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No Meat Athlete: Fig, Gongonzola, and Walnut Salad with Arugula and Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

Posted Aug 19 2009 5:54pm

Hi, Runner’s Kitchen readers!  I’m Matt, and I write the blog No Meat Athlete. Just like Megan, I’m a marathoner with a fondness for delicious, healthy food.  The only difference is that I prefer to do it without the meat!  (Ok, there’s another difference.  Megan has a Boston Marathon finisher’s medal, an accomplishment of which I’m insanely jealous.)

[Matt photo 1]
But…where do you get your protein?

When I tell people that I’m a vegetarian endurance athlete, this is invariably the first question they ask.  But to be totally honest, I don’t even think about protein!

Sure, I was worried about it when I first decided to become vegetarian six months ago during a long layoff from running due to injury.  But I noticed that even though I was getting far less protein than before, I wasn’t losing any strength in the gym.  And then in my first 12-mile run after being injured, I was absolutely shocked by my newfound speed and endurance, and since then I’ve never looked back.

To answer the question, there are plenty of good vegetarian sources of protein.  I much prefer whole foods to supplements, so for me it comes mostly from chickpeas, lentils, other beans, flaxseed (yeah, it’s not just for omega-3’s!), nuts, and yogurt.

But what I really want to stress is this—you just don’t need that much protein!  If you look at the diets of top vegetarian and vegan athletes, you’ll see that they eat far less than the “recommended” amount of protein.  So why is so much recommended?  I’m not going to get all conspiracy-theory on you, but a compelling explanation is that it’s the result of lobbying by the beef and poultry industries to make sure that a big ol’ piece of protein makes its way onto our dinner plates every night.

Fun with Beer

Ok, ok, enough of that serious talk.  Time for some fun!  When I was trying to come up with something good to guest-post about, I brainstormed the first things that come to mind when I think of Runner’s Kitchen.  Here’s what I listed:

Boston Marathon
Oikos Greek yogurt and bananas

In case you can’t tell by the punctuation, #3 was the winner.  As a beer enthusiast myself, I absolutely love that Megan appreciates a good brew (add “cool NYC pub nights” to my list of things Megan does that make me jealous).  So I thought I’d put together a little meal centered around beer and share it with you!

[Salad photo 2]

My favorite beer in the world, for as long as I’ve been drinking it—for the most part legally, I swear—is Newcastle Brown Ale.  Brown ale has a wonderful nutty flavor, but it’s sort of subtle too, so it’s approachable even to those who don’t like a lot of dark or hoppy beers.  And best of all for a vegetarian, it’s known to be a perfect accompaniment to salads, especially those with acidic dressings. You can’t say that about most wines—they’re just too acidic to work well.

The only remaining question—which salad to make—was answered when I ate lunch in my local Italian deli and saw some fresh figs, with a little sign next to them that said “Great with gorgonzola.”  Then it all hit me at once.  Figs, gorgonzola cheese, peppery arugula, balsamic vinegar, and what is it that I’m missing… of course!  Toasted walnuts to accent the aforementioned nuttiness of the brown ale!

[Salad photo 1]

Since I’m not usually one to venture too far from the security of a trusty cookbook, I didn’t want to just count on my made-up salad being any good.  So I made a “practice” salad, and noticed that, yes, it was a perfect pairing for the brown ale.  But something was missing.  I looked online and found that this type of salad is not uncommon at all, but that it’s usually made with prosciutto (you probably know what prosciutto is, but just in case, it’s an imported Italian cured ham).

Since pig parts were out of the question, I had to think of one last thing to add a little punch.  This was easy—I just half-stole a warm balsamic vinaigrette recipe from Rachael Ray, and the salad was complete.  And it turned out perfectly!  The sweetness of the figs, the tanginess of the gorgonzola, and the garlicy sweet/acid combo of the dressing all went so well together, and the nut connection with the brown ale just put it over the top.

And oh yeah, I almost forgot—it’s good for you!  Thanks so much for letting me hang out in “the Kitchen” for the day, and I hope you’ll stop by No Meat Athlete sometime.  Until then, keep running and cooking!

[Matt photo 2]

Fig, Gongonzola, and Walnut Salad with Arugula and Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients for the salad (serves 2):

4 cups arugula
10 fresh figs
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Ingredients for the dressing:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tsp sugar (only needed if your balsamic isn’t an expensive, aged one)
Divide the arugula in the centers of two plates.  Rinse the figs, cut the very top off, and halve them.  Arrange in circles around the arugula.  Lightly toast the walnuts in a pan over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or so, until they are aromatic, but don’t let them burn!  Set the salad aside while you prepare the dressing.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Smash the garlic clove with the side of your knife and put it into the oil; let it cook for a few minutes until it begins to turn golden brown.  Remove the garlic clove and discard.  Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar, increase the heat to medium-high, and whisk it while it lightly boils for about 2 minutes to reduce the balsamic.  As soon as it tastes the way you want it to, it’s done!

Top the salad and figs with crumbled gorgonzola and toasted walnuts, then drizzle with warm balsamic vinaigrette.  Add salt and freshly ground black pepper if desired. Serve with a brown ale.

If you really want to be like Megan, use a Brooklyn Brown Ale instead of Newcastle!

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