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Not The Moral High-ground

May 11, 2012

I’ve never been one for preaching about vegetarianism.

No- wait! Come back. I promise this is not one of those pieces where someone says they’re not going to preach about something before going on to do just that. Sure I’m happy when a friend says they’re going veggy, but what other people choose to put in their mouths is none of my business. The point of this blog is to share ideas and experiences, not to tell people what to do.

Truth is, the number one reason I’m vegetarian is because (gasp!) I just don’t really like meat that much. Yes, I do think factory farming is appalling, and I don’t think producing large amounts of meat is particularly efficient or good for the environment. But frankly you can read the arguments for and against and get into a row in the comments threads of plenty of other pages on the web should you be interested.

It’s easy for me. I can pretend I’m being ethical, when really I’m just doing what comes naturally. Though I have been trying not to eat dairy produce lately (a mixture of health reasons and discomfort with the dairy industry), and I honestly don’t think I could ever bring myself to buy eggs that weren’t free range.

I’ve never really taken the “hypocrite” argument seriously – you know the one where people say you’re a hypocrite because you’re vegetarian but wear leather shoes? Or anti-fur but eat meat? It seems a bit like saying someone is a hypocrite for giving £100 to charity because they didn’t give £1000.

Ethics are not all or nothing.  You do what you can to not be a self-centred dick, in a way that fits in with your life and doesn’t make you miserable. If you live in a tiny house with no car, having cold showers and eating only organic vegetables you’ve grown yourself then that’s awesome. But not everyone can live like that. Not everyone wants to. I always think that being puritanical just puts people off trying to be good altogether. (A bit like the person who goes on a crash diet and bans all their favourite foods – sooner or later, they’re going to have a binge and be right back where they started).

I get that some people have dietary needs that would make it tough to give up meat. I get that some people just love meat so much that life without it is unthinkable (I’m used to omnivores commenting on some of my stews “this would be amazing if you just added a bit of chopped bacon to it”!). I’m cool with that. I don’t understand what’s so great about bacon – but I accept that I am in a minority. You guys just can’t get enough of the salted pig. I don’t want to take that joy away from you.

So please do keep your bacon. But maybe enjoy a few vegetarian meals a week as well. Apart from environmental concerns I reckon there are good reasons for a kitchen anarchist to explore the world of meat free meals. Some examples are:

Cost
I first noticed this when I was a student. I went on trips to the shops with heavy meat consumers and they often seemed to spend twice as much as I did. Even cheap meat, seems to cost more than non-meat protein. Compare the cost of a bag of lentils to a bag of mince for example. If you eat pulses or bean based meals for a few days then you can afford a really good, top quality cut of ethically farmed meat on a Sunday, instead of just eating the dodgy factory pap on a daily basis. I don’t know how omnivores feel about this – feel free to shoot me down – but, I know I’d rather have good cake once a week than crap cake every day.
Ease of cooking
This is probably just because I’m not used to it, but cooking meat looks awful complicated. All that checking it’s not going to give you food poisoning. By comparison, most veg is difficult to get wrong (with the possible exception of wild mushrooms, which I am still not brave enough to go near). You can just put a bit of oil in a pan, chop them up and chuck em in, and nine times out of ten it turns out fine, and tasty, and you don’t die horribly covered in your own faeces.

Factory Farming

Giving unnecessary amounts of money to an industry that puts making obscene amounts of profit above both animal and human welfare is definitely not the kitchen anarchist way. No it’s not going to go away any time soon, but it’d be nice to think that people cared enough to avoid supporting it as much as possible. That’s all.

Variety
It seems insane to suggest that cutting something out of your diet could lead to more varied eating habits, but somehow this is true. I once dated a trained chef who had never eaten chickpeas, had no idea how to prepare cous cous and didn’t realise you didn’t need to soak red lentils. Just wasn’t part of his meat-centric training.

Trying some new vegetarian recipes can lead to discovering a whole new load of foods that can make up the protein part of a meal, and make you look at vegetables a different way – as the main event, rather than a simple side dish., I’ve found the same thing since I’ve been reducing my dairy consumption – where previously I might use cheese to complete a meal, I’ve been looking at other ways of creating an intense and tangy  flavour to finish things off and have discovered lots of new ideas (one of which you can see below).

