Today marks the beginning of National Vegetarian Week. I have a lot of respect for vegetarians. I’m not quite sure why they get a whole week dedicated to them (when is omnivore week, eh?) but if I have learnt one thing since joining Jamie Oliver, it’s that most of us eat far too much meat.
Somewhere along the line, particularly in the UK, meat has become the central theme of most meals. Like a star footballer it’s always first on the team sheet, and everything else has to fit around it. It’s not necessarily healthy and it’s definitely very expensive, but I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
There are countless reasons why it shouldn’t be the case, too. I’m not going to bang on about too much meat being bad for you, but I will say that substituting a meat for a vegetable once a day means seven extra portions of veg a week. Depending on how you prepare it, it will be lower in fat too. That’s not to be sniffed at.
But the best reason I’ve ever heard for going veggie a couple of times a week may surprise you (it surprised me when someone first said it, and then surprised me again when I soon found myself agreeing with them); sometimes, vegetarian food is tastier.
I strode out into the desert of meat-free meals and found myself in an oasis. I’ve discovered all manner of gorgeous recipes that have never been near an animal. And contrary to the cries of “rabbit food!” all across the world, I’ve also found the tastiest salad in the world (sweet potato, feta, pine nuts and rocket). Tell my 16-year-old self I’d grow up to say that sentence and he’d have laughed you out of his dark, poster-clad room.
I’m not saying we should all go vegetarian (I mean, bacon – come on) but I think the following five recipes might just tempt you to at least give a meat-free Monday a go. We’ve picked our absolute favourite veggie recipes to convince you that meat-free doesn’t mean compromise.
Something about this recipe just makes me smile. Maybe it’s the bright yellow colour, the sweet, spicy flavours or that fact that it’s a curry twice as tasty as a local takeaway (well, mine at least), but still healthy enough to eat every day. We don’t recommend this though.
It ain’t late summer yet, but then, it doesn’t need to be to try this beautiful tart. The sweet roasted tomato and tangy cheese are just fantastic together, and the light filo pastry makes sure it’s not a heavy meal. Not all cheeses are vegetarian as they use animal rennet, which comes from a calves stomach, so check the packaging if you’re an ethical vegetarian and find one that’s suitable. Make sure it’s a good cheese though, because this quiche lives and dies by it.
It’s not a beautiful dish, but it has serious rustic charm and flavours that will absolutely knock your socks off. It’s loaded with big, bold ingredients – garlic, tangy tomato, earthy aubergine, salty caper and fragrant herbs – and they come together into one gorgeous soft whole. It’s an Italian masterpiece, and even better with a nice grilled flatbread for mopping.
The Mexicans know how to do breakfasts. Ditch that bacon sandwich and coffee, because this is the ultimate morning-after breakfast. You may know this as huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito, but whatever you call it it’s just about the most comforting thing to eat first thing in the morning in the world – the chillies give you a kick, the stew warms you up and the tortillas completely fill you. Sweet, smoky and spicy, it simply brings you straight back to life.
Falafel is a mainstay of vegetarian cuisine because it feels kind of naughty. It’s fried, it’s crispy, it’s heavy and it’s spicy. But this meal is beautifully balanced and stuffed with flavour, whether your tasting the harissa in the falafel or the sweetness in the chopped salsa you load it up with.