Apparently it’s ‘vegetarian week’ at the moment! Who knew… Oh yes, Twitter of course. The internet loves a themed day or week! So I could spend the week preaching about how great it is to be a veggie, but I thought I’d celebrate by suggesting some ways meat-eaters and veggies can get along better. And what issue is more contentious than cooking dinner for each other??
I think the first thing we need to learn about each other is that we think about meals differently. I read an article about this once, and I’d love to link to it here, but it is lost forever in the depths of my rubbish memory and the internet… But the main argument was the sensible idea that meat-eaters tend to construct their meals around the type of meat (eg pork, beef, chicken, fish, etc), while vegetarians often base their meals on a carbohydrate instead.
So when I’m thinking about what I want to eat for dinner, I tend to think about rice or pasta or pastry or potatoes or grains (eg bread, couscous, quinoa, etc). The choice of carbs often links to a particular region or cuisine (Italian, Chinese, Indian etc), which can help to further narrow down the decision.
If you’re planning a meal and you don’t want to cook an entirely separate dish for the vegetarian at the table, then try to think about the meat as an add-on rather than the centrepiece. So unlike the many ‘Come Dine with Me’ hosts I’ve seen serving up a plate of ‘meat and two veg’ with a fake burger for the veggie at the table, you could try making a pasta dish or stir-fry or curry and adding some meat for the meat-eaters but leaving it out for the veggie. (That said it’s always worth sounding out an visiting veggies about how strict they are – some people even eat fish while others won’t touch things like non-vegetarian cheeses and of course if serving a vegan you’ll need to avoid foods such as butter, cheese, cream, etc…)
Once you’ve got an idea for a main carbohydrate and cuisine, just be sure to include some vegetables and ideally, some protein, to round out the meal. Protein does not have to mean fake meat though! Adding cheese, beans or even a poached egg, can be a great way to make a meal more filling. I can’t speak for all the vegetarians out there, but a lot of us really like the flavour of vegetables so feel free to make them the star of the show.
I did spend my first few veggie years as a stroppy teenager eating mostly potatoes, but eventually I learned to appreciate the foods that are now the mainstay of my diet. So chin up all you moms whose kids don’t eat their veggies – they might all turn into kale-lovers yet… That said, I still can’t get excited about a mushroom in a burger bun. But I definitely don’t miss meat if I’m being served some soft, roasted aubergine or stuffed mushrooms or flavourful lentils with vegetables, mmm.
Oh and in case this all comes across a bit one-sided – what about when a veggie is serving up food for a meat-eater?? This is a trickier question for me to answer, but I think the main thing I’ve noticed is that meat-eaters are often afraid they won’t be full if they’re just eating vegetables. So my usual tactic is to go a bit heavier on the carbs and protein – like making a curry with chickpeas, potatoes and rice, or adding a side of potato or lentil salad for extra stodge. For a Sunday roast, I reckon a vegetable pastry pie is a way better choice than a boring old nut roast. And don’t forget the sauce, especially if you’re in the UK. As far as I can tell, people here like their food a bit wet. So if you want to keep ’em happy, learn to make a mean onion gravy, or white wine and cream sauce or spiced yoghurt and they might not even miss the meat…
Happy vegetarian week folks! Do share any of your top tips for cooking for the other side in the comments section below… In the meantime, here’s a veggie dish I made this week – a celebration of the simple sweetness of roasted carrots and onions, mmmm.
Roasted carrot and onion pasta
- 6 medium carrots, roughly sliced
- 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- oil and seasoning for roasting
- 1 400g can of peeled plum tomatoes
- about 300g dried pasta
- Parmesan cheese to grate over top
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Put the carrots, onions, garlic and thyme in a roasting pan. Add a splash of oil and season. Cook in the hot oven until softened and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes (depending on how large you chop your carrots – I’d make them a bit bigger than I did if you really want to taste their sweet, roasted flavour)
- Once the vegetables are almost ready, pour the can of tomatoes into the roasting tin and break up with a wooden spoon (I prefer to do this than buying chopped tomatoes as the plum variety have a better flavour – up to you!) and return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes, until the flavours have combined and the sauce has reduced slightly.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente.
- Once everything is ready, toss together, check the seasoning and serve with lots of grated parmesan.