How Do You Get Your Protein?

Like this.

I stopped eating meat when I was 15 (which was over half my life ago, ach!). I was at running camp in the middle of a wilderness area in Southeastern Oregon. I’m not going to say where, because it’s my dad’s favorite vacation spot and he hates it when he sees other human beings there. New Yorkers may find it hard to believe, but in much of Eastern Oregon, you can literally go for days at a time without seeing another person. It is a desolate and beautiful place, one that is ingrained into my soul.

But it’s not very vegetarian friendly.

I’m not sure what it was, why at that moment I was like, “I just ran 32 miles at extremely high elevation, I’m in the wilderness and there are no toilets. I think I’ll stop eating meat now.

I’ve never gone back.

Except for that time somebody served me casserole that was made with cream of chicken instead of cream of mushroom, MOM.

I’ve never intentionally gone back.

For the first seven or eight years, people would often ask, “How do you get your protein?” Mostly older grandparent types, but also peers on occasion. I imagine my bitchy adolescent self responded in some bitchy adolescent way. Because when you think about it, it is a pretty stupid question: Protein, essential for life, is in literally every plant. Horses, for example, are extremely muscly creatures that can subsist on nothing but grass. Plus, I always ate eggs, cheese, yogurt and milk. But there is a weird perception of meat as being the sole occupant of The Protein Group. It’s definitely cultural, because when RZ’s cute Iranian grandma, who can’t speak English, learned that I was a vegetarian, she said, “Oh, that’s so much healthier. Good for you!” At least, that’s what I was told.

Happily, I now encounter this question only once a year or so. Possibly it’s because of fantastic dudes such as Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. Both of them eat meat, but in their very different ways, they have taught lots of people that it’s healthier not to.

It also could be because I’ve made it for 16 years without spontaneously dying from lack of meat consumption. (Actually, the opposite would be far more likely.)

Anyway, the next time somebody asks me this, I’ll just point him or her to this recipe. This one isn’t vegan, but like the past couple, it’s gluten and grain free.

This-Is-How-I-Get-My-Mother-F’in-Protein Dinner (in 30 minutes or less)

I used

  • A pound of mustard greens, but I recommend kale
  • One large onion
  • Four cloves of garlic
  • Two hot peppers
  • One 15 oz can of butter beans (or any white bean)
  • One egg per person (up to four)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Delicious vinegar
  • Cooking sherry

Here’s what I did

Okay, I have to start out by saying that I totally thought that the mustard greens were kale. My sub-par supermarket has them all mixed together and I guess my eye just went for the more sprightly looking bunch. That said, they turned out to be pretty tasty. Be warned, they are spicy and bitter and don’t have the earthy heartiness of kale. Whichever green you use, wash, chop and make sure the leaves are completely dry. Put them in a roasting pan, sprinkle with salt and a few tablespoons of olive oil and stick in a 350-degree oven for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, chop the onions, garlic and however much hot pepper you can stand (if you are related to me, more is always better). Saute these things in a little olive oil over medium-low heat. After ten minutes or so, de-glaze with several tablespoons of your favorite vinegar. This is my favorite, but some balsamic would be great. I was a little concerned about the bitter mustard greens, so I added some cooking sherry to sweeten things up. Then add the can of beans and let everything simmer on low.

Check the greens and give them a toss. It’s nice when some of them are a little crispy. When they are the texture that you want, take them out and divide them between plates. Put the bean mixture on top of the greens. Then put the pan back on the stove, put a little more olive oil in and crack one egg for each person into the pan. I like to cook my eggs on very low heat so that I don’t need to flip them, which for a person of my coordination abilities means broken-yolk disappointment. After about five minutes, they are medium-runny, just how I like em. Spread across the beans and voila!

Like the cooking sherry, I added the eggs because I was worried about the greens. RZ rightfully told me that this was cheating–a fried egg being the poor man’s shaved truffle. But he also said that it would have been a great dinner even without the egg. So you pick.

Just for fun, let’s do the protein breakdown.

According to this neat calculator, I should be consuming between 30-50 grams of protein every day. I get a moderate amount of exercise and even manage to do push-ups and sit-ups a few times per week, so we’ll shoot for the top limit of 50 grams.

I shared this dinner with RZ and we polished everything off. There are around 18 grams of protein (and 280 calories) in a 15 oz can of butter beans. So there’s 9 grams. We each had an egg, with 7 grams of protein (and a mere 70 calories, with tons of B-vitamins). Surprisingly, we each got around 5 grams of protein from the mustard greens (that’s with only 34 calories in a half pound) and 3 grams from the onion. That puts me up to 24 grams of protein, or about half my recommended daily intake, in one delicious meal. No tofu or peanut butter required.


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4 Responses to How Do You Get Your Protein?

  1. Joe, from work, the camp guy, you know the one. says:


  2. Roya says:

    gguuhhhhhhaaaaahhhhh……. this sounds AMAZING.
    Six months with a vegetarian girlfriend who actually likes to eat things that taste good has taught me the joys of skipping meat 98% of the time.
    I’ll definitely try this one soon.
    My personal vegetarian cookbook would have “Sautee it and add an egg on top” embossed on the cover and repeated every few pages. I can’t tell you how many tasty tasty meals have followed that advice and been the better for it. (Also “mix with whole wheat pasta”, but that’s when it’s cold and wet out and heartiness is called for)

  3. Papa says:

    *Grin* I’m definitely not a vegetarian– Ghana’s like eastern Oregon in that regard. However this recipe sounds so awesome it’s giving me a hunger headache…and the photo isn’t healing! I’m going to find some pizza now :) , and then I’ll probably try this out this weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  4. Let me know, Papa. But I should say that I recently watched the Anthony Bourdain episode where he goes to Ghana and I was all, “I could totally eat really well there, DELICIOUS!” So now I want to go hang out in your homeland.

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