Iron-rich recipes for people who don’t love meat


I found out in May of last year that I had anemia. Fortunately it was iron deficiency anemia, so it’s curable. (A little Google research after my diagnosis showed that sometimes peoples’ digestive systems don’t absorb iron properly, which can be a chronic problem but this is not what I had.)

I started taking an iron supplement every day. I also incorporated more home-cooked meals into my diet (less Starbucks grab-and-go sandwiches and more baked chicken, steamed greens and quinoa). Shortly after taking the supplement I noticed a spike in my energy levels, which was incredible after living a lethargic life for way too long.

My doctor said I needed a more balanced diet — not just meat, but also steamed dark leafy greens. I could cook and eat the greens, but I’ve never liked meat, red meat in particular. Not only did I not enjoy it but as a non- red meat eater for more than a decade, I found it was difficult to cook it just right. I knew I had tasted and liked meat cooked on a grill but living in San Francisco with no outdoor space, I had no way to do that. I discovered that sauces and long cooking times were my answer to enjoying meat on occasion. Sauces mask a too-meaty flavor, and long cooking times make meat more chewable — chewy pieces of meat still disgust me.

I love cooking with my crockpot! It makes meat very tender. I’d also recommend buying a bamboo steamer and a wok for lightly steaming veggies like kale and other greens without making them soggy. Those are a great side dish to a meaty main course.

Here are some recipes with lots of flavor and where meat isn’t the main focus flavor-wise:

Crockpot Lamb Stew

I’ve learned that anytime red meat is cooked in red wine, you have a winner of a dish. I really like using lamb for stew. You can probably get away with buying a number of cuts but I prefer to buy lamb shanks, leg of lamb or stew lamb meat.

Stew is fun and easy to make because you can use what produce you have in the fridge. And after cooking at a low heat all day in the crockpot, the lamb is super tender and chewable. Plus my version of this stew dish has a lot of veggies which adds flavor. Here’s my favorite combo:

Makes 4 servings

— 1 28 oz. can organic diced tomatoes in juice

— 1 Tbsp tomato paste

— 1 bay leaf

— 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

— 5 whole carrots, peeled and cut into 1-2 inch pieces

— 5 fresh sprigs of thyme

— 1 container vegetable stock

— 1 yellow onion, diced

— 2 stalks of celery, diced

— 2 shallots, diced

— 1 cloves of garlic

— 1 can organic white beans, rinsed

— 3 Tbsp olive oil

— 1 cup merlot

— 4 lamb shanks

Add the tomatoes, paste, onion, carrots, potatoes, celery, bay leaf, thyme , beans and broth to the crockpot. Put a little sea salt on the lamb shanks and heat 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Drop the shanks, or other cut of lamb, into the hot pan to sear both sides but not cook through. Remove the shanks and add them to the crockpot. Turn down the heat, or move the pan away from the heat for a moment to add the wine. I use Merlot. It doesn’t have to be top-notch vino, but never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink. Turn the heat back up and use a heat proof spatula to scrap-up all the pieces of lamb that stuck to the pan while the wine simmers. Add the wine to the crockpot. Cook on medium heat for 6-8 hours. Serve with rustic French bread.

Healthy Burrito Bowl

I tried cooking black beans and garbanzo beans in the crockpot and came home to a burned mess both times. I’m still working on mastering that one (more water?), so for now I used canned.

Stick the chicken in the oven first. Then cook the quinoa. And heat the beans in a separate pot. Layer the ingredients in a bowl starting with the lettuce, quinoa, beans, chicken, and serve with salsa and guacamole.

Makes 2-4 servings (leftovers!)

— 3-4 bunches romaine lettuce (I like to slice it myself because it ends up being crunchier and a good bed for all the ingredients). I love this knife for lettuce. Run some cold water over it and drain it in a salad spinner.

— 2 cans organic black beans (loaded with iron!)

— 1/2- 3/4 cup cooked quinoa (also a great source of iron)

— 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, baked with a sprinkling of sea salt, cumin, onion powder and ground cayenne pepper. After baking, slice into strips. (Some iron here, too)

— Homemade salsa. (I make this in my small Bella blender, it’s like a Magic Bullet. Salsa has so many healthy ingredients, plus the vitamin C in the tomatoes helps your body to better absorb the iron.

  1. 2 tomatoes, seeded and sliced into 1-inch chunks
  2. 1/2 medium yellow onion diced (you can also use red, which is more common in salsa, but I like the mild and sometimes sweet taste of the yellow)
  3. 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced. Include a few seeds if you want more heat in the salsa.
  4. About 1/4-1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  5. 1 large clove of garlic, cut into four pieces
  6. Pinch of sea salt

— Homemade guacamole. OK, this one is super easy. I use the recipe from the book, “Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.”

  1. 2 avocados, mashed with a fork
  2. juice of 1/2 lime
  3. 2 cloves of garlic diced

Thai Beef Curry

I love this recipe because it’s easy, quick and healthy but tastes like takeout. There are a lot of great Thai food places in San Francisco and this dish comes close to recreating something you’d get at a restaurant. Plus, the beef is loaded with iron, and the curry flavors it so non-meat fans can enjoy it, too.

Cook the beef in the 2 cans of coconut milk, plus 1 Tbsp. curry paste, 1 Tbsp. fish sauce for about 10-15 minutes while stirring occasionally. Steam brown rice in the meantime. Add veggies to the curry and cook for about five minutes more.

Makes 3 servings

— 1-2 bags frozen Thai veggies, or stir-fry veggies

— About 3/4 pound beef cubes, stew beef or beef chunks (all the same thing and are a really affordable cut of meat)

— 1 Tbsp. Thai fish sauce

— 1 Tbsp. Thai green or red curry paste

— 2 cans coconut milk (yum, this is so delicious)

— 1 cup brown rice

Image courtesy of Flickr, Andrew Fogg


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