Hmm, that title seems to imply that vegetarian food isn’t normally something to ‘enjoy’, which is really the case at all. But I think it’s fair to argue that for the many who like eating meat, their stomachs don’t necessarily rumble with anticipation at the thought of a vegetarian feast. And it should. It really should. I’m serious! I’ve written before about the health and economic benefits of including one or two meat-free meals a week in your diet, but perhaps you need a bit more convincing, maybe in terms of taste and flavour. You see, eating meat-free meals shouldn’t be a chore. Here are a few ways you can ensure they become a treat instead of a trial…
I don’t think it’s any accident that most of the vegetarian meals I like are based on Asian cuisine and this is primarily down to the intensity of flavour. If vegetables are necessarily your bag then you need to supercharge the seasoning, it’s as simple as that. Spices, chilli, soy sauce, garlic, ginger – all these things will make your mouth water and more than make up for the absence of meat. I’ve never cooked with tofu, but most the ingredients I see that contain it are based on Chinese recipes and involve letting the tofu take on all the sweet/sour/spicy flavours we associate with it.
I’ve been thinking about my favourite vegetables recently and I’m going to refer back to my last post on tomatoes (yes, I know, it’s a fruit etc etc). One thing I didn’t mention was drying tomatoes. A bit like the sun-dried ones you can get in the shop but without the sun. I have a husband who is a dab hand at this, but from what I can gather, it involves marinating your segmented tomatoes in olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and pepper and putting them in an oven on a VERY low heat for um… quite a while. Until they start to look a bit shrivelled at any rate. Anyway, going back to the whole flavour thing, this intensifies it to the point when you find yourself nipping back to the kitchen every now and again to pop one on your gob because they’re so delicious. Great with pasta or in salads –it gives them a proper flavour boost.
You remember that word I used in the opening paragraph, ‘treat’? Let’s revisit that for a moment. You’d be forgiven for associating a vegetarian dish with a healthy dish. Because vegetables are healthy. And you’d also be forgiven for associating a healthy dish with a sacrifice. Because ‘healthy’, more often than not, means cutting out delicious things that aren’t very good for you. But none of these assumptions are one hundred percent correct. Try looking at it from a different angle – what non-meat based foods are you tempted by?
It’s no coincidence that most of the vegetarian meals I cook on a regular basis contain cheese of some description. If I make a vegetable or lentil lasagne, I never scrimp on the rich béchamel sauce and if I’m cooking a vegetable curry, I always have a generous supply of flatbreads to go with it. And of course, the perfect accompaniment to vegetable soup is warm, fresh crusty bread with a large portion of butter. I’m not advocating you pile your plate with artery cloggers every day of the week, but ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean ‘low fat’. A lot of my favourite vegetarian dishes contain aubergine because, when cooked the right way (with lots of olive oil and salt), I see it as a real indulgence. Yes, even though it’s a – SHOCK, HORROR – vegetable.
Of course, making sure you’re actually cooking something you will enjoy eating can be applied to all dishes, not just vegetable-based ones. It seems like an obvious point to make, but I think we need reminding of it on occasions.