesting project. :)

11 years ago

Hi Beth,

Thanks for the link to Mark Bittman’s recipes. I saw him making the bean burgers on a morning news show and was thinking I would like to try them. I’ve been checking in on your blog off and on since your first year, and you’ve inspired me to give up a lot of plastic. Good luck on returning to being vegetarian, and doing vegan days. I’ve been vegan for 4 years and struggle more with clothing choices than food (wool versus polyester or many layers of cotton?) I back slide on plastic the way you struggle with meat.


11 years ago

We tried the Spinach and Chickpeas tonight and it was a success. Not only did the 5 year old and 9 year old both like it, they did most of the cooking. I made the bread crumbs and just supervised the rest. We used canned beans from a BPA-free can, farmer’s market spinach and garlic. The oil and the vinegar had small amounts of plastic in the lids. When my back is healed enough to carry pots full of water, we can try it again with dried beans from the bulk bin.

11 years ago

That looks really yummy!

I’ve never made risotto, but I think I may just have to try this.

11 years ago

Thanks for tipping me off to these recipes! Probably would’ve missed them otherwise.

11 years ago

I’m so sorry about your tough year. Sometimes you really just have to take care of yourself before you can do anything else, and it sounds like those cheeseburgers brought you some much needed comfort. That said, I’m glad you’re going back to vegetarianism. Your risotto sounds delicious! I’ve attempted to make risotto a few times, but a) I don’t like the taste of wine in food, and b) I have no idea what a good risotto is supposed to taste like, but whatever it is, I don’t think I’ve reached it. The only one that came out remotely well was a butternut squash and sage risotto.

I’m mildly lactose intolerant, so many of my already vegetarian meals are vegan, or almost vegan. I’m not ready to give up the possibility of dairy and eggs, but my diet has become closer to vegan over the years, and it’s been both tasty and easy.

11 years ago

I’ll be interested to hear your feedback on Mark’s recipes. The bean burger sounds easy and has possibilities.

Remember, all beans can be purchased dry, in bulk, no need for those nasty plastic lined cans. I sprout all of my beans and legumes to increase their digestibility and to make the vitamins and minerals available to my hungry body.

Best of luck on this recipe quest Beth!

Diane Hudson
11 years ago

I learned this tip at a gluten free pasta making course. Instead of onion chop celery (particularly the top part where the sticks are smaller). It gives the same consistency and bulk that onion would. Being a coeliac I think I will try this recipe using rice instead of barley. Looks delicious.

11 years ago

Love risotto but was wondering if you can make it with quiona? Risotto makes me jittery. Don’t have any idea why.

Making broth is really easy especially if you have alot of skins leftover from your peeled vegetables (except potatoes.) I post a recipe on my website from leftover skins and my commenters added great ideas to make the broth better.


11 years ago

Beth, I hope the fact that you are feeling ready to eat more aligned with your values is also a good sign that your spirit is healing from the loss of your mom. I am actually really glad to hear about the Wendy’s rite of which you partook–I know too many people who are so rigid in their eating that they would not have done it, proving a point about their superiority at the most inappropriate of times, but without realizing it. How refreshing that you can be aware, honest, introspective and transparent about your meat eating (and its likely cause) since then. I applaud your desire to eat in a way that is best for your body and the earth, and your encouragement of others to do the same–even more, I appreciate your being a real person and not having unrealistic and judgemental expectations for yourself or others.

You would not be such an inspiration to others if you were not being you in the midst of your causes. : )

We’ve appropriated the term “flexitarian” for our eating–mostly vegetarian, moving more towards vegan, but I will always have some dairy in our diet, and will eat meat if it is served to us, or if we really want to eat it! I second watching “Forks Over Knives” and found it really pushed me towards even better eating (like seeing how many recipes i can omit the dairy and not miss it). I have also been adding more raw food to our diet, specifically green smoothies. And just recently I came up with a fantastic solution to not wanting smoothies in the morning when we are chilled–breakfast soup! I have one of those fancy high-powered mixers, and I just throw in scrubbed veggies and then when it is all blended, pour it into a big pot on the stove and heat it, which takes only about 2 minutes. An almost-raw, warm, thick, comforting greens and veggie mug–mmmmmmmm! It is totally making me feel soo much better in the mornings than my previous carb-based breakfasts. (or the recent breakfasts of Christmas cookies and tea. Ahem.) And it is not only super easy, quick and tasty, but you can throw in whatever veggies need to be used up, so it is frugal (things won’t go to waste as easily) and will always taste a little different! I found adding onion was so flavorful that I did not need salt even, and garlic and lemon would boost the immune system too!

