Back in April I decided to go veggie for the month as a bit of a challenge. The transition was made easier as I had been living with Thomas for six months. Thomas is vegetarian, and possibly the best cook I know, although he won’t like me saying this. Therefore, at home I was already around 90% vegetarian. I knew that the real challenge would be eating out and having limited choices in the majority of places.
The Dining Out Challenge:
The Vegetarian food scene across the country has changed somewhat over the past decade. This is very much apparent when speaking with vegetarian friends, family, and having an increase awareness of vegetarian food since my blogging days commenced over four years ago. The occasions when Thomas has to order a number of side dishes from menus because the vegetarian options are so limited are definitely getting less frequent, however much of this really does depends on where in the UK you are dining.
Early on in April, we headed up to North Yorkshire to use our Christmas present of a cheese making course (thanks Maria & David!). For those of you not familiar with this beautiful part of the country, North Yorkshire is steeped in farming & gaming history. I knew this weekend would be my first real challenge as a temporary vegetarian.
Our destination was Leyburn, but before we arrived there we went straight for our cheese making course. Simon was our host, and his enthusiasm for cheese was immediately apparent as he took us through the full process of making cheese. Handily, we used vegetarian rennet. The session was very hands on and I can highly recommend Lacey’s for a great day out. It’s a perfect present for those cheese lovers that you know! www.laceyscheese.co.uk
On the Saturday night we had already booked into a recommended restaurant, so on the Friday we just decided to pop in to one of the local pubs in the village, The Sandpiper, for tea. There were no vegetarian options on the main menu, but we could order a large version of some of the starters, we both opted for the double baked Cheese Souffle with roasted Butternut Squash, Pear and Rocket. I stupidly took a further look at the meat, game and fish options that I could have gone for if not for vegetarian month, and my mouth was watering! The cheese souffle however was very delicious.
We also very limited options the following night at Thirteen restaurant, where there was only one vegetarian option on the main menu which was a vegetable risotto. The risotto, which set us back £15, wasn’t very tasty at all, and we left a bit disappointed, and definitely didn’t get value for money. My disappointment was made worse by having had to turn down smoked duck breast served with black pudding and a blackberry sauce which sounded delicious – and looked it when someone on the next table was given theirs.
Leeds, in contrast to North Yorkshire, is possibly one of the most veggie and vegan friendly cities in the country, with a number of vegetarian- and vegan-only eateries and many places offering a variety of interesting and tasty choices on their menus. During the month, these were my highlights of places where I ate.
Nestled in Leeds Kirkgate Markets, OWT is one of my favourite lunch places whether I’m being veggie or not. Esther and James always give you a warm welcome and cook delicious fresh food, using produce directly from the surrounding markets. Menus change weekly and there is always a vegan option, as well as a fish of the week, and a meat option. Find out more about them via my Leeds Living review that I wrote earlier on this year Owt Review
Probably the most modest Indian eatery in Leeds, Kerala serves up amazing Southern Indian Dosa pancakes. During veggie month I enjoyed their Potato Masala Dosa which comes with fresh coconut and tomato chutneys Kerala Restaurant
Eat Your Greens
Although not entirely a vegetarian eatery, vegetables are definitely the main focus on each plate of food that they serve. On our visit this month we enjoyed sharing the Vegetable Fritters with Harissa Sauce and the Pea Bake Eat Your Greens
The Cooking Challenge:
As a cook, I’ve always enjoyed using and cooking with vegetables, and gaining a greater seasonal awareness of various produce. I’ve also learnt so much from Thomas over these past two years as he is pretty much a food encyclopedia, vegetarian and non-vegetarian food alike. Some of the dishes I made at home during the month included:
• Sweet Potato Lasagne (I used our mandarin for the first time, great for getting consistently thin slices, but watch those fingers!). Courgettes, Onions and Tomatoes were used for the filling. The sweet potato replacing the pasta to make it a less carb based.
• Butternut Squash & Coconut Curry: Fry up Onions & Garlic.Cube the Squash and cook in Coconut milk. Add in some Chickpeas and red Chilli flakes. Top with Coriander, crushed Cashew Nuts, toasted dried Coconut and sliced red Chilli.
• Basil Pesto with Gnocchi: If you own a decent food processor, pesto is so easy to make. Simply throw all your ingredients into the processor, blend and chill until you ready to use it. It will last up to around a week in the fridge.This version was made using Basil, Parmesan, Cashew Nuts, Olive Oil and seasoning. The pesto was served with some Gnocchi.
• For Breakfast: Breakfasts didn’t change at all as I very rarely have meat at breakfast anyway. During the work week I had either Porridge with Honey, or wholemeal toast with Hummus or homemade Guacamole. Smokey Beanscontinued to be our staple weekend breakfast. Black Beans and Kidney Beans are cooked with chopped Onions, Smoked Paprika and Cumin.
As I was eating less protein through not eating meat, I knew that I had to find alternatives to ensure that I consumed enough during the month. As I have an egg intolerance, I updated my nut intake, mainly through Peanut Butter and Apple snacks. I still enjoy this snack today as it so delicious, and nutritious (as long as you restrict the Peanut Butter quantities!).
My Mock-Substitute Meat Opinion:
It became clear during the month that I’m not at all a fan of the various types of mock or substitute meats that are out there. Tofu in my opinion is pretty tasteless but can see why it’s used to ‘bulk’ up meals. I made some Sesame coated, deep fried Tofu with a Peanut, Chili & Soy Dipping sauce. The flavour clearly came from the sauce and the fact that the Tofu was deep fried in Sesame seeds! Mock Duck I also found tasteless, and Thomas forced me to eat a dried version of it, which as you can tell by my reaction on the above photo, was truly awful! There’s so much flavour in vegetables that done right I don’t feel there’s a need to ‘mock up’ meat and fish substitutes, which are tasteless as well as very processed.
Post Veggie Months:
During the past six months since my vegetarian month, I would say that I do eat less meat and fish dishes when I eat out now, and regularly opt for vegetarian options if these sound appealing. I still often share veggie options with Thomas, however if I do fancy a nice steak or some delicious fresh fish I will go with this. Thomas is also not averse to cooking meat when needed, after a spell of illness recently he cooked me steak to help to increase my iron levels, and he also made a kick ass Goat Curry for some guests last year.
If had to describe my food stance I would go with a ‘flexitarian.’ For me, I like to have choice in what I eat and cook, therefore having a label or limits to what I can or can’t eat would make me feel a little restraint. Processed meats have been pretty much cut out of my diet, and when buying meat and fish to cook I am now much more environmentally and ethically conscious about where I buy produce from, compared to a few years ago. On the few occasions I buy meat and fish, I try to avoid buying from supermarkets, and buy local, fresh and free-range produce, usually from Leeds Kirkgate’s array of Butchers and Fishmongers.
I