Saturday 22 October 2016

All we are saying is give peas a chance

Eschewing meat occasionally is good for your body - and for your wallet, writes Katy McGuinness

Published 11/09/2015 | 02:30

Sweet potato with spinach.
Sweet potato with spinach.
Aubergine salad.
Vegetable tagine.
Old MacDonnell's Farm Hummus.

While few of us are ready to embrace full-blown vegetarianism (what - no more bacon?), there's little doubt that we could all do with cutting down on our consumption of animal protein for the good of our own health and that of the planet.

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Meatless Monday is an idea that started in the US and has really taken off in recent years. Coming after a weekend of possible over-indulgence, it's as good a day as any to choose for a wholesome plant-based dinner.

Of course, you can prepare these simple family dinners any day of the week, and there's no need to have just one meatless meal each week. Two or three evenings a week without meat won't do anyone any harm, and by choosing better quality meat and poultry on the days that you do choose to eat it, you'll come to appreciate why the good stuff tastes so much better than the cheap processed and intensively-reared alternatives.

Vegetarians are used to being asked constantly about how they include enough protein in their diets when they don't eat meat. The answer is, of course, by making sure they eat plenty of protein-rich beans, lentils, and grains. Each of the recipes here includes protein, so there's no fear of missing out.

As well as being good for your body, eschewing meat is good for your wallet. Start including a few vegetarian meals in your weekly meal-plan and you'll notice a difference when it comes to the supermarket checkout. Keep an eye out for deals on vegetables and adapt your menus to suit what's on offer. Many vegetarian recipes, including those for curries and tagines, are very flexible in terms of which vegetables to use.

As ever, it's worth doubling up on quantities of suitable recipes so that you can pop an extra dinner into the freezer for future use, or to use for midweek lunches. The tagine will freeze well. And be sure to check your kitchen cupboard to see what ingredients you already have. I've assumed that you have olive oil, salt and pepper, but you may already have some of the other ingredients too.

Sweet Potato, Spinach and Goats Cheese Salad with Almonds

Serves 4

100g blanched almonds

800g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bit-sized chunks

2 red onions

2 tsp cumin seeds

pinch chilli flakes

4 cloves garlic

juice and zest of an orange

100ml extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

450g fresh baby spinach

150g soft white goat's cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 180/fan 160/gas 4. In a roasting tin, combine the sweet potato with the onions, cumin, chilli flakes, unpeeled cloves of garlic, and the orange zest.

Add four tablespoons of oil, season with salt and toss everything together so that all the spices are well distributed.

Roast in the oven for above 35 minutes, shaking from time to time, until the sweet potatoes and onions are cooked through and starting to brown.

Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry frying pan until golden brown.

Remove the soft garlic from inside its skin and combine with the rest of the oil, the orange juice and the vinegar to make a dressing.

Season with salt and pepper. Combine the spinach leaves and sweet potatoes with the dressing and top with the goat's cheese and almonds.

Aubergine, Tomato and Basil Salad with Yoghurt Dressing

Serves 4

4 aubergines

3 cloves garlic

500g Greek yoghurt

100g pine nuts

olive oil

500g cherry tomatoes

25g bunch basil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Slice the aubergines into 1cm discs. Salt them and leave to drain in a colander for about an hour. Mince the cloves of garlic and add to the yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan until lightly coloured and set to one side. Rinse the aubergines and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil and fry in batches until golden brown and cooked through, adding a little more oil as necessary. Put to one side.

Add a little more olive oil to the frying pan and turn up the heat to high. Add the cherry tomatoes and toss briefly until they start to burst. Then turn off the heat.

Assemble the salad in a bowl by placing the warm aubergines at the bottom, followed by the yoghurt, then the hot tomatoes, the basil leaves, and the pine nuts. Serve with steamed quinoa for protein.

Vegetable Tagine

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

4 teaspoons ras el hanout

375ml vegetable stock

650g butternut squash, deseeded, peeled, coarsely chopped

220g green beans, topped and tailed

100g dried apricots, chopped

100g fresh dates, pitted and chopped

400g can chickpeas, rinsed, drained

1 lemon, zest of

30g fresh coriander leaves

Greek yogurt, to serve

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for five minutes or until soft. Add the carrot, garlic, ginger, and ras el hanout and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds or until the fragrances of the spices are released.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Add the squash, beans and apricots. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until the squash is tender.

Add dates, chickpeas and lemon zest and stir to combine. Cook for another minute until hot through.

Taste, season with salt and pepper and add the juice of the lemon if you like. Divide into bowls and serve topped with a dollop of yoghurt and a few coriander leaves.

Taste test: Hummus

Spell it how you will - hummus, houmous - the Mediterranean-style combination of chickpeas, tahini (a paste made from sesame seeds), lemon and garlic has become a staple in many Irish kitchens over the past decade. It makes a speedy lunch on oat crackers, a fine addition to a mezze selection and a great accompaniment to lamb cooked with Middle Eastern flavours. This week we test six of the most readily available variations on the theme, to see if price makes any difference to quality.

Old MacDonnell's Farm Natural Hummus 220g/€2.99 8/10

This hummus has a chunkier texture than the others we tested and there's a fine aroma of garlic when you peel off the plastic film that keeps it fresh. The flavour is good and it tastes wholesome and authentic.

Supervalu houmous 170g/€1.49 7/10

Pleasant texture that isn't completely smooth. A well-flavoured hummus with good balance at a keen price.

Laragh Stuart Hummus 170g/€3.75 7/10

This one looks as if you might have made it yourself and although there's good texture and the flavours of garlic and lemon, it's light on the tahini. Tasty, but the price is a bit hefty.

Tesco Organic Houmous 200g/€2.29 6/10

Not enough garlic for our taste but the tahini comes through well and there's a good lemony hit. Pretty good.

SPAR Hummus 200g/€1.75 5/10

Quite a solid texture and bland-tasting, this hummus is by no means unpleasant and would be fine in a wrap with falafel or other strongly flavoured ingredients.

Irish Independent

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