Five things to help put veg at the centre of your plate
All my friends, whether they are vegetarian or not, want to eat more simple, seasonal, vegetable-led food. Every month I notice more and more people making a shift in their diet to be more conscious and considered. A growing band of us aren’t just about a diet-long sprint, but have a more committed desire to eat in a way that is better for our bodies and the world around us. Hallelujah.
Just the word “vegan” a few years ago used to be enough for people to look at me with head tilted sideways, like I’d lost it. I should be clear with you I’m not vegan but vegetarian. I do like to vary the dairy, I eat milk and cheese but I make sure it comes from good sources and is always organic, (as I don’t buy meat and fish I have an extra bit of cash to spend on organic dairy and veg). But I also make and drink almond milk and oat milk, make dips and mayo from cashew nuts. For me eating well is all about variety and the more plants I can get into my diet each week, the better.
The number of vegetarians in the UK may be slowly creeping up, but the number of people reducing the amount of meat in their diet is skyrocketing. We all know that eating lots of meat may not be the best for our bodies, or the planet. For me being vegetarian is easy and how I live; for you it might be different, a few nights a week without meat maybe.
When I became vegetarian my cooking changed – all of a sudden I had to look at cooking in a completely different way. The building blocks that I had grown up with and the rules I had learnt as a chef didn’t quite fit any more. So the challenge to find new ways to add texture, interest and flavour to my food have meant using a new palette of ingredients and some new techniques in the kitchen.
Think about textures
These are often forgotten in cooking but to me they are just as key to a good plate of food as flavour, particularly in vegetarian food. I think about how children respond to food – we are tuned into texture just as much as flavour. Toasted seeds tossed into a salad; charred, oil-drizzled bread next to a bowl of soup; the crunch of some peppery radishes inside a soft taco. It’s texture, just as much as flavour, that hits the taste buds and tells your brain that this is delicious and helps you to feel satisfied.
Eat with your eyes
For the last ten years in my day job as a food stylist I have been making food jump off the plate and getting you to want to eat what is on the page at that exact moment: the slick of chocolate drooling out of a chocolate fondant; the drops of water on a freshly washed leaf of the freshest, crispest salad; the melting cheese and crumble of perfect flaky pastry around the edge of a tart. I know that when I cook for friends the simplest salad put on a plate with a bit of thought, or an easy bowl of pasta topped with some bright herbs and a flash of red chilli, means we start eating before we’ve even got a fork in our hands, Take an extra minute to make the most of your plate of food as an offering to yourself and whoever you are feeding.
For me is about making the most of the ingredient I am cooking. Sometimes that means a little scatter of Anglesey sea salt and nothing else. Other times it means balancing herbs, spices, sweet and sour, backing up the natural character of a deep dense caramelly piece of roasted squash with warming spices or spiking a tomato sauce with a hit of vinegar. Think about, salt, sweet, sour, spicy and umami flavour, you want them to all balance out and make the most of your precious ingredients.
Look at the dish as a whole
If I had a pound for every time someone asked me where I get my protein as a vegetarian I would be a very rich lady, and while it does feel a bit like I am listening to a broken record at times it is a consideration. I’m not a nutritionist but I do know that as long as I make sure eat day I eat pulses, quinoa, a little tofu, some nuts or seeds as part of the bigger picture of what I am eating I feel full and happy. Nuts and seeds make great dressing blitzed up with some herbs, try tossing tofu in a little soy and maple syrup and frying in a little oil. Tinned pulses are a cheap and easy fix to add to a soup, stew or salad.
Be brave with your veg
Veg centred cooking is often associated with light flavours and steamed veg but it needn’t be. Lot of vegetables are much better when hit with some serious flavour or put on the grill as you might a steak. Try charring your broccoli on a griddle then dressing it in honey, lemon, soy and chilli or cutting through a head of cauliflower to make steaks, brush with mustard and griddle unitl soft through.
COVER IMAGE: Rachel Vere