A reducetarian approach to cooking
The continuum of personal meat consumption spans from fastidiously vegan to committedly carnivorous. Whether citing animal rights, environmental rights, or the all-American right to eat anything they darn well please, consumers at both ends of the spectrum are pretty vocal about their chosen approach to eating (or not eating) meat.
But middle ground has been located within the growing reducetarian movement. Driven by myriad reasons—from striving for better health through a plant-forward diet to leaving a lower carbon footprint through eschewing industrial-raised animal products—eaters are forging personalized paths toward consuming less meat, eggs, and dairy products overall. According to a recent study by The Nielsen Company, 39% of Americans are actively seeking out more plant-based foods to reduce the overall number of animal-based ones they consume.
There are fish-eating pescatarians; chicken-eating pollotarians; localvores who pay the higher price for meat raised by regional farmers they know and trust; and flexitarians who set themselves up to be occasional meat eaters with “weekday vegetarian” or “vegan before 6 p.m.” regimes.
There is room at the reducetarian table for all types of eaters, said Brian Kateman in his opening remarks at the second annual Reducetarian Summit held in Washington, D.C. in late September. Kateman coined the term "reducetarian" five years ago to describe anyone keen on cutting meat consumption. He edited The Reducetarian Solution (Penguin Random House, 2017), a collection of essays penned by farmers, environmentalists, dietitians, and scientists centered on the environmental, health, and humane arguments for eating less meat, and The Reducetarian Cookbook (Hachette Book Group, 2018), a collection of plant-based recipes. As co-founder and president of the nonprofit Reducetarian Foundation, he posits that by eliminating at least 10% of the meat from our diets, all of us can reap personal health benefits and contribute to a healthier planet.
The average American eats about 200 pounds of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products annually. The average American lacto-ovo-vegetarian eats about 10 pounds of eggs and dairy per year. Getting meat eaters to cut 10% of their meat consumption (a reduction of 20 pounds) will make a bigger impact, pound for pound, than getting vegetarians to go vegan (a reduction of 10 pounds), said Kateman.
I buy his argument for several reasons—first and foremost because I like meat. But also, I am over 50 and could stand to lose a few pounds by eating more vegetables; I am concerned about the fact that factory farming is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gases; and I am conscious about choosing locally raised meat from humanely treated animals, which comes with a price premium and means I can only afford to buy smaller portions.
Therefore, I am indeed a reducetarian. Since I don’t buy into the hype (nor do I like the flavor or texture) of the processed, alternative meats that product makers like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are introducing to the zeitgeist, I’ve zeroed in on cooking techniques and cultural cuisines that slice the meat by half while doubling the vegetables and grains on the plate. The trick to this kind of cooking is to reframe meat as a condiment that adds flavor to the whole dish rather than sits alone in the center of the plate.
Condimental meat spans cuisines. The first time I ate a sausage pizza in Italy, there couldn’t have been more than an ounce of crumbled, highly flavored meat sprinkled around the whole pie. I was skeptical, but it was just the right amount. As a Christmas gift 25 years ago, my in-laws gave me a copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s 1982 cookbook called Indian Cookery. Jaffrey’s lamb biryani requires just 4 ounces of raw meat per serving. Since lamb loses 40 to 50 percent of its weight when stewed, the meat reduces to a 2-ounce flavor agent per serving.
While visiting my brother in California when the U.S. Army was training him to speak Korean, he treated me to my very first bibimbap. The steaming rice bowl was topped with cold julienned vegetables. The barbecued beef was served in equally sparing measure as the kimchi, and the whole arrangement was topped with a raw egg yolk. As is the custom, I mixed it all together before eating it, and the minuscule amount of sweet and smoky meat left its mark on my taste memory without hijacking the whole experience.
Condimental meat takes advanced planning because cutting down a typical 5- to 6-ounce portion to a 2- to 3-ounce condiment requires you to boost the umami blast that the lesser amount of meat will contribute. The trick to using meat as a condiment is twofold: First, you must flavor the meat before cooking it, with either a punchy wet marinade or a dry rub. Buying pre-seasoned sausage is also a good option. And secondly, you must use a cooking method that either adds flavor (think of the boost meat gets from the smokiness of a grill) or transfers flavor to other ingredients in the dish, making its presence more widely known (like the braise used in the following Lamb, Chickpea, and Hummus Bowls recipe).
Give condimental meat and reducetarianism a go. You just might find, as Kateman holds, “Any incremental change in meat consumption is worthy of celebration.”
Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
While good slicing tomatoes are nearly impossible to come by in winter in Maine, roasting the cherry tomatoes grown in hothouses here gives cooks an easy means of adding more umami to low-meat dishes. Use these roasted tomatoes in both the Rainbow Chard Saag Paneer and Lamb, Chickpea, and Hummus Bowls.
