Food: In praise of vegetarian food

Nutritionist Anita Bean
Nutritionist Anita Bean

As National Vegetarian Week approaches, steak and burger-lover Jeananne Craig sinks her teeth into a meat-free meal plan

The fridge has been cleared of meat and fish, my kitchen is now better stocked than our local greengrocer’s, and I’ve had my ‘last supper’ - a steak that probably weighs as much as a small child.

As challenges go, temporarily turning veggie to mark National Vegetarian Week (May 18-24) is hardly up there with trekking the Great Wall Of China. As a lover of all things meaty, however, it’s a task that fills me with some trepidation.

Not least when, just hours into the seven-day experiment, I’m confronted with a platter of glistening, honey-roasted cocktail sausages at a party (I managed to resist, but only just).

Adopting a meat-free diet brings plenty of benefits to animals and the environment, not to mention your bank balance, once you’ve taken costly meat and fish off the shopping list. But will veggie food give me all the nourishment and flavour I need, or will I be reaching for a Big Mac by day three?

Luckily, I have a foolproof meal plan devised by online supermarket Ocado and nutritionist Anita Bean, to see me through the week and ensure I get a balanced and varied diet. I sometimes struggle to come up with exciting dishes when cooking for veggie friends, but there are a wide range of tastes and textures in Bean’s recipes, from the super-simple bean and quinoa salad to the gnocchi, pesto and roasted veg, and the goat’s cheese and tomato frittata. What’s more, they’re surprisingly filling.

It’s all about getting the balance right, according to Bean - ensuring you get enough protein, iron, vitamin B12 (from eggs, dairy products and fortified breakfast cereals), omega-3 (try chia, pumpkin and flax seeds and dark green leafy veg), and vitamin D.

“Vitamin D can be a problem if you don’t get much sun exposure or consume oily fish. The best vegetarian sources are egg yolk and fortified margarine, plant milk and breakfast cereals,” says Bean.

She adds: “Make vegetarian versions of your favourite meals: replace the meat in stews and casseroles with tinned beans, lentils or tofu.”

If you’re missing your meat fix, you might like to try meat substitutes such as seitan (a gluten used in stir fries and Chinese dishes) and Quorn meat-free chicken fillets. By the end of my week, I’m feeling great - healthy, clear-skinned and with more energy than usual.

I’ve been getting about seven portions of fruit and veg a day, and from now on, I’ll definitely be more imaginative when it comes to planning meals, looking into veggie options instead of using meat as the focal point.

Want to try out a vegetarian dishes? Below is a tasty meat-free recipe to try at home from Ocado and Anita Bean.

Tofu and noodle stir fry

(Serves one)

1tsp light olive oil or rapeseed oil

1/2 onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2tsp grated fresh ginger

1/4 red pepper, chopped

1/2 courgette, sliced

50g green beans cut into 2cm lengths

2tsp tamari soy sauce

125ml water

100g tofu (Ocado recommends Dragonfly Organic Marinated Tofu)

150g fresh egg noodles

Handful fresh coriander

2tsp sesame seeds

Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the onion, garlic and ginger on a medium to high heat for two minutes.

Add the pepper, courgette and green beans and stir-fry for another two minutes.

Add the tamari and water, cook for another two minutes then add the sliced tofu and noodles.

Leave to cook for two minutes and take off the heat, and then gently stir in the coriander and sesame seeds.