Last week I had a slight rant about the kind of food I wanted to write about, and the type of content I thought would be most useful to people reading this site. At the top of that list is how I have been trying to focus my weeknight meals around plant based protein sources rather than relying on hastily bought supermarket meat.
I in no way demonise the eating of meat, I love the stuff. Last night for Valentines Day I ate a giant slab of glorious juicy rare rump beef steak. It’s been widely reported on that eating less meat is better for the environment, your body, your wallet and of course the animals, which is why as a rule I try to make the meals I make at home Monday-Thursday plant-based. I personally started eating vegetarian meals as a poor student, when a 20p tin of beans to bulk up a vegetable curry was my only viable option. After watching a plethora of pro-veggie documentaries on Netflix the cruelty of the farming industry to create low cost meat definitely became a factor. But if I am being completely honest, my main reason for eating vegetarian meals is that I genuinely like them. If I didn’t I know that I don’t have the courage in my conviction to make myself. It would be like my resolution to eat more fish all over again, I’ve had the same vac-packed pieces of salmon sitting in my freezer since last summer.
The easiest and tastiest way to start adding more vegetarian meals into your diet is to turn to cuisines that already excel at it, rather than replacing meat with a prepackaged meat substitute. India has the highest percentage of vegetarians in the world, 3-4x higher than the next nearest country. One of my favourite quick, comforting and insanely cheap midweek Indian meals is daal, a spicy red lentil dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare and freezes really well so is worth making a big batch and saving for later.
Recipe by Jennifer Brown Cooking Time: Under 30 Minutes Serves 8
The lentils in daal count as one of your five-a-day. Easy ways to up this is to add a roasted vegetable like cauliflower, butternut squash or sweet potato, stir through chopped spinach or add a speedy chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, red onion, fresh coriander tossed in a little lemon juice and salt. I like to serve my daal with rice, mango chutney (Waitrose Hot and Spicy Mango Chutney is my favourite - I currently have one jar on the go and 3 back ups in my cupboard) and a speedy raita of plain yoghurt and a spoonful of dried mint.
500g red lentils, rinsed
Full kettle of boiling water
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp nigella seeds (optional - and probably not traditional I just love how they taste)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 inch piece of ginger, grated
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped (optional)
½ tbsp turmeric
½ tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp hot curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste.
- Put the lentils in a large pan (I usually use my 24 inch Le Creuset as it’s the biggest pan I own) and cover with boiling water about an inch above the level of the lentils.
- Bring to a simmer, and cook over a medium low heat for about 20 minutes until the lentils are mushy and the water has been absorbed.
- Stir the lentils every few minutes and add a splash of hot water if they begin to look to dry and thick.
- In a frying pan medium high heat the oil then add the mustard, cumin and nigella seeds and fry until the seeds start popping, which usually takes about a minute.
- Reduce the heat under the frying pan and add the garlic, ginger and chilli and fry for two minutes until the garlic is golden and cooked.
- Now add the rest of the spices to the pan and fry for 30 seconds or so until they are aromatic.
- When the lentils are cooked stir through the fried spiced (this is the Tarka) and season to taste.
- Serve hot with rice and some of the suggestions in the note above.