The meat-free alternative

On Sunday 22 March, I was confronted with a sign – meetyourmeat.com, painted in big red letters – draped on a pedestrian overpass over Freeway North. I knew what it was all about before I had even looked it up.

I used to be vegan (= using no animal products whatsoever). In fact, my whole family became total vegetarian (= eating no meat, eggs, dairy products) at that time. I had wanted to ‘go veg’ for a while and, at the age of 16, I suddenly had my family’s support. While I was excited about what this meant for our lives, others were not. This lifestyle change bore strange and unexpected consequences.

For example, it lost me my best friend at the time. Her mum labelled my family as fanatical and forbade her from spending time with me. I was devastated. It took me a long time to share my passions with anyone again.

My veganism lasted for 2½ years. Cheese was my downfall. And if I was eating Parmigiano Reggiano [it is hardened with rennet, as most hard cheese are, and this comes from an animal’s stomach], then I figured that I may as well be eating the whole animal. And if I was eating meat, I may as well be wearing leather and using other animal products. So now I am back to being a leather shoe-wearing omnivore, even though I believe philosophically and physiologically in vegetarianism [see little green blog for some excellent reasons to consider vegetarianism]. I am sure, to some at least, that makes me either weak or a hypocrite.

That said, I still cook a lot of vegetarian meals without thinking twice about it (eg. onion bhaji and chickpea & eggplant curry). My parents’ visit in May also led me to a renewed focus on vegetarian cooking. The following recipe is vegetarian rather than vegan. Remove the cheese and replace the bechamel with a cashew nut based sauce, and you have a vegan recipe.

Recipe #40: Vegetarian lasagna. There are so many variations on this theme (eg. mushrooms, pumpkin/fetta/pine nuts), so go nuts with your imagination. Serves 6-8 with a side salad.

oh-so-creamy and delicious

You will need:
• 1 eggplant (or several baby eggplants) [aka “aubergine”, “melanzane”, “egg fruit”]
• salt
• pepper
• olive oil
• 100g butter
• 100g flour
• 2 cups warm milk
• hot water
• a good grinding of nutmeg
• 2 cups grated cheese [I used Tasty]
• half a head of cauliflower
• 1 quantity tomato sauce [see tomato sauce recipe within Recipe #1]
• half a bunch of English spinach
• cheese to top the lasagna [a mix of mozzarella, parmesan and tasty cheese is awesome]
• 1/2 quantity of fresh pasta, rolled into long sheets [see Recipe #19]

Begin by preparing the eggplant: slice the eggplant into centimetre-thick slices and rub a sprinkling of salt into each side. Place the slices into a collander in the sink, or on a thick layer of paper towel, as they will sweat. After about an hour, layer the eggplant onto a greased oven tray, drizzle over a little olive oil and bake in a 200°C oven for 30-45 minutes (until the slices start to brown), turning midway through the cooking process.
>If you have young eggplant, skip the salt: this process is designed to take away the bitterness that the seeds of older eggplants can hold. Instead, sprinkle some salt over the eggplant just before baking.

For the bechamel, start by making a roux: melt the butter and vigourously stir/press the flour into it, cooking until it starts to turn whitish. [A roux starts off with an equal quantity of flour to butter and, while margarine also works, I prefer the taste and texture of butter.]

Whisk in the warm milk over the heat. You want the mixture to cook into a thick sauce – if it’s too thick, add some hot water and keep whisking. Once it’s done, remove from the heat & add the nutmeg. Season with salt & pepper then turn it from a bechamel into a cheese sauce by stirring in the grated cheese.

To prepare the cauliflower, you are essentially making cauliflower cheese! Cut the cauliflower into florets, sprinkle over some salt and steam for a few minutes. Once soft, stir the cauliflower into half the cheese sauce; set the other half to one side.

To assemble the lasagna, grease a deep oven dish. Then create some layers:

  • Layer 1. Cut a layer of pasta into the bottom of the dish(it doesn’t matter if you are overlapping two thin layers of pasta). Spread over a thin layer of tomato sauce and place a generous layer of spinach leaves on top (these will reduce down with cooking). Finally, top with half of the plain cheese sauce in a thin layer.
  • Layer 2. Repeat Layer 1, adding eggplant instead of spinach.
  • Layer 3. Spread the remaining tomato sauce on the final pasta layer. Add the cauliflower cheese, then top with the cheese mix.

Cook in a 200°C oven for about 30 minutes – until the lasagna is bubbling and golden. Try to let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving, or it will slide apart as you lift it from the baking dish.

the finished product

While this recipe takes some time to prepare, it is well worth the trouble. Serve with a side salad, such as prosciutto & rocket or fennel & mint.

*

We have been known to eat pasta e fagioli (also known as pasta con fagioli) twice in the same week. It’s such a simple and wholesome recipe, and it is now a favourite of Xander’s as well as the big people in our house. I make ours in the Thermomix, and the recipe to follow is a batch that I made for friends in Broome recently.

Recipe #41: Pasta e fagioli. Aka “pasta con fagioli”. Pasta with beans. Adapted from my Thermomix cookbook. Serves 6.

one of my favourite comfort foods, also much-loved by my little man

You will need:
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 1 large chilli, seeds removed & cut finely
• a good swirl of olive oil
• ~30g butter
• 2 cans borlotti or cannelini beans, strained [or you could use a can of each, or cook some beans from scratch – just remember not to salt them]
• 2 tomatoes, diced
• 1 stick celery + 3-4 pale green celery tops, chopped roughly
• small handful flat-leaf parsley
• 1 Massel chicken stock cube
• 300g pasta curls or elbows

In a deep saucepan/frying pan over medium heat, cook the garlic in the butter and oil until it starts to colour, then add the chilli. Add one can of beans, cook for a few more minutes, then remove from the heat. Blend with the tomatoes, celery, parsley, chicken stock. Add all of this back to the saucepan with the second can of beans and cook together for 10 minutes. Finally, add the pasta, with about 600mL water and cook until the pasta is tender.

>Add more water if the mixture looks to thick to start with; it will thicken further following cooking.
>Although I didn’t mention it above, stir regularly at every stage of cooking.

It’s very important to let the pasta sit for 10 minutes following cooking to allow it time to thicken and cool slightly. You can also stir in some salt & pepper at the end of cooking if you like. Serve with shaved pecorino.

An excellent alternative recipe can be found at: Chef2Video.


More links to vegetarian recipes:


Addendum, 18 July 2009: I neglected to detail the very real health benefits of vegetarianism in my original post. Darya Pino presents the link between vegetarianism/pescetarianism and lower rates of cancer in her post of 15 July. An interesting and informed read.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Hannah,

    Thank you for mentioning Little Green Blog as a resource for reasons for going vegetarian.
    I really loved reading your post – it was refreshingly honest. It’s interesting in our household, I’m veggie of 20 years, although I’m craving fish and might start eating it again. DH is a hardened meat eater – a meal is not a meal without meat as far as he is concerned and our daughter sways around in the middle; sometimes eating lots of meat, sometimes eating none at all/

    I’m sorry you had that incident with your friend’s family; it’s terrible how we are quick to judge those who do not share exactly the same lifestyles as us.

    Your recipes look absolutely delicious; how could anyone resist trying those!

    best of luck with everything; always do what feels right for you 😉

  2. Hannah says:

    Thanks so much for your words of wisdom, Mrs Green. I feel comfortable with my own choices now; it’s a shame it wasn’t always so.

    Please try my recipes and let me know what you think – I am always up for new ideas and suggestions for improvement!

    H 🙂

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