11 years ago

@ Danielle: Ooooo, I would love to hear more about your Plastic-Free Food class!
@ Beth, et al: There is a term for your new goal here, one that prevents having to “clarify” attempted vegetarianism or veganism (What do these terms really mean now, anyway? I have known many vegetarians and vegans that eat horrible diets!): It’s called going “plant strong”. I highly recommend the movie Forks Over Knives, which will explain it better than I can. In a nut shell, if you give your body what it really needs, it will heal itself. This includes cravings for not-good stuff. I thought I would miss dairy (cheese, ice cream and especially greek yogurt). I’m not saying I wouldn’t like that stuff if I ate it now, but I don’t miss it like I thought I would. And it would be okay if I had some, because the goal is to be “plant strong, not plant perfect.” If you want more info, let me know.

11 years ago

When I first saw this post in an itty bitty font on my phone, I swore it read, “Batman’s recipes…” and thought, “oh man! These are gonna be the coolest recipes ever!” I’m sure they still are :)

11 years ago

I’ve been making my own version of loaded Miso soup for a long time. It’s so comforting! I’ve tried to be 100% vegan for awhile, then 100% vegetarian (with some dairy). I’m now settling on 95% vegetarian because I have roasted chicken or a turkey sandwich a couple times a month. But right now I have a pot of pinto beans cooking in the slow cooker so I can eat rice and beans for several days.

11 years ago

I LOVE LOVE LOVE risotto!! There is something so meditative about stirring and the beautiful rich and creamy outcome is… perfection. AND… making risotto cakes with the leftovers… crisp outside… creamy inside… (drool)….

Must. Make. Risotto.

(and I’m totally going to give it a try with barley sometime!)

P.S… one of my goals this year is to share more food recipes. AND… I’m going to be “teaching” a class at my co-op… PLASTIC-FREE FOOD!!! :D

Betsy (Eco-novice)
11 years ago

I actually have not had great luck making Bittman’s recipes, but I sure love his photo food collages. Looks like I need to give these a try again. EWG’s report on climate change and food last year was a real eye-opener for me.

11 years ago

My mouth is watering looking at that picture of the risotto! If I wasn’t going in to work today, I’d probably give it a go.

As a long time vegan of 14 years, it is so wonderful to see veganism becoming more mainstream and that articles are being published showing that delicious food can be easily prepared. I became vegan for ethical reasons but along the way I learned about the health and environmental benefits and have never looked back.

I look forward to seeing your posts about the plant-based meals you’re incorporating into your life.

Mary Clare Hunt
11 years ago

Sounds wonderful, but I need to do something with the B.sprouts in the frig first.

Sharyn Dimmick
11 years ago

I have never liked risotto (reminds me of baby food), but I look forward to more Bittman recipes. I am an omnivore, but eat less meat than many people — I’ll go days and days cooking vegetarian — even vegan — food and then my Mom will get lonesome for animal protein or I’ll make a soup with chicken stock, or I’ll go to Taos where the bacon is to die for.

Maeve Murphy
11 years ago

I’m gonna try some of these. The barley risotto sounds especially yummy. Thanks Beth!

11 years ago

Long live part-time vegetarianism!

I always feel guilty saying I’m vegetarian in case the person I’m talking to is a strict vegetarian but I love finding out that more and more people are choosing to reduce their meat consumption and still allowing for a few treats here and there. I’ve been eating meat my whole life but I’ve just never gotten used to cooking it… so this way I eat it when it’s a special occasion and the rest of the time, I get by without it.

I will definitely be trying out this risotto :D

11 years ago

I love Bittman’s recipes and have been following you for a while (since your Holistic Moms twitter party) to try and reduce plastics in our home. It’s a challenge but bit by bit we’re doing it. I like your idea of looking at individual recipes and seeing how to reduce the plastics that come along with it.

Looking forward to your wine post because I don’t know how to tell if the cork is plastic or cork (until I go to open the wine) and I am torn between the environmental issues of both.

Be well,

Tracey TieF
11 years ago

Your confession comforts me!
I’ve been a cheatin’ vegan/freegan for 30 years.

Environmentally speaking, there’s destructive meat and meat that makes sense.
The Alberta Badlands will never grow plants for eating.
The way to get food out of some land is through animals.
Meanwhile, all kinds of food for humans is grown through destroying natural habitats. So whether it’s bamboo, GMO soy beans or beef, it bothers me.
Not that I buy Alberta beef. I don’t think I ever have.
Just a thought!

And importing meat and staple foods from other countries that are produced locally?