Tracy Hoover makes spicy potato and chickpea stew
When Tracy Hoover first became a full-fledged vegetarian 18 years ago, as a senior in college, she did it simply because she never loved meat.
There were no moral judgments about killing animals, no youthful ambitions for living a healthy lifestyle.
Just, ugh, meat.
"Eating chicken off the bone always made me uncomfortable," says Tracy, a sales rep for Vitas Innovation Hospice Care's Lombard office. "My mom would have whole Cornish hens stuffed with wild rice, and her fillets, she loved them really raw."
But back then children ate what mom put on the table, so it wasn't until senior year of college, when she was living in an apartment, that Tracy kicked the cows to the curb and became a lacto-ovo (dairy and eggs allowed) vegetarian.
"It was my first time living on my own, so I had more control," she says. Maybe too much control, and inexperience.
"That first year I gained 10 pounds because I ate cheese for protein," she laughs.
Since then Tracy has researched and experimented, cooking with tofu or vegetable protein products from Gardein and Lightlife to make mock chicken curry, stews and stir-fries.
For recipes she scours newspapers, Cooking Light magazine, Epicurious.com, the Food Network and "A Thousand Vegetarian Recipes" by Harold Gelles.
"I pull that out all the time," she says of the latter. "For someone starting to experiment, there aren't a lot of strange ingredients or difficult preparations."
Restaurants are another source of creative vegetarianism, where Tracy puts herself in the hands of the chef, rarely ordering off the menu.
Ironically, she's been recommending Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. This pork-centric restaurant "had some of the best vegetarian items," like a salad with chewy farro (a grain), peas and mint and a beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios.
Closer to home, she relies on Villagio, an Italian restaurant in Roselle where she is a regular.
In her own kitchen, it's pretty much vegetarian all the way, but husband Jeff doesn't mind.
"He thought it would be a huge adjustment," says Tracy, "but he says he doesn't miss it."
She is converting some friends, at least to try vegetarian foods.
"I've exposed people to foods they told me they would never eat," she says.
Friends, in fact, have encouraged her to cook professionally, but she's concerned about the commitment.
"It's a difficult life," she says.
Instead she sent an audition tape to Fox's "MasterChef," a culinary competition in which famously cranky and profane Gordon Ramsay plays mentor to home cooks. The winner takes home $250,000.
"I never heard back," she sighs.
So we gave her a chance instead, minus the famous chef and quarter million dollars.
Check out Tracy's Chickpea and Potato Stew demo this week at dailyherald.com/food and then give it a whirl. Simple and approachable, "like the filling for a samosa," this is a good way to introduce yourself and others to Indian food.
"I had a few friends who say they don't like Indian cooking, but I made this for them and they came back for seconds and asked for the recipe," she says.
Are you listening, Chef Ramsay?
- Laura Bianchi