Food · Lifestyle · wellbeing

My top 5 meat-free meals.

It’s Nation Vegetarian Week! Still. Just. We are not vegetarians, but we have gradually cut the frequency that we eat meat, primarily for health reasons. We eat more fish than we used to, and when we do have meat we try to buy higher welfare. I’ll be honest though – it’s not always convenient to source it as part of our weekly shop without going out of our way. We started the year trying to make January an almost meat-free month – saving meat only for weekends and trying new veggie recipes each week. I wanted to explore some different veggie options to the ones we usually fell back on. We did find some new recipes that we loved (Ottolenghi’s green couscous in ‘Plenty’) but were just too much of a faff for everyday cooking. Also, a fussy toddler meant I was making two separate meals, and her diet became very freezer based, so I reverted back to hearty stews and casseroles that we could all enjoy without too much fuss. I still go easy on the meat, but also bulk out with pulses, pearl barley and loads of veg.

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Anyway, back to the veg-a-thon. We still fall back on a few meat-free delights on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share them here. I’m not going to give you exact quantities, but I will link to recipes where I can.

Rustic veg pasta

Let us meat-eaters try not to get to stressed about this whole thing & reinvent the wheel, okay? But also, don’t just stew all your veg in tinned tomatoes and then feel disappointed with the whole watery mess and order a lamb curry delivery instead. You’ve got to think flavour and texture at every step and this method keeps the bite on the veg and brings out their flavours too. Yes it’s an extra pan, but who really cleans griddle pans anyway?

Chuck a few sliced garlic cloves into a couple of lugs of oil, maybe a pinch of dried chilli and a spoonful of smoked paprika to boot. Once it become fragrant, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. While this grooves on a low heat, prepare some courgette, onion and pepper for griddling. I like mine chunky, so I go for half moon-ish courgette slices, onion cut into eight segments with root still attached, and peppers in approximate 1″ x 2″ pieces. Some might say you should toss the veg in oil before griddling. I couldn’t possibly comment*. Actually I can – I don’t bother. The veg gets smokier quicker as long as you don’t try to move the veg about until its got properly black lines on it. Otherwise its all a sticky mess. Once griddled, chuck the veg into the sauce and season to taste. Lob some fresh basil in just before serving. I prefer Penne.

Lentil Dhal with Veg Shashlik

This is now one of our top meat-free meals. There are loads of variations on dhal. I can never remember which one I used the last time, so it’s different each time, but always scrummy. Amoung our shelf of chefs we have Hugh F-W’s one and Jack Monroe’s version. In my experience, there isn’t much that can’t be tweaked or saved at the final stage anyway, so just Google one and start trying. Just don’t scrimp on the salt.

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For the shashlik, cut your veg into large chunks, eg. onions quartered, small tomato halves, pepper quartered, courgettes 2cm thick slices. Use whatever you have or like – cauliflower & aubergine are other good flavours if you have them. Place chunky veg pieces into a bowl and coat in oil, a liberal sprinkling of paprika (I use a mix of regular and smoked) and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice (or squeezy lemon if you don’t have fresh). Salt to taste – don’t scrimp! Once coated, griddle on a medium heat until cooked. You may have to batch cook this and remove to a warming drawer or low oven. Serve the shashlik with the dhal and rice.

I also like some fresh chopped tomatoes and onion, and some home made cucumber raita: Dice a few inches of cucumber into 1cm cubes, then sprinkle with salt. Leave for five or so minutes so the salt can help the juices to flow. Dollop on a couple of tablespoons or more of plain yogurt (I use Greek). Add a little splash of milk to thin if necessary – depends on your preference.

Broccoli Pasta

Ok this one is not 100% meat free due to the anchovies, but I have heard some people say you can make it without. I wouldn’t dream of it, but maybe you don’t like anchovies. Anyway, I like to court controversy, so here it is!

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It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe from Happy Days and is another regular on our meal plan. It’s thrifty, tasty and quick. At Christmas we subbed the broccoli for shredded sprouts and it was even better! A tip – I find I need a full tin of anchovies and more garlic and chilli than he suggests, but you know, thats just me. If Jamie can’t handle it….

Salad

Sounds boring doesn’t it? We call it mega-salad and in this house, it is never anything less. I’m not going to teach you to suck eggs here, but use your imagination and choose flavours you enjoy. There is a great infographic to help you hone your salad-building prowess. A typical meat-free example in this house would be Spinach leaves, cucumber, spring onions, green beans, soya beans, boiled eggs, toasted walnuts or pistachios, basil and mint leaves, roasted butternut or beetroot, grilled halloumi, toasted seeds. Sprinkled with fresh chopped red chilli and large salt flakes for crunch, then drizzled with a dressing like this one or this one or just a good shop-bought one. Don’t make life too difficult for yourself. The virtue of the salad outweighs any slacker-guilt you may experience.

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I know I said five meals, but the salad counts as at least two because it is so infinitely adaptable (see photographic evidence above).

So, there you have it carnivorous compadres. My meat-lovers meat-free must-munch meals. You’re most welcome.

*still loving House of Cards.

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