There's been a glut of vegetarian questions lately…
(Edit: Well there WAS a glut of questions, back in freakin' May 2008 when I started writing this entry. Slackarse! I'm determined to finish today!)
… You've shacked up with one, you want to be one, you want to be a part-time one, or you just want to beat gas prices and find out if you can propel yourself to the office with your very own wind power.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to eat less/no meat – economical, ethical, environmental – your questions were about how to put that desire into practice:
- how do I change my diet?
- how do I make non-meat meals tasty and satisfying?
- what do I do with all those beans?
- what about the FARTING?
As always I can only offer my own experiences and hope you might find something helpful there. Also, in the eons that have passed since I started this entry, I've noticed lots of bloggers talking about decreasing their meat consumption – so if anyone out there has some tips, feel free to join in!
I grew up on a farm where it was blasphemy not to eat meat every night. There was always half a cow in our freezer at least. I only knew one vegetarian, the lovely Carrie. We gave her a lot of hell about it at school. There was a range of vegetarian products in Australia that were all called Not-something. Not Burgers. Not Bacon. Not Dogs. Every time the poor girl grilled one up for lunch we'd all cackle, "How's your Not Burger?… NOT BAD?"
My meat consumption decreased sharply when I moved to Scotland, firstly for financial reasons. Then I hooked up with Vegetarian Gareth and when I moved in with him, he insisted I shouldn't change my diet on his account. But I found it more practical to cook one meal and enjoyed the culinary challenge. I also liked how vegetarian cooking usually resulted in less skanky pots to clean!
These days I treat meat and fish like I do chocolate – they're Sometimes foods. I go for the best quality I can afford and try to be mindful of sustainability and origin and all that stuff.
So here's the step-by-step meat-reducing process I went through:
1. Adapting old meaty recipes
Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils. Mostly from cans (with no added sugar or salt) because I couldn't be bothered soaking dried ones and our unreliable stove meant you'd have to stand beside it for hours making sure the little beans didn't stick to the pot.
- Canned green or brown lentils – great sub for minced beef in spaghetti bol. Once you add some herbs, vegetable stock and wine and simmer for a good while, it gets nice and rich and you don't miss the beef.
- Borlotti beans – these ones are the ones they use in baked beans. I love them for bean burgers – just mash up a tin of beans, add some fresh herbs, some chopped onion, maybe some pesto, or some nuts and seeds, roll into balls, oven bake or pan fry. Ace.
- Butter beans – Dr G makes this great butterbean mash – just sautee an onion, add the butterbeans and a dash of Tabasco then squash with a stab blender. Sometimes he adds chopped herbs or a sprinkle of cheese.
2. Dabbling with meat substitutes
I went through a phase of trying lots of vegetarian products, particularly Quorn. What is Quorn? It's mycoprotein… fungi sort of thing, flavoured and formed into various shapes – sausages, burgers, mince. Like the Not range back in Oz. I tried it all, baby. It's quite tasty, but the Quorn "bacon" did me in… it tasted nothing like bacon and it had the most creepy texture. I decided I'd rather have some REAL bacon every now and then instead of a pretender.
3. Getting big and bold with flavours
Once I got bored with faux meat I thought about flavoursome ingredients that would jazz up plain veggies and beans. Olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, chilies, feta cheese, lemon, lime. Lots of fresh herbs too. Trying new spices with weird names. It's lovely how a sprinkle of this and that can make a vegetable sing.
4. Putting the veg centre stage
For a couple of years we got a vegetable box delivery. For £10 per fortnight all sorts of weirdo veggies would show up on our doorstep. This forced me to get more imaginative and build the meals around the vegetable, whereas in the old days it revolved around the meat. I found Leith's Vegetarian Bible and the Riverford Organics recipe pages great for those "What the HELL do I do with this leafy thing?" moments.
5. Finding some new old standards
I was cool with the veggie thing once I had a couple of recipes for that worked every time and pleased a crowd. I always trot out Sophie's Comforting Butternut Squash Dal that I have linked to 27 times before. Sooo soothing and filling and tasty, it would never occur to you that meat was "missing". Plus if you do the spicy onion garnish and yogurt and naan bread, it looks like you've gone to lots of fuss. Hehe.
I'd also be lost without Delia Smith's vegetarian shepherds pie. It is the Friends For Lunch standard – although I make it with about 75% less butter than Delia. It's one of those dishes that make you sigh, "Ahh… lentils rule". It showed me that the beans and lentils can be flavoursome in their own right. They are such great "carriers" for other flavours. It's a very adaptable recipe – I like it with sweet potato or butternut or parsnip mash instead of plain potato. I also swap out the goats cheese coz Dr G is freaked out by goats cheese (I just asked him again why he hates it and he said, "URRGH! Coz it just tastes of goats." Righto then.)
6. Devouring food blogs
There's no better way of getting ideas than from snooping at what other people do. Here are some of my favourite food blogs that are either vegetarian or just have some great vegetable recipes:
- Green Gourmet Giraffe
- A Wee Bit Of Cooking
- 101 Cookbooks
- Fat Free Vegan
- Mostly Eating
- The Gooseberry Fool
Oh yeah… the farting. Your body does adjust! I've eaten beans for lunch every day this week and I've not issued a single trumpet. My colleagues will be pleased to know that.
- Yottam Ottolenghi's weekly Guardian column, The new vegetarian – swoony recipes!
- Vegetarian Society – great beginners guides and nutritional information if you're worried you'll fade away if you go veggie.
- Eating less meat to save the earth – NPR interview with Mark Bittman (via Jen)