Monday 19 August 2019

Aubergine bacon and carrot salmon? Tricks for cutting down on meat

prepared vegan seitan burger meal
prepared vegan seitan burger meal
Swap out mince for lentils to make a Bolognese dish

Tanya Sweeney

It isn't news to anyone, but according to research, it's official - cutting food waste and eating less meat will reduce climate change by saving millions of square miles of land from being used for meat farming, according to a United Nations report.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that a quarter of the world's land had been damaged by human activity and have called for a more sustainable use of land. We need fewer cattle farms and more trees, in a word.

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Anyone looking to do their bit for the environment has long known that cutting down on meat helps to reduce one's individual carbon footprint.

And these days, it's certainly easier than ever to go meat-free.

British high-street bakery Greggs nearly broke the internet when they announced their plans to release a vegan sausage roll in January. Additionally, McDonald's have created vegan Happy Meals, M&S's Plant Kitchen Range has over 60 products, Dunnes has released a vegan pizza and TGI Friday's now has a 'bleeding' vegan burger.

Yet for many people, the idea of doing away with meat entirely still gives them pause for thought. What about those towering food institutions? The post-pub kebab? The Sunday roast? The hang sangwich? The full Irish?

Deirdre McCafferty, proprietor of Dublin's Cornucopia vegetarian restaurant, has spent much energy finding substitutes that replace the texture and flavour of meat.

"Flexitarians want to eat a vegetarian meal as easily as they might eat a meat meal," she explains. "In Cornucopia, we've long used tofu, beans, nuts and seeds, but now we use things like jackfruit, which has a meaty texture and is high in nutrition.

"We make jackfruit 'sausages,' we make 'bacon' from aubergines and 'salmon' from carrots. We make a 'black pudding' with black beans.

"We use seitan in an Irish stew and add lots of barley. You can also create a 'umami' flavour by roasting vegetables like mushrooms, onions, aubergines, corn and peppers in soy sauce - it's surprisingly satisfying and those who are more traditional meat eaters don't feel deprived. Seitan and jackfruit can be easily found in any Asian supermarket." (A book containing these recipes, entitled Cornucopia: The Green Book, is out in October).

McCafferty also favours making a shepherd's pie, albeit with a difference: "I use lentils instead of mince, add roasted peppers and garlic and put in some chilli beans, and I add potato with a dash of mustard on top," she reveals.

"It's all about getting the nourishment and flavour hit."

Maeve Hanan, dietitian with Orla Walsh Nutrition, herself a pescatarian, has noticed a huge increase in clients exploring more plant-based options. "I've definitely seen a lot more people motivated by environmental and ethical concerns," she reveals.

For die-hard meat eaters keen to reduce their meat intake, Hanan suggests cutting down on meat before cutting out.

"Aim for oily fish once a week, and try other lean meats like chicken or turkey once a week. Then on the other days, make meals with things like lentils," she advises.

"And try to have three types of vegetables with dinner that make up half the plate, so that meat isn't the star of the show.

"Meat-free Mondays are a small realistic change that people can make, and it gets the message across that cutting down on meat doesn't have to be an all or nothing situation," she adds.

Yet Mondays, at the beginning of the work-week, is the one day where we really need comfort food, and food that can be made quickly and easily.

No problem, says Hanan: "One of my favourite quick and easy meals is Lentil Bolognese, where instead of mince, you use tinned lentils, tinned tomatoes, some tomato puree, vegetables, herbs and spices.

"Another easy dish is a veggie chilli, where you use mixed beans and kidney beans instead of meat. Alternatively, some of the replacements, like Quorn, can be a great source of protein."

Like McCafferty, Hanan suggests swapping out some meat products in a full Irish: "Bulk up with things like mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, eggs and beans," she suggests.

Even going out for a meal can be a straightforward, meat-free affair if you stick with certain cuisines, says Hanan.

"Thai food often uses a lot of tofu, while Indian food uses lots of dahl (lentils) and paneer (cheese)," she suggests. "Additionally, Japanese and Mexican restaurants are great for plant-based options."

Irish Independent

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