Meatless meals

Changing just a few recipes a week to help with pandemic meat shortages

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Chef Sarah Small prepares recently avocado crema, a simple mixture blended with avocado and lime, provides for a bright flavor and creamy texture to dress meatless tacos.

Though living with less meat is an adjustment some are just getting used to, local chef Sarah Small has had more practice living with it.

The local pescatarian started learning how to incorporate alternatives to meat in her recipes months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Pescatarian diets are similar to vegetarian diets, but include fish and seafood and exclude red meat or chicken.

But now that major grocery store chains have announced purchase limits for pork, chicken and beef, some foodies may be more open to finding a few alternative main dishes for their meals every week.

In Fort Dodge, Hy-Vee was the first to announce restrictions as state leaders announced the possibility of the food chain breaking while many meat packing plants across the state face dramatic increases in COVID-19 infections.

For Small and her partner, the new eating lifestyle was chosen for its health benefits, like the reduction of risks for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as reducing her impact on the environment.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Sarah Small chops ingredients for sweet potato tacos. 

“Many cultures all over the world are primarily vegetarian, especially in the developing world where meat is a luxury product,” she said. “In crisis, meat is becoming more of a luxury.”

For folks new to eating more veggies, she said it doesn’t have to be bland or boring.

“If you stick a chicken breast in the oven with zero seasoning or oil and bake it, it’s going to taste terrible,” she said. “The same goes for plant-based meals. If you’re munching on raw broccoli all day, you’re not going to be satisfied.”

To start, the chef at Gaga & Hoo Korean restaurant suggests that you make friends with your spice cabinet and open your mind to new vegetables in the produce section.

“I think a lot of it is intimidation,” she said of hesitancy some have to try new things with food. “There are so many types of produce.”

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Sarah Small, a chef at Gaga & Hoo Korean Restaurant in Fort Dodge, creates a avocado flower to garnish her plate.

Just start with one new thing. Don’t know how to cook it? Google is your friend, she said. Find a good recipe and pair it with something you do like.

Or, you can incorporate plant-based alternatives into recipes you already love. Have a favorite chili recipe? Try dicing and cooking mushrooms for it the same way you would with ground beef, and bam–you’ve got a vegetarian recipe.

Some vegetables, like cauliflower, will make you feel like you’re not missing meat when breaded and fried.

Garlic, onion, fennel seed ground coriander and other aromatic vegetables and spices can do wonders for giving a meaty, robust or earthy flavor to vegetables.

Take the steak seasoning in your cabinet and try it on a vegetable, mix it with olive oil and roast it in the oven.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Chef Sarah Small's simple taco recipe is complete with roasted sweet potatoes, red onion, salsa, jalepenos, cheese, avocado crema, radishes, cilantro garnish and lime on corn tortillas. Using a few different ingredients, anyone can easily make simple recipes meatless.

Other good substitutes include lentils and chickpeas, which can give the crispy crunch you crave when replacing chicken in a salad.

Chef Sarah offers a few recipes for beginners to delve in the delicious world of meatless meals.


Sweet potato tacos

Makes four servings


-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Sweet potato tacos, a favorite for chef Sarah Small, are one easy way to dip your toes into the world of meatless recipes in light of restrictions placed on meat purchases during the pandemic.

• 1 pound of sweet potatoes, cut into 1 inch cubes

• 1 packet taco seasoning

• 3 tbsp oil

• Tortillas and your favorite taco toppings


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, make a paste of oil and taco seasoning. Use the seasoning paste to evenly coat the sweet potato pieces. Then, roast on a sheet pan for 25 – 30 minutes, tossing halfway through cooking. Fill your tortilla or taco shell with the potatoes and toppings, and enjoy!

Thai-inspired pineapple and zucchini salad

Serves four to six as a side dish or two to three as a meal.


For the salad mix:

• 1 fresh pineapple, cut into 1-inch pieces. (two 20oz drained cans can be used as a substitute)

• 2 small-medium zucchini, cut into 1 in pieces

• 1 red bell pepper, diced

• 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

• 1/2 cup chopped green onion

• 1/2 cup fresh basil

• 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, unsalted


• 4 large cloves garlic, minced

• 1 tsp Siracha (or more to taste)

• 1 tbsp honey

• 3 tbsp soy sauce

• 2 tbsp fish sauce


In a large bowl, combine all salad mix ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Add the dressing to the salad mix and toss to coat evenly. Serve and enjoy! This can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Foraged dandelion pesto

Yes, right out of your yard! As with any greens, just gently wash with water and pat or spin dry. This pesto is great with pasta, toast, eggs, vegetables and more!

Makes approximately two cups prepared.


• 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, unsalted

• 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

• 2 garlic cloves

• 2 cups packed dandelion greens

• 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

• 1 tsp salt


In a food processor, pulse sunflower seeds, garlic, and parmesan until finely ground. Add dandilion greens, and pulse to combine. With the food processor running, add the oil in a slow steady stream until smooth. Then, fold in the salt. Pesto can be used immediately or refrigerated for later use.


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