Yummy bits and bobs from my kitchen!
Last week I spent a session working in a vegetarian restaurant. Donning my LEATHER Dr Martens (sorry, these genuinely are the only protective kitchen shoes I have at the mo) and being a regular meat eater, this was a strange experience. I made dishes I’d never even tried before, like courgette spaghetti. Yes this was strange, but also eye opening and amazing fun.
At the moment, I work in the kitchens of one of Britian’s best known chain pubs and virtually every meal I cook has some kind of meat in it. That isn’t surprising as around 98% of people in the UK are meat eaters, and trends are pretty similar in
most Western nations. India has the highest rate of vegetarianism, which explains why so many delicious, meat-free dishes come from that particular part of the world. Indian veggie cooking is something I’m really grateful for when I make my very own vegan samosas. During my day in a veggie kitchen I learned and experienced so much that I wouldn’t experience in my normal job.
But why would someone want to go veggie? Meat is just better, isn’t it?
Well, there are a few different reasons: Religion, cost, compassion for animals, taste and finally, health. Although I’m not a vegetarian myself, I see the benefits of going veggie and over the last few years have been incorporating more plants into my diet. My veggie shopping is indisputably cheeper than when I shop for meat, and on those weeks, I do certainly feel better for the fact that animals haven’t suffered for my dinner table. And you know what? I just don’t feel that I’m missing out, because when vegetables are used creatively, and cooked well, a meat-free dish bring as much variety and flavour and MORE nutritious goodness to the table as a hunk of meat.
So it’s win/win. Just cutting meat out of your diet is the answer?
I’d love to say yes, but I have to give the longer answer of: Well… not necessarily. A meat-free diet CAN be expensive and just as bad for you as a meaty diet. Take for example a girl I knew at school: she was vegetarian, but did not like a single fruit or vegetable. Her four main food groups were cheese pizza, chips, chocolate and crisps. A lack of nutritional know how, and dearth of cooking creativity can leave even a meat-free eater splashing their cash on nutritionally empty, processed ready meals and snacks. This can result in a low protein and low vitamin diet. This means you’ll be hungry more often and the foods that you do eat won’t give you any get-up-and-go.
On the other hand, someone who will reach for different vegetables, pulses and beans to whip up a meal can, without any fancy processes, create a meal that is nutritionally balanced, filling and delicious. A lot of people think that a vegetarian or vegan diet can leave you weak and lacking energy, however there are many vegan sports people and athletes (including Mike Tyson of all people, and I don’t think I’m going to argue with him about that). The thing is that pulses and beans make a great, protein filled, replacement for meat and have many health benefits which meat doesn’t. It’s all about thinking about the nutritional value of the food you put in your body.
But aren’t vegetarian meals boring?
A veggie meal without flair can be dull and unappealing, but so can a carnivorous meal. There’s an absolute plethora of fruits and veggies that people rarely use, or don’t use very creatively. Presenting something new is always helpful. This is why I love recipes which incorporate simple items in an unexpected way. I can remember a while ago when I had my first taste of beetroot and chocolate cake. It tasted absolutely nothing like how I imagined – delicious. Since then my idea of beetroot as a weird, dribbly, pickled mush has been changed. The other week I made some truly eye catching beetroot and goats cheese stackers as a starter at a dinner party. The diners hadn’t seen anything like it, and the zingy colours really got people talking. Veggie cooks have to put as much thought and care into their cooking as someone who successfully creates meat dishes. They needn’t be very difficult though; I have a recipe I picked up in Paris, for a super speedy, mouth-gazamy, cheese fondue, which will have any cheese lover licking their bowl.
The Bottom Line?
There are advantages to eating meat, and there are advantages to going veggie, but whichever way you look at it, people in general don’t eat enough vegetables
particularly in Westernised countries. A thoughtless attitude to food isn’t good for us, or the animals who have to be reared cheaply to make meat into a readily available product. Cutting some or all meat out of your diet can help you to get more veggies, and will be a step towards reducing our reliance on factory farmed animals. Whether you decide to go totally vegetarian or just to get more veggies in your diet, remember that it will take a bit of creativity to have fun with delicious foods.
Over the next week I will share some of my favourite veggie recipes with you, so keep an eye out.