Channel Four seems determined to get me to eat less meat – every time I switch on, I seem to get a different version of the same advert. In fact, we already aim for two or three meat-free meals a week – it’s cheaper, healthier (because we tend to replace it with more vegetables) and more sustainable – so I’ve got nothing against the campaign in principle.
The thing that niggles me about it, though, is that the advertising boffins at Channel Four are trying to get me to replace meat with quorn versions of the products I’m cutting out, such as sausages or steaks.
Frankly, this makes no sense to me. If you were a vegetarian on principle, I can understand that you might sometimes get a craving for something that is as similar to meat as you can make it without cheating – one of my veggie chums cannot face her Christmas dinner without something vaguely “meaty” to replace the joint of meat she’s missing out on, though she admits (with a wistful sigh) that it’s not at all the same.
But if you’re just giving up meat once or twice a week, why on earth would you feel the need to replace it with a second-rate copy? I’ve tried all the ‘meat replacements’ and all of them suck. Are you really going to be so hopelessly deprived of animal flesh on one or two days out of seven that you won’t be able to cope without stuffing in quorn sausages, eyes squeezed tightly shut, frantically repeating “It’s meat, it’s meat, it’s meat” in your head like a mantra? If so, I suspect you’re not quite ready for this step.
Rather than encouraging people to simply reach for a different shelf in the supermarket, then prepare their meals in exactly the same way, I think the campaign to get people to go ‘meat-free’ every now and then should be about championing quality vegetarian dishes. I firmly believe that proper vegetarian cuisine should be about making vegetables the star of the meal, along with quality cheeses, fabulous grains and beans, and delicious fresh fish and seafood. If you make the effort to find a few good vegetarian recipes, you won’t miss the meat at all.
Giving up meat a couple of times a week has introduced us to a whole range of gorgeous beans and grains, which will properly punch up a curry or a hearty stew, the crisp golden perfection that is a thick slice of grilled halloumi, and the delicate flavours of scallops, crab and smoked salmon (among many other seafood superstars), which frankly I would take over a steak any day.
Rather than a penance, giving up meat occasionally can be a glorious opportunity to discover new flavours – please, please don’t waste it on cardboard sausages and sawdust mince.
If you need a bit more inspiration, here’s a couple of my favourite vegetarian recipes:
Tomato & Oregano Rice Burger: I first discovered the idea of a rice burger at the Green Rocket Cafe, a fab vegetarian cafe in Bath, and as far as I’m concerned they knock bean burgers right out of the park. It’s basically a big crispy arancini in a bun and it’s amazing – get the recipe here.
Ribollita: this is an old Italian recipe that uses bread, along with some really good veg including kale and cannelini beans, to make a thick, silky soup, which you serve drizzled with really good olive oil. It’s proper winter comfort food and you’ve got to try it – get the recipe here.
Garlic Prawn Linguini with Basil & Toasted Coconut: I know that not all vegetarians eat fish and seafood, but if you do, try this bowlful of summer flavours. I absolutely love the richness of the prawns mixed with the freshness of the basil and coconut – get the recipe here.