Makes 2 generous cups
3 pints cherry tomatoes
12 garlic cloves, peeled and thickly sliced
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon slightly crushed coriander seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Place a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F. Toss tomatoes, garlic, oil, coriander seeds, and salt in a shallow 2-quart baking dish to combine. Roast tomatoes, tossing them 2 or 3 times, until golden brown and very tender (about 45 minutes). Remove dish from oven and cool slightly. Stir in vinegar. Use immediately or refrigerate in a sealed container for up to a week.
Warm Lamb, Chickpea, and Hummus Bowls
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried mint
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound ground lamb
1 cup roasted cherry tomatoes
1 cup cooked chickpeas
⅓ cup vegetable or chicken stock
1–3 teaspoons harissa, to taste
For the hummus:
⅓ cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 cups cooked chickpeas, warmed
¼ to ⅓ cup warm vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tablespoons softened butter
4 tablespoons pine nuts, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds, toasted
To prepare the lamb, combine salt, allspice, black pepper, oregano, mint, and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Heat olive oil in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook, breaking the meat apart with a wooden spoon until it’s almost cooked through, 3–4 minutes. Add the spice mixture, tomatoes, chickpeas, stock, and harissa to taste. Cook until the mixture is warmed through, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low to keep warm while you make the hummus.
To make the hummus, whisk together tahini, lemon juice, and garlic until smooth. Place the chickpeas into the food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. With the machine still running, add the tahini sauce, ¼ cup of warm stock, olive oil, and butter, plus salt to taste. Mix until you get a very smooth and creamy paste. Add a couple more tablespoons of stock to loosen the mixture to your liking, if necessary.
To serve, divvy up the warm hummus into 4 shallow bowls and use the back of the spoon to make a divot in the middle of each bowl. Spoon the spiced lamb into the divots and sprinkle with parsley and the toasted nuts or seeds. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve with flatbread.
Rainbow Chard Saag Paneer
Paneer is a pressed, fresh cheese used in Indian cooking. Kennebec Cheesery in Sidney makes paneer and sells it at the Saturday farmers market in Portland as well as at the Portland Food Co-op.
12 ounces paneer cheese
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 large bunches rainbow chard
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
1 small green or red chile, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup lite coconut milk
1 cup roasted cherry tomatoes
3 cups cooked basmati rice
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat. Cut paneer into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil, turmeric, salt, and breadcrumbs. Toss so that all sides of the cheese cubes are coated. Spread the cheese onto the prepared baking sheet and cook, turning once, until each cube of cheese is golden brown on 2 sides, about 20 minutes.
While the cheese cooks, tear the leaves of the chard from their ribs into bite-sized pieces. Slice the ribs very thinly like you would stalks of celery. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons oil. Add onions and sliced chard ribs. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add ginger, chile, and curry and cumin powders. Stir to coat the vegetables with the spices. Add chard leaves and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and cook until the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and reduce heat to low. Remove paneer from the oven. Add to the skillet with the sauce and stir to combine. Serve hot over basmati rice.
In a trip to Strasbourg, France, I fell in love with the region’s sauerkraut, sausage, and potato specialty. Back in Maine, I use Morse’s Sauerkraut, a local smoked sausage, and a dry hard cider, which also pairs well with the finished dish.
2 whole cloves
2 allspice berries
4 black peppercorns
½ cup dry hard cider
½ cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 slices bacon, cubed
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1 ½ cups drained sauerkraut
1 pound small red potatoes, cut into ½-inch chunks
12 ounces smoked sausage, sliced on the diagonal into 8 pieces
1 large apple, cored and thinly sliced
Minced parsley, for garnish
Mustard and crusty bread, for serving
Combine cloves, allspice, and pepper in a mortar and pestle and grind them to a powder. In a measuring cup, combine cider, broth, spices, and bay leaf. Set aside.
Place bacon in a large skillet over medium heat and cook until the bacon is crispy (about 2 minutes). Add onion and cook until soft, 4–5 minutes. Add reserved spiced liquid, sauerkraut, potatoes, and sausage. Stir to combine. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes). Add apple slices, cover, turn off heat, and let the apples warm to the temperature of the rest of the dish. Garnish with parsley, and serve with crusty bread and mustard.
Christine has lived in many places, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, England and France. But her professional world has consistently been grounded in just two: in journalism and in the kitchen. Throughout her 30-year writing career, she’s covered sports, politics, business and technology. But for the past 10 years after completing culinary school, she’s focused on food. Her words and recipes about eating locally and sustainably have appeared in publications from The Portland Press Herald to Fine Cooking. Her award-winning cookbook Green Plate Special (link is: was published in 2017. When she’s not laboring over a cutting board or a keyboard, she’s learning from her two semi-adult children, a community of food-minded friends, hundreds of productive Maine farmers, thousands of innovative chefs near and far, and her 30,000 honeybees.