This week is National Vegetarian Week, 20-26 May, a week devoted to all things veggie. Loads of people are now singing the praises of a meat-free (or mostly meat-free) diet. Even notorious carnivore Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall now eats little meat or fish, declaring in the Guardian recently: “we need to eat more vegetables and less flesh because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm.” (Which I basically agree with.)
It just goes to show that you don’t need to be a vegetarian to appreciate that vegetables are a good thing and most of us should be eating more of them. National Vegetarian Week, and its subsequent outpouring of recipes and resources from all those involved, can be a good starting point for those who need a little vegetable inspiration.
Here are my suggestions for how to eat more vegetables, including easy vegetables to start with, and a rock solid vegetarian recipe that will please all palettes (provided they can handle a bit of spice).
Get Some Vegetables
Start with easy vegetables. By “easy”, I mean easy to clean, prepare and cook (a muddy beetroot is not a good place to start). A beautiful vegetable, raw or cooked can form the basis for any number of dishes, be it pasta, lentils, omelettes, pizzas…even a humble green salad can be perked up with a few grilled bell peppers.
Here are my go-to staple vegetables, organised by cooking technique, for easy-to-make and tasty-to-eat vegetarian and vegan meals:
- Easy to cook greens (stir-fry with onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper – add chilli flakes if you want a kick): Kale, cabbage, spring greens, spinach, swiss chard
- Good stir-fry vegetables (a great basis for tossing with pasta, rice, beans or lentils for a complete meal; garnish with crumbled feta or some toasted nuts and seeds and you’ll be glad you did): Carrots, peppers, mushrooms, greens, broccoli, asparagus, green beans
- Good raw vegetables (simply slice / chop and eat, with hummus or salad dressing if you’d like): Carrots, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, radishes
- Vegetables that are good on the BBQ (baste with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, throw it on the BBQ – this is a basic one-stop solution to making vegetables amazing): Asparagus, courgettes / zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers
A Good Vegetarian Meal Doesn’t Try to Fake it
Of course, a few vegetables alone don’t make a meal. So what are your options? My advice is to cook something that is inherently vegetarian and not some kind of mock-meat sausage in disguise (this will only leave you banging for bangers). If there’s one cuisine that I have had consistent success with in pleasing all food lovers, vegetarians and omnivores alike, it is Indian food. And if there’s one dish that has rocked all of their worlds, it’s my lentil dal.
Dal is awesome because it’s vegetarian (vegan, in fact) by nature, easy and quick to make, and very adaptable to all manners of vegetables. You can make it as is, as simple lentils, or you can add in whatever vegetables you have on hand (cauliflower and spinach work especially well, but I’ve also had good success with carrots, chard and purple sprouting broccoli).
Served with some basmati rice (and if you’re feeling adventures, a cucumber and coconut salad), then you’ve got yourself a meal that’s nutritious, flavoursome and won’t make you think about the meat you’re not eating. Seriously, I have meat-eating friends who ask for this dal specifically when they come to visit. And a recent Airbnb guest, a real dal aficionado declared it “better than the dal I usually make at home”. It’s pretty special.
- 250 grams red lentils (masoor dal)
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- olive oil
- 1 tablespoon panch shoran (a seed blend of equal parts fenugreek, mustard seed, onion seed, fennel seed and cumin seed)
- 10-20 curry leaves
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 400g tinned diced tomatoes
- pinch of chili flakes (optional)
- salt to taste
- 1 cup (or more) of spinach, cauliflower or any other vegetable you’d like to use in your dal
- Combine the red lentils, water and turmeric in a pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the dal is tender, about 20-30 minutes.
- While the lentils cook, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the panch phoran and curry leaves. As soon as the seeds start to pop, add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook until the onion is soft (it should not brown).
- Add the tomatoes, cooked lentils, chili and salt. Cook for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavours to bend. Add your desired vegetable and let them simmer in the dal until they are cooked. Note: if using spinach or any other quick-cooking green, add this at the very end just before serving.
- Garnish with cilantro, if you’d like. Serve hot with basmati rice or warm naan bread.
This post originally appeared on Great British Chefs website.