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The Part-Time Vegetarian: Food Writer Mark Bittman Embraces Flexitarian Diet

Vegan Before 6 is author's strategy to health

Guide to Meat-Free Meals

  • Sally Stein

The acclaimed author of How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman was suddenly being told to cut back on the “everything.”

“Look,” he remembers his doctor telling him, “you’re overweight, your cholesterol’s higher than it used to be, your blood sugar’s higher than it used to be, you have sleep apnea, you have a couple other problems. You should probably become a vegan.”

Bittman resisted.

“Well, figure something out,” his doctor added. “Figure something out in that direction.”

And so Bittman devised an approach he called Vegan Before 6: avoiding meat and other animal products until dinnertime each day.

Fortunately, he had plenty of recipes to draw on. Concerned about the environmental impacts of mass meat production, and sensing shifting diets in the general public, the New York Times columnist had already written How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

And for nearly four years now, his own flexitarian routine has stuck.

“The first thing is … eliminate the processed food, eliminate the fast food, eliminate the junk,” says Bittman, 60, who has lost 30 pounds and resumed running marathons.

“But the second thing is just to remember that any time that you choose an unprocessed plant over anything else, you’re moving in the right direction. And whether that’s once a day, or twice a day, or five times a day, that’s the direction to move in.”

Grilled Eggplant and Scallions with Miso Rice


Serves 4


1 1⁄2 pounds eggplant
1 cup short-grain brown rice
1 bunch scallions, with a lot of the greens remaining
4 to 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1⁄3 cup any miso
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Black pepper
Soy sauce, for serving

1. Cut large eggplants into 1⁄2-inch slices or halve the long narrow ones. Put the slices in a colander, sprinkle them liberally with salt, and let them rest while you cook the rice.

2. Put the rice in a small saucepan with water to cover by about 1 inch. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Cover and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the water is not evaporating too quickly (add a little more liquid if necessary).

3. Meanwhile, prepare a grill or turn on the broiler; the heat should be medium-high and the rack about 4 inches from the fire. Rinse the eggplant and pat dry. Brush or rub the eggplant and scallions with the oil until well coated. Grill or broil, turning once or twice, until deeply colored and tender, 5 to 10 minutes. (You may have to remove the scallions from the heat before you remove the eggplant.)

4. When the rice is tender and all the water has been absorbed, turn off the heat. Stir the ginger, miso, sesame oil, and a sprinkling of black pepper into the rice with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the grilled vegetables on top of the rice, passing soy sauce at the table for drizzling.

From The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman. Excerpted by arrangement with Simon & Schuster ©2010


 All figures are per serving (assumes 4 servings).

Protein: 8 grams
Calories: 445
Fat: 22 grams
Fiber: 11 grams
Carbs: 57 grams

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