Another vegetarian January is over, and this has been the least troublesome one ever. So much so that, come Feb 1, I couldn’t think of a meat-based recipe I actually wanted to cook.
So here is my four-point guide to enjoying a delicious, healthful, inspiring month of veggie cooking.
- Yotam Ottolenghi: The year we discovered the joys of this genius chef’s cookbook Plenty was the year our vegetarian January became both seriously enjoyable and sustainable. The way he combines ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes is pure genius. I now own the full set of his books, having received a copy of his new Nopi for Christmas, and am itching to try out some of the meaty recipes now veggie Jan is over.
- Raw slaw: Hell, I LOVE raw slaw, so in my household it is certainly not just for vegetarian January. I combine any mixture of shredded uncooked beetroot, red cabbage, green or white cabbage, carrot, radish and celeriac with toasted walnut pieces, dried cranberries or sour cherries, and a shredded apple, then dress it with sesame and olive oil, mirin, pomegranate molasses, vinegar and a sprinkle of rock salt. It keeps well in the fridge, so I always make a huge batch and it tides me over for a few days. Delicious alongside griddled halloumi and roasted aubergine (see Ottolenghi for The Best Ever aubergine recipes).
- South East Asia: Thai red chicken curry – without the chicken – is now a Feelgood family favourite. I have a tub of homemade red curry paste in the fridge on a permanent basis, meaning it’s a matter of moments to chop up a load of vegetables for this non-meat version that is in fact as tasty as the carnivorous alternative. Just make sure you throw in the veg in order of how long they each take to cook ie green beans, chopped celeriac first and sliced onion first, followed by diced butternut squash, and courgette last.
- The wok. Fuchsia Dunlop is another favourite chef, and she includes some brilliant vegetarian versions of her Szechuan meat-based recipes in her inspiring cookbook Every Grain of Rice. Who knew that Ma Po Dofu could be as good without minced beef as with it? Stir-fried greens with garlic and soy sauce were a staple of my student days, and I still love them as much as ever: near raw and therefore bursting with vitamins, they give my veggie January a real healthy zing.
And that’s the key to a successful meat-free start to the year: rather than seeing it as a time of restricted eating, think of it as a time to extend your cooking repertoire, try out new recipes and cooking styles, and a chance to nourish your digestion with more raw foods, unprocessed foodstuffs and lower fat options. It’s easier – and tastier – than you might think.