latkeOne of the biggest hurdles for many people thinking about taking the Meatless Monday pledge is making peace with it not feeling like sacrifice. We are a rather carniverous culture, on the whole, so the idea of no meat in a meal sounds like it should be something limiting, unsatisfying, even though it’s really not. This is where a shift in perspective can come in handy. Instead of thinking about skipping meat as a chore based on what isn’t in the meal, make the meal something fun, a treat to start your week right. Of course, piling Monday plates with indulgences can quickly undo the health benefits we want, so it will be more about taking a new approach to how we look at being a little naughty.

How can Meatless Monday be a treat without calorie indulgence? Instead of a traditional meal, why not plan it more like a party with lots of options to play with and assemble yourself?

A great indulgence for we grown-ups is cheating the expected schedule. Yes, I mean breakfast for dinner! Who says you can’t have nice crepes (which kick pancakes’ ass any day) with some tasty fillings and toppings just because it’s past brunch? The recipe following is a traditional Hungarian crepe, called palacsinta (pronounced pal-ah-cheen-tah), with some rather untraditional toppings. You can use this recipe with virtually any filling or topping you like. If you’re doing sweeter fillings, you might want to add a bit of vanilla to the batter for a dessert touch. You can also get tricky and add spices to the basic mix for savory fillings.

When having this dish for dinner, make sure not to skip the protein. Palascinta make a great vehicle for PB and J. Just spread a little peanut butter (bonus points for natural PB without added sugar and salt) before spooning on the fruit filling. If you have some walnuts, add some chopped into the mix for some more beneficial fats. If PB isn’t your thing, why not add a couple eggs, cooked how you like them, on the side?

One of my other favorite flexible brunch-for-dinner dishes is latke, potato pancakes. I like to blend additional shredded vegetables into the mix, along with a generous bit of garlic, to add more fresh flavor. Toppings can run anywhere from chutneys and chilis to caviar and salmon (when not on a meatless day, of course). In the photo shown, I added carrot, sweet onion, and zucchini to the potato mixture with a few finely minced cloves of garlic and served the finished latkes with a cucumber and dill yoghurt with a splash of lemon. For our protein, we noshed on hard-boiled eggs and added a plate of olives and cheeses to feel kind of indulgent.

Another way to make Meatless Monday more fun is to turn dinner into your own little cocktail party. Hummus, always a popular party dip, is chock full of protein and some of the beneficial fats of olive oil. So, your protein is covered. Add some fresh, chopped vegetables to the lavash or pita to scoop up the hummus and now you’re getting some more low-cal nutrition. Round out the table with some fresh pickles, olives, feta cheese, or whatever quick, fresh, light noshes strike your fancy. Then, everyone can pick as they like and have fun tasting their own flavor and texture combinations. Or, you can do what we did and put all the tasty extra bits into one big spinach salad. (Shown with chopped egg, black olives, marinated mushrooms, avocado, Persian cucumbers, radish, herbs, and minced hot peppers … dressed with vinegar and oil)

Meatless Monday can be the casual, free-wheeling night you look forward to all week. As an extra health bonus, with less cooking and prep time, you can eat early, then go for a nice. romantic stroll. Or you can get in a bit more yoga … or sign up for the tango or pole-dancing classes you’ve been meaning to take.

You’re helping make yourself healthier while contributing to the sustainability of our overall diet. You deserve a pat on the back. Why not take it by treating Meatless Monday as a special evening for taking care of you. Spoil yourself a little … you’ve earned it.

I’ll be back next week with some Japanese vegan recipes and menu ideas. Until then, have a great Meatless Monday!

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