Learning how to adapt meat-based recipes to suit veggie tastes

Torbay Weekly

I quite often find myself struggling to choose what to cook for dinner.

No, not choose, exactly; that suggests I have an entire wealth of culinary skill and creativity at my fingertips, coupled with a larder, fridge and, possibly, garden brimful of ingredients poised perkily for my alchemical attention, and all that is required from me is a flourish of my gastronomic wand to conjure up a gourmet treat.

The reality is far less impressive: faced with the mundanity of mealtimes, I suffer a lamentable lethargy merely thinking up what I can tickle the family tastebuds with next.

My interest in food and cooking began when I became a vegetarian in my teens.

My adored elder brother had adopted this lifestyle the year before and, impressed by his scrupulous
observance of the diet's strictures, I somewhat predictably followed suit.

My brother and I were devout to a point way beyond irritation, I imagine - or, at least, I was; my brother was typically unpretentious, whereas I confess to being preachily smug in my moral loftiness, a high-ground haughtiness I retrospectively regard with cringing chagrin.

The variety of food for vegetarians in those days was woefully lacking; the world didn't recognise that the diet warranted choice and nutritious content.

Eating out - a rare treat - either meant meals with the removal of the meat component from the plate, or the token offering of nut roast, neither of which option was especially appealing.

I remember my brother finding shreds of beef in his Yorkshire pudding and veg platter when we were dining at a local pub; it was most distressing to his sensibilities, yet elicited not one jot of sympathy from the disdainful restaurant manager when we pointed it out. Twice.

At home, our mother applied herself doggedly to the reinvention of dinner, and, under her tutelage, I grew intrigued by meal production.

I soon became adept at recreating two or three favourite recipes: lentil savoury, rice and vegetable gratin, and veggie mince lasagne.

It stood me in good stead for my life at university where, to my good fortune, I found myself living with
girls who were either vegetarian themselves or willing to follow a largely meat-free diet.

Each of us took it in turn to cook for the other housemates; the food was inexpensive and experimental
(read: cheap and occasionally inedible), and these colourful qualities helped me cultivate an eclectic palate. Or perhaps an escalated tolerance.

Years later, despite returning to meat-eating - no-one was surprised; I had gradually lost sight of what had made me so diligently follow the vegetarian regime, and had recently taken a job at KFC - clearly the beginning of the end, and no doubt a source of some clandestine amusement for my long-suffering friends, I maintained my appreciation of vegetarian food.

Two of our children felt moved to 'go veggie' a couple of years ago and, since then, the family has embraced a far less meaty meal model, restricting meat consumption to two days per week.

My husband, a confirmed carnivore who relishes nothing better than a huge protein-packed fry-up or a plate of crispy-fatted belly pork slices, agreed to this seismic shift with commendable - and astonishing - grace.

But I cannot entirely ignore his rumblings of discontent, and am under no illusion that the cooked lunches with which he bolsters himself in solitude pay little heed to a veggie diet.

I am not minded to condemn him; he makes an admirable effort to show gratitude for his family dinners, even as his heart visibly sinks when I announce the toad-in-the-hole I am dishing up comprises veggie sausages.

I am learning how to adapt meat-based recipes to suit veggie tastes, and am endlessly grateful that the unrelenting surge of veganism is facilitating the vegetarian movement.

I know our elder son harbours hopes of becoming a vegan one day, but, filled with trepidation, I am encouraging him to bide his time.

He has conceded graciously for the present; nevertheless, I can envisage a future where my visits to his family home necessitate me taking my own milk and sneaking out into the garden at night for a guilt-laden Snickers.

Still, as long as someone else is cooking - and, more importantly, thinking up what to cook - I won't be grumbling.