Versatile Vegetarian Dishes To Convert Any Carnivore
It’s time to do what our parents were always nagging us to do at dinner time - eat our veggies! Did you know that May 11th to May 16th is National Vegetarian Week? If you’ve been thinking of trying out a veggie diet, then now is the perfect time to give it a try! Adopting more vegetarian dishes into your weekly meal plan is easier than ever thanks to all of the amazing recipes, cookbooks, and meat alternatives available - and we’re here to help you get started.
Going vegetarian, or at least reducing the amount of meat that you eat, is one of the best ways to do your part for the environment. Issues like overfishing, CO2 emissions, and water usage are all problems affecting the planet, and it’s a well-known fact that the food industry is one of the highest contributors. But it’s not just the environmental advantages that makes taking the veg pledge worthwhile. Once you start introducing more veggies into your diet, you may start to notice some great health benefits, too! Yes, a vegetarian diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers, and you don’t have to compromise on flavour! Healthful, nutritious, and delicious - what’s not to love?
So what are you waiting for? Let’s eat some veggies! Here are our top tips for making your favourite dishes vegetarian-friendly.
Making the swap
It can be difficult to know where to begin when you’re trying to eat less meat. Search engines are filled to saturation with different recipes, some of them calling for unusual ingredients or food requiring a lot of ‘manipulation’ - but it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Some of the most classic, comforting dishes can be made veggie by making some simple swaps.
Mince meat-based dishes such as lasagne, bolognese, and shepherd’s pie are the epitome of comfort food. They can be made vegetarian by simply swapping the type of mince you use. Pre-made mince is probably the easiest way to turn your lasagne al forno into a lasagne al verdura. There’s a whole range of different mince alternatives out there all with various price points, but they’re all made with convenience in mind. All you need to do is simply swap the meat for your chosen alternative. No fuss and you can hardly taste the difference. One of the most affordable and easy-to-store options is soya mince. Made from soya and typically available dried, this unassuming package can bulk up your sauce and make a delicious mince in no time! Simply rehydrate and go!
There’s a reason that the old-school vegans swear by lentils. They’re packed with protein and make a fab alternative to minced meat. You can pick them up dried or pre-cooked and they’re a really affordable way to bulk out a meal. To use as a meat replacement, cook according to the instructions and add into the sauce along with your usual suspects. You may find that you’ll need some additional spices and herbs to help give your sauce more flavour, as lentils don’t have much flavour on their own.
Mushrooms are another great replacement for beef mince. Minced mushrooms have the added benefit of offering plenty of nutrients and they will ensure your sauce stays moist without being sloppy. The downside is that it can take a large amount of mushrooms to make a big lasagne - they tend to cook down a lot in the pan.
Looking for a convincing substitute for fish? A lot of meat-free foodies swear by banana blossom as a fish alternative. It’s flakey and light and can be flavoured to perfection - perfect for ‘fish’ and chips! Chickpeas, although good in curries and stews, make a fab alternative to tuna - simply mash and mix with mayonnaise, good quality salt (such as Maldon sea salt flakes), lemon juice, and nori seaweed cut into small pieces. It’s great in sushi or sandwiches!
How to make tofu taste good
Tofu gets a bit of a bad rap, but it can actually be really delicious! On its own, it doesn’t have much flavour beyond the slightly beanie taste of soy, but it’s a sponge for other flavours - just because it looks beige, that doesn’t mean it has to taste beige! It soaks up all the delicious flavourings of other ingredients and sauces it’s cooked with. It can be used in stews, noodle dishes, and stir frys. You can use it as a replacement for scrambled egg, burgers, or even chicken nuggets. It’s a really versatile food and there’s a reason it’s been used across the world for over 2000 years.
Our top tip to making tofu taste good is to marinate it really well. It doesn’t take long for tofu to absorb your spices and sauces, but it really benefits from a long soak. For stir frys, marinate it in some minced ginger, soy sauce, and mirin. Fry until crisp on the edges or bake it until puffy and chewy. If you’re trying to replace burgers, a dusting of smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice turn it into a tasty alternative.
