Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet

Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the Planet

by Joy Manning, Tara Mataraza Desmond

A Little Meat Can Go a Long Way

We all know that eating less meat is healthier, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, but how do we cut back without sacrificing flavor or resorting to a carb-heavy diet?

For today’s health-, budget-, and eco-conscious omnivores, Almost Meatless offers ingenious ideas for creating delicious,


A Little Meat Can Go a Long Way

We all know that eating less meat is healthier, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly, but how do we cut back without sacrificing flavor or resorting to a carb-heavy diet?

For today’s health-, budget-, and eco-conscious omnivores, Almost Meatless offers ingenious ideas for creating delicious, nutritionally balanced meals in which meat is an enhancement rather than the centerpiece. From all-American comfort food to global favorites, you’ll find more than 60 satisfying, easy-to-prepare main dish recipes that go light on the meat, including:

Beefed-Up Bean Chili
Eggplant and Chicken Puttanesca Stacks
Shrimp and Slow-Roasted Tomato Risotto
Sweet Potato Chorizo Mole
Tofu-Turkey Sloppy Joes

Almost Meatless also presents guidelines for buying poultry, meat, seafood, and other animal products responsibly, to ensure the best quality, flavor, and value. No matter what your reasons are for reducing your meat consumption, you’ll discover versatile cooking solutions that maximize flavor while minimizing your grocery bill.


Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Meals that are both tasty and filling without having a slab of meat as the overbearing star ingredient”
—Publisher’s Weekly
“The authors of the new book Almost Meatless make a satisfying case for eating less meat and more vegetables and grains...The resulting dishes are healthier, less expensive and beautifully balanced.”
—Chicago Sun Times
“The recipes look good enough for carnivores to enjoy as well”
—Tampa Tribune
“This way of eating makes sense not just for saving money, but, as the authors say in the subtitle, for the planet.”
“Show[s] that a less meatcentric diet than the typical American one can still be satisfying and delicious”
—Library Journal
“Filled with recipes that use only a small amount of meat in each dish, a flavorful accent rather than the star of the show”
—Boston Globe
Publishers Weekly

Despite its title, almost every recipe in this book uses meat, fish or eggs. A collaboration between Manning, a former vegan, and Desmond, an unabashed meat lover, the aim is to help Americans, who they believe eat far more meat than is healthy or good for agricultural sustainability, compose meals that are both tasty and filling without having a slab of meat as the overbearing star ingredient. Instead, meat appears in smaller quantities supplemented by "layers of flavor" in the form of additional savory ingredients that should keep people who usually expect lots of meat from noticing the difference. In a burger recipe, for example, black beans and bulgur are mashed together with a minimum of ground beef to make a patty that is full-size, fully delicious and less meaty; similarly, a recipe for gyros uses a small amount of lamb amped up with tzatziki sauce and fava beans fragrant with lemon, garlic and fresh herbs. Manning and Desmond encourage preparing meat more healthfully, as well as substituting lighter forms of meat or even tofu in some cases, and many of the recipes can be made vegetarian. Overall, Desmond's meat-loving side often seems to win out, which may disappoint readers looking to make bigger changes, but the baby-step approach is likely to be much more palatable for many others. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Manning, a former vegetarian, is the restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine; Desmond is a recipe developer for the Food Network. Their aim here is to show that a less meatcentric diet than the typical American one can still be satisfying and delicious; they are also concerned with sustainable and compassionate agriculture practices. Readers expecting a mainly vegetarian cookbook will be surprised to find that almost all the recipes include meat, just in smaller proportions than most carnivores are used to. For larger collections.

—Judith Sutton

Product Details

Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony
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Read an Excerpt


Chicken is a dinnertime staple, prized for its versatility and ability to complement other ingredients.

The average American eats 80 pounds of chicken a year. That’s substantially more than the roughly 65 pounds of beef and 60 pounds of pork we also consume. For decades, people ate around the same of amount of beef and chicken, but during the past 25 years, as the media began to report extensively on the obesity epidemic and other health risks associated with the consumption of red meat and saturated fats, shoppers became more and more inclined to choose boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

But the way we eat chicken isn’t always healthful. Fried chicken, the most commonly enjoyed kind in the United States, certainly doesn’t help reduce cholesterol. Replacing beef with chicken works only if you eschew the fried stuff and choose the leanest (and least flavorful) chicken options. And those lean and mean recipes, based on poached boneless, skinless chicken breasts, offer little culinary excitement. Blah meals don’t benefit your health if you don’t eat them.

There’s another way to think about and cook with chicken. Instead of focusing on the fat grams in every portion, cut back significantly on the total amount of chicken you eat. We strongly recommend against ordering chicken at a restaurant, where it is almost surely from a factory-farmed bird. It’s easy to enjoy homemade, high-quality chicken dishes with these recipes.

Chicken marries wonderfully with a wide variety of flavorful vegetables and grains. Meals that offer different flavors and textures can be extremely healthful and much more enjoyable than a slab of bland white meat. Starting with a whole chicken is a secret weapon in the battle for big flavor. Chicken bones, rich in gelatin, add depth and body to dishes. Skin creates fond (the foundation of a great soup, stew, or sauce), lends a satisfying layer of flavor, and protects delicate white meat from the direct heat of cooking. It’s also easy to discard before the dish is served.

