Words and recipe by Ren Behan
It’s National Vegetarian Week in the UK and the National Vegetarian Society has challenged everyone to “go green” and be meat-free from today until Sunday 25 May 2014, so we’re doing just that.
Following a healthy vegetarian diet is much easier these days. There are so many vegetarian recipes out there to try, books to read, blogs to visit and information on the best ingredients to use instead of meat. If you’re planning on going meat-free it’s important to remember to include plenty of non-meat sources of protein like beans and legumes, protein-rich grains, nuts and nut butters, tofu, leafy greens, plain yoghurt and eggs. If you’re taking up the challenge, base all your meals around these veggie goodies and you’ll be off to a flying start!
Going meat-free is also the perfect opportunity to experiment with some ingredients that are new to you. As the weather warms up, I very often make salads based around cooked grains, which can be healthy as well as delicious. For example, quinoa, a grain native to South America introduced by the Incas, is wheat-free, rich in natural protein, and contains lots of heart-healthy fats. Try this South American-style brunch recipe for something a little different.
Another grain I really enjoy cooking with, and the one I want to focus on here, is buckwheat. Despite the name, buckwheat is actually a fruit-seed related to rhubarb and sorrel! It’s not quite as high in protein as quinoa, but it does contain more fibre than oats and it has a low glycaemic-index, which means it keeps you feeling full for longer. Buckwheat is a staple across the Balkans and in Eastern European cooking, and can almost always be found in my store cupboard in many guises.
Hulled (shelled) buckwheat kernels are known as buckwheat groats or barley groats, while “kasha” or “kasza” is the name usually given to roasted buckwheat. It’s very easy to cook (similar to cooking rice) so you can easily experiment with different types to find the one you like. Buckwheat also happens to be a gluten-free grain, with a higher protein content than rice.
My buckwheat, beetroot and feta salad is a great place to start for a healthy lunch or lighter supper. If you don’t like beetroot, try some in-season asparagus, or perhaps roast or griddle colourful peppers, courgettes and red onions.
The feta cheese is also easily interchangeable. You could try using a mild, crumbly goat’s cheese instead, or tasty slices of pan-fried or grilled halloumi. For additional vegetarian sources of protein, you can add washed and drained cooked lentils, chickpeas or a bean like pinto.
Buckwheat, beetroot & feta salad recipe
- 3-4 fresh beetroots (or a small packet of salad beetroot)
- 100g roasted buckwheat
- 50g feta cheese
- small bunch fresh dill to garnish
For the dressing
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 2 tbsps lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you are using fresh beetroots, top and tail them and put them into a pan of boiling water. Cover and cook for one hour until tender, then cool and gently peel away the skin. Use gloves if you don’t want to stain your fingers.
In a separate pan, cook the buckwheat according to the packet instructions. Usually, this means rinsing the buckwheat and placing it into a pan, then bringing the water to a steady boil and cooking for fifteen minutes until tender. Drain and rinse well with cold water.
To make the dressing, mix two tablespoons of olive oil with two tablespoons lemon juice, and a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour it over the buckwheat and stir until well coated.
Next, scatter the buckwheat onto a large plate. Chop the cooked beetroot and scatter over the top. Crumble the feta cheese using your fingers and scatter over the buckwheat and beetroot. Garnish with a few sprigs of fresh dill and serve.
I hope you enjoy discovering lots of tasty vegetarian recipes throughout National Vegetarian Week – let me know your favourites!