One of the best ways to eat tofu is as bacon. Yes, you can make really good bacon out of tofu! It has the crispy edges and chewy centre of real bacon, but has almost no fat and definitely no meat - it’s a win-win!
In a plastic box with a lid, mix together the ingredients with 2 tbsp of cold water. Liquid smoke is the ingredient that’ll give your ‘bacon’ a smoky flavour - if you prefer your bacon unsmoked, add less or omit entirely and use smoked paprika instead. Drain your firm tofu and press out some of the water before chopping into thin slices and placing in the marinade. Let this rest in the fridge for as long as you like (between 30 minutes to 1 hour is the sweet spot). Cook however you fancy - frying will give a crisp outside and tender inside, whereas baking in the oven will offer a chewier texture overall. Serve in a bacon butty, part of a fry-up, or just on its own as a snack!
Doing things differently
Sometimes, vegetarian food can feel a little samey. If you’re getting a bit bored of your go-to veggie recipes, then it’s time to spice things up! Thankfully, there’s a whole range of veggie recipes and cookbooks out there, but here are a good few authors and chefs who are doing it a bit differently.
Thug Kitchen is a range of recipe books that no veggie or vegan should be without. They recently changed their name to Bad Manners, but their attitude to food hasn’t changed. These cookbooks make West Coast US/LA-inspired food easy to make and super tasty to eat. All of their recipes are vegan, but if you wanted to add some real cheese to them, we won’t tell anyone! There are three different cookbooks for you to choose from. Thug Kitchen is the original cookbook and has recipes ranging from tacos to chilli and pasta to cocktails. Thug Kitchen 101 is full of quick and easy recipes that are perfect for speedy weekday dinners. For entertaining guests, Party Grub is filled with a full platter of crowd-pleasers. Be warned though - these books aren’t afraid to swear, so bear that in mind!
We recommend: The roasted beer and lime cauliflower tacos.
For delicious recipes that can be made in a single baking dish (which conveniently means less time washing-up!), look no further than The Green Roasting Tin cookbook. Filled to the brim with all kinds of easy recipes, you’re guaranteed to find your next family favourite between the pages. Perfect for easy weekday meals, cooking for lots of people, or using up leftover ingredients, this book will become a staple in your vegetarian repertoire. Not even the most avid carnivores can resist the delights in this cookbook!
We recommend: The crispy gnocchi with roasted red peppers, chilli, rosemary, and ricotta.
Looking at vegetarianism in a different, more flexible way, The Part-time Vegetarian cookbook is the perfect tool to help you cut down your meat intake without going cold turkey. With a flexible approach to adopting a vegetarian diet, most recipes in this collection feature a ‘Part-Time’ option which show you how to include meat or fish if you would like. It’s a fantastic tool to help transition to a veggie diet and a lot of the recipes sound incredible with or without their non-veggie options.
We recommend: The potato cakes (with or without the salmon).
Known for their ‘naturally fast food’, the revered restaurant chain, Leon, recently released a whole range of veggie cookbooks, including the Fast Vegetarian recipe book. If you’re a lover of the food from Leon (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), this is the perfect recipe book to add to your shelf. The cuisines included range from pies to curries, pasta and even breakfast ideas, so there’s something for everyone - even the fussiest of eaters! The best part? There’s absolutely no meat, so you’ll never run out of inspiration for incredible veggie food.
We recommend: The warm soba noodle vegetable salad.
Like we said, just because a meal doesn’t have meat in it, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring! And eating meat-free, vegetarian dishes doesn’t need to be scary or make dinner time more difficult, either. Whether you’re trying to have one meat-free meal a week or are going the whole (veggie) hog, there’s a wealth of delicious, nutritious recipes for you and your family to dive into and love.
This National Vegetarian Week, why not give it a shot and challenge yourself to going meat-free for the whole week? We’ve got everything you need to help you succeed. Stock up your food cupboards and grab your cookware to make the transition easy peasy lemon squeezy. Looking for even more fab inspiration for going meat-free? Check out our entire range of vegetarian cookbooks and discover just how versatile veggies can be.