Finally, we want to encourage you to seek out the best chicken you can find. In Philadelphia, where we live, we have terrific farmers’ markets, where you can get truly free-range, organic birds directly from the farmer who raises them. Wherever you shop, don’t be afraid to grill management on the provenance of the chickens. Today’s commercial poultry industry, exempted from the USDA’s humane slaughter act because chickens are not legally considered livestock, raises birds in generally abhorrent conditions. Taglines like 'all natural' and 'free range' have become all but meaningless in the market. The designation 'free range' now simply means that chickens have some limited and often unused access to the outdoors. You can look for the 'certified humane' label that goes on some products that conform to the Certified Humane Raised & Handled program’s standards.

The reality is that these better chickens are much more expensive–sometimes more than twice as expensive–than their factory-farmed counterparts. But the cost reflects the farmers’ own expenses. They forgo the cheap corn-based, chemical-laced feed that fattens the birds in a matter of weeks in favor of more natural methods. Savvy shoppers pay premium prices for farm-raised, organic birds, but they get chicken chock-full of robust flavor. You can maximize your investment by learning how to get more flavor from less chicken, how to cut a whole chicken into parts, how to freeze poultry for later use, and how to use the bones to make flavorful stock (page 131).

Asian Lettuce Wraps

These wraps are the perfect appetizer for a small, casual dinner party or an exotic entrée for two or four. Dark meat chicken thighs won’t dry out in the high heat of the wok, and they take on the intense flavors of this recipe’s homemade marinade and stir-fry sauce. What’s more, the recipe can just as easily become a salad. By tearing up the lettuce leaves and tossing them with the slaw, you’ll make a crunchy, cool bed of greens for the chicken and peanut toppings.

Serves 4


1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoonsvegetable oil

1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)

2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes

1 scallion, green and white parts, sliced

8 to 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs, or 2 thighs and 2 legs), cut into small cubes or strips


3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/4 teaspoon dark (Asian) sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 thick carrot (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/8-inch strips

1 cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch strips

2 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick diagonally

2 to 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal

16 lettuce leaves (romaine, Boston, Bibb, or green or red leaf)

2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

to marinate the chicken, make a marinade by combining the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, the 2 tablespoons oil, the ginger, garlic, chile flakes, and scallion in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator, letting the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, to prepare the slaw, whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, salt, and ginger in a large bowl. Toss the vinaigrette together with the carrot, cucumber, celery, and scallions. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

to prepare the lettuce, rinse and pat the leaves dry. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use. (If you choose romaine, use the leafy top part of the lettuce for the wrappers. You can tear off the stiffer bottom stem half, chop it up, and add it to the slaw for extra crunch if you like.)

to cook the chicken, heat the 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken and marinade and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until firm to the touch and beginning to brown. Stir in the peanuts.

to assemble and serve, set out the slaw and chicken in bowls along with a platter of the lettuce. Wrap a scoop of slaw and chicken in each lettuce leaf. Have a napkin handy!

Meet the Author

Erstwhile vegetarian JOY MANNING is the restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine, where she also writes for their Daily Taste blog. She was previously senior editor at Philadelphia Style. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


What was your inspiration for writing Almost Meatless?
My inspiration came from my own experiences loving to cook and making the journey from vegetarian to responsible meat eater.

Do you eat your vegetables?
Yes–I love all vegetables, even lima beans.

Name the most horrifying dish that your mother used to make.
Hotdogs wrapped in canned crescent rolls and baked served with instant potatoes au gratin from a box.

What do you like to make by hand?
Mayonnaise. It's a lost art. But it's very easy and I don't understand why everyone doesn't do it.

How did you learn to cook?
About seven years ago, my sister was dating a chef. Hanging out with them, I became interested in cooking and he taught me a lot of basic techniques. I was inspired to start experimenting on my own. I just started cooking a lot, reading a lot of cook books, and watching endless hours of food TV. When I met my husband, he had the same interest so it was something we got more and more into together. Then I started writing about restaurants for work, which keeps you out of the kitchen to some extent but really exposes you to interesting ideas about food. My most recent round of education has come from working with Tara on Almost Meatless–as a culinary school graduate, she knows everything.

TARA MATARAZA DESMOND is a food writer and recipe developer. She has contributed to television productions for the Food Network and to several cookbooks, including those for Philadelphia restaurants Fork and Vetri. Her writing and original recipes have appeared in Philadelphia Style magazine and Philadelphia Inquirer.


Who would you cast as yourself in a movie of your life?
Tina Fey or Gilda Radner, if we were lucky enough to still have her here making us laugh.

When did you know you were a writer?
At a Walden Books at the Poughkeepsie Galleria in 1985 where I begged my mother for my first diary: a sky blue journal with a rainbow, a poem on the front, and a lock on the side.  She made me promise that if she bought it, that I'd write in it.  Twenty-three years later, I have filled the pages of 13 journals.

How do you cheer yourself up when you're feeling down?
Listen to music (I listen to song lyrics the way some people read poetry), cook (and eat, of course), and run (currently training for my 2nd marathon).

Favorite foods?
Cheese, popcorn, bread, chocolate, milk, tomatoes (in no particular order)

What did you want to be when you grew up?
As a teenager, I wanted to work with girls struggling with eating disorders. After watching a close friend and her family suffer through her anorexia, the disease and its frustrating repercussions became too close for comfort, and I opted against pursuing the career. Ironically, years later, my work is focused on food and its impact on our lives.

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