My usual method of encouraging people to eat less meat is to try and present them with good meat-free food. It is challenge to me trying to feed omnivores something veggy that they will eat as happily as a meat based dish. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

For the most part, I’ve found that omnivores like their food to come in lumps. Big solid lumps. Maybe because meat comes like that. I’ve definitely had more success with lump food (nut roast, lasagne, veggy burgers) than with mess on a plate food (stews, stir fries). So the recipe here is for a nice big solid lasagne that always goes down well. It creates a lot of washing up – but it’ll feed a lot of people because it’s so filling, and it’s worth it if you want to impress someone.

The recipe contains nutritional yeast (or “nooch” as they call it in vegan hipster circles). This is  great if you’re dairy free and miss cheese – it has a nuttty, cheesy intense flavour. You can get it in big pots from health food shops or online. Obviously you could just replace it in the recipe with grated cheese if you want (you can even add some bacon if you must), but the idea  of a vegan lasagne is so out-there I think it’s worth trying just for the surprised-how-good-it-is factor.

Everyone’s Favourite Lentil Lasagne

 

Ingredients:

 

A box of ready to use  lasagne sheets (plain, verdi or wholewheat)

For the filling:
Cooking oil
Onions
Garlic
Assorted other veg (sweet red peppers, courgettes and thin cut aubergines are personal favourites)
Pine nuts (optional)
honey (optional)
Lots of split red lentils
A tin of chopped tomatoes or a jar of tomato based pasta sauce (the sauce will be more expensive, but there’s a sundried tomato and olive one I sometimes use that works really well)
A stock cube (optional)
Dried oregano, basil or mixed herbs.
Salt and pepper

For the white sauce:
Butter, or Vitalite
Milk (dairy or soy)
Pesto, houmous or toffuti creamed tofu (or ideally a mixture of all three)
Cornflour (possibly)
Nutritional yeast

Salt & pepper

– This step is optional: chop your veg, pine nuts and garlic quite small, stick them on a baking tray, drizzle with oil, salt and honey and bake in the oven on about gas mark 5 for 20-30 minutes. Take out and set to one side.
– pour your oil in a big pan (like a wok) then fry the onions, and if you skipped the first step, your veg, garlic and pine nuts until they start to brown.
– Add a couple of cupful of lentils to the pan and stir well so they’re mixed in with the oil and onions.
– Add the tin of tomatoes or the sauce. Then refill the empty tin/jar with water and pour that in as well. Bring to the boil briefly, then let to simmer for ten/fifteen minutes until the lentils are soft. At which point add the roasted veg (if using) and the other filling ingredients and stir well.
– Whilst the filling is simmering away, start the white sauce. This is pretty easy compared to normal white sauce. Add a big blob of Vitalite to a smallish saucepan, start to melt it over a low-medium heat, then add blobs of pesto, tofutti and/or houmous and melt them. You’ll need to stir fairly continuously with a wooden spoon so you get a nice creamy paste. As you do this, gradually add splashes of milk and keep stirring it in so you start to get a nice, thick liquid sauce (it’s up to you how thick you make it – I like to go quite thick and gloopy, but runny enough to pour). Add more milk to thin it out. You can add more paste, or some corn flour if you need to go thicker.
– Take the sauce off the heat then stir in salt, pepper,  about two tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and if you like, some herbs (Last time I did this I used some fresh chives I’ve been growing on a windowsill)
– Now everything’s ready, you can assemble the lasagne in a nice deep baking dish/tray. I start with a thick layer of lentil filling, then lay sheets of pasta over that, and pour a layer of sauce over that. Then repeat. Usually i can only fit two layers in my baking tray, but you could go for more. The more layers you have, the longer it’ll take to cook through though.
– Once I’ve done my top layer of white sauce, I like to sprinkle it with something – it looks nicer to add a bit of colour than a big expanse of white. I’ve used various things in the past: bread crumbs; uncooked cous cous (gives a nice crusty finish – try it); sesame seeds (tasty); smoked paprika; or just a sprinkle of mixed herbs and black pepper. My boyfriend also likes to spray the edges of teh lasagne with oil to stop the pasta going crispy and crunchy. Personally I think the crispy pasta edges are the best bit, but I’m just putting it out there as an idea.
– Stick it in the oven at Gas mark 5, for about 30 minutes. If I remember I turn the tray around in the oven half way to help it cook evenly.  It’s ready when the pasta is soft – you can tell by poking it a bit with a spoon, or carefully tearing a bit off to try.
– Warning: this is tasty but really, really  filling. You only need a small slice per person, and it doesn’t need any accompaniments. If you want to serve something with it, I suggest a simple salad. Definitely not chips unless you don’t plan on moving for the next few hours.

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