I seem to have taken up the position of amateur nutritionist and chef at my house.
Miss E has been on a strict gluten-free diet for 13 years now, since being diagnosed with coeliac disease aged 2. That’s not a new one. I have a handle on that.
Mr. B has been doing the 5:2 fasting diet for around 6 months and needs to have very low calorie dinners two nights a week. I’m still grappling with that one, but getting used to also making it gluten free so we can all eat the same meal.
Now Miss S has decided she is going Pescatarian, also known as Vegaquarian – a lacto/ovo-vegetarian who eats fish. I’m learning a lot of new things here. She’s doing it for ethical reasons, and although it may be tricky for the cook, I applaud her intentions and I don’t want to squash her 15 year old autonomy. I will, however, be carefully keeping my eye on her. She knows she needs to take responsibility for eating well when away from home.
On Christmas day we hosted two other families for lunch. All close friends, we split the meal preparation evenly and catered for all. One family are Pescatarian, the daughter of the other family has recently given up sugar, and doesn’t eat pork (more ham for us!). Add to this the gluten-free needs of miss E and it seemed a daunting task. One of the guests suggested she buy bones as gifts for each of the three dogs that joined the occasion, before I had to admit that our dog, Annie, can’t have bones due to cracked teeth. Bloody hell! A meat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, bone-free celebration lunch!
Sooooo, now I’m preparing gluten free, vegetarian (or fish) dishes , which twice a week need to be under 600 calories. Come on people, enough already! Mr. B suggested the whole family do this new vegaquarian diet, with maybe a once a fortnight red meat meal to top up our iron stores. Miss S can choose to partake or not. Well, I’m determined to be positive in 2016, so I’m up for this new challenge.
I love the idea of becoming vegetarian, and have flirted with the idea over the years. When it comes down to it though, I just really like meat. Hopefully this will be just the thing that will make me explore all the possibilities and give it a really serious go.
There are many good reasons to adopt a (mostly) vegetarian diet – improved health, animal welfare, environmental impact, and also delicious food.
The health reason has arguments both for and against eating meat, and you can find whatever results you want from research studies too numerous to count. However, the consensus of opinion seems to be that less meat, especially processed and red meat, in the western diet, is a better idea for reducing heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity and its related diseases. In our little experiment we will continue to eat fish, eggs and dairy products, and maybe red meat only occasionally.
The animal welfare reason is a no-brainer. Of course I’d rather animals did not suffer to feed me. However, it’s proved to be harder to adopt this way of life than it should. For the last few years I’ve been following the exploits of rescued farm animals on the Edgar’s Mission blog, and I feel that attitudes are changing. This new way of eating will make me feel a bit more comfortable with myself.
The environmental reason in favour of eating less meat is THE hot topic of the moment, and just the greenhouse gases emitted by the animals in the factory farming industry are one of the biggest contributors to global warming. That’s not even taking into account the land clearing for pasture and fodder crops and the manure and other polluting by-products. It would do a lot of good for all of us to eat less meat for the sake of the planet if nothing else. Read about this in more detail on the excellent blog 1MillionWomen.com.au.
The delicious food reason is something I’m finding much easier to adopt. There has been a surge of interest in vegetarian and non-meat cooking in recent years, showcasing vegetables as the main event. Personally, I’ve been inspired by the gorgeous books of Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty and Plenty More, which celebrate vegetables, pulses and grains, and while trying out a few of the recipes, found that we didn’t miss the meat component at all.
Whilst I was in the UK at the end of last year, my sister’s and I took ourselves out for lunch in Bath, where one of them lives. Feeling sad, and at a loose end we found ourselves in a bustling, subterranean café with shared tables and an interesting middle-eastern inspired menu. We shared a couple of dishes, but were all completely blown away by the winter salad, possibly one of the most delicious and cheering things I’ve ever eaten. We’ve all had a go at re-creating it at home, and all had great outcomes. Even our collective children have eaten it, and that’s saying something!
It’s vegetarian, makes a proper, hearty meal, is delicious and gluten free, it ticks all the boxes at my house and as an added bonus, makes you feel rather saintly. It’s not low calorie though – you can’t have everything! Here’s my version.
- 1 bunch curly kale
- 1/2 butternut pumpkin (I also used a bit of Kent pumpkin)
- 2 red onions
- 1 bunch baby beetroot
- 8 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
- A few blackberries - you don't really need these, I just added them to look pretty, but they were quite good!
- Handful of pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Handful of pine nuts
- Approx 125g good feta (I use Dodoni brand), or crumbly goat's cheese
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt flakes
- Wash and trim the baby beetroot
- Peel and cube the pumpkin
- Peel the red onions and cut each into about 8 wedges lengthwise.
- Separate the garlic cloves but leave the skins on.
- Toss all these into a roasting pan with a good glug of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, and roast for about 30 - 40 minutes at about 200C, turning from time to time.
- When the garlic is soft, the onions have caramelized a bit, the pumpkin is brown and roasty and the beetroot are tender, remove from the oven and set aside.
- Whilst the vegetables are roasting, bring a large pan of water to the boil.
- Separate the kale leaves and give them a good wash and roughly chop into manageable pieces. Remove the tough stalky bits.
- Blanche the kale in the boiling water for about 4-5 minutes, and then re-fresh immediately in a large bowl of cold water. Replace the cold water a couple of times until the kale is at room temperature and has stopped cooking. It should be quite a bright green, but tender to bite.
- Drain well and turn out onto a clean, dry tea-towel to completely dry. You don't want the salad to be all watery.
- Heat a small fry pan on a medium heat without oil. When the pan is getting hot, toast the pumpkin seeds and pine nuts, moving them about so they don't burn. They are done when the pine nuts have turned golden and released a toasty aroma, and the pumpkin seeds are starting to pop a bit. Turn them out onto a plate to cool down.
- Combine the kale, pumpkin, beetroots, red onion and garlic cloves in a large bowl and dress with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt.
- Crumble over the feta or goats cheese and sprinkle on the pine nuts and pumpkin seeds.
- Add a few blackberries to look pretty if you want.
- Enjoy, while feeling smug and healthy.