As semi-vegetarians, one of the first hurdles to clear in our switch to ‘healthier’ eating was to make peace, and say goodbye to some of our favorite meat dishes.

I was adamant about not making vegetarian or vegan dishes that mimicked meat dishes, but there were always ‘favorites’ that we missed – regardless of the fact that it wasn’t really the ‘meat’ that made the ‘meal’.

Smothered Chicken was one such dish. It was a family-favorite recipe from my Betty Crocker cookbook of old. Although it was one of the ‘healthier’ meals, as new semi-vegetarians, I couldn’t justify the weight of meat plus dairy in the recipe:


Good news though: The recipe called for mushrooms AND they didn’t specify WHAT KIND!

Enter my personal meat-replacement fave: Portabello Mushrooms.


Mushrooms are loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, you name it… and even more recently, they are being used in neurological research. It seems that mushrooms, or as they are better known as, fungi, actually share similar cellular structures as our brains. Hmm… So researchers are using them to understand the wiring in our brains. (le sigh)

And now, I am justified in telling my girls that walnuts and pecans are good for the brain because they LOOK like brains. (yay Science!)


What were we talking about? Oh yeah… Dinner.

Tonight, I decided that the stars were aligned. We had gone long enough without smothered chicken. And my local grocer saw fit to put bellas on sale for 3.49 and peppers for $1 a piece. Yay!

Enter my weekly, thrown together meal:


Chopped garlic sautéed in canola oil. I added corn and black beans, some oregano, basil, paprika, and cumin (…but only a touch per my friend, Ms. Julie! Her rule? Cumin should be less than or equal to 1/4 of the other spices and herbs – or it will overpower the dish.).

I replaced the chicken in the recipe with the bellas, added veggie, no-lactose cheese, and voila:


The black beans and corn? That was just 2 cups of vegetable broth, 1 and 3/4 cup of instant brown rice, and (of course) 1 can of (rinsed*) black beans and corn (each). The herbs and spices are as mentioned above…

Other than that? I used the bellas in lieu of the chicken. And followed the recipe as directed.

One trick… with veggie cheese, it is often necessary to ‘broil’ it. That is, at the last few minutes, after the food is properly cooked, put the dish under the broil setting at high for about 3 to 5 minutes.

When you see the cheese puff up, it’s time to take it out of the oven. Sometimes, depending, I will even ‘brown’ the cheese a little.

This will help the cheese heat to the proper temperature and melt.

It seems odd to avoid ‘real cheese’, but lactose is still a sugar, and sugar affects your insulin levels. I have two that are proven insulin ‘resistant’… so when avoidable, we avoid it. Reducing it brought their LDL levels down 30 points.

The bellas and veggies were served atop the beans, corn, and rice mix.

Of note: black beans, when mixed with corn, form a ‘perfect protein’ per Betty Crocker. It is a common recommendation for vegans to pair the two on a regular basis (along with B12 shots).

As always… I hope this helps you be braver in the kitchen. One thing that I have learned is that we are told that the meat is what makes the meal. But that is far from the truth, it is the spices and herbs, and timing that make the meal taste good. The meat? That is just a filler.


*My daughters, when they used to eat school lunch, bemoaned many times to me how they wished that “the school would drain, rinse, and season” their canned veggies. Draining and rinsing canned vegetables is a good way to reduce the sodium, sugar, and mainly, for me at least, to remove that ‘can’ taste. The seasoning trick I learned from one of my sister-in-laws. Put the rinsed, drained, corn into a pan with just enough water to cover the bottom to keep it from burning. Cover it with a lid and let it ‘steam’ for 10 minutes, and you get crisp, tasty, corn. The paprika gives it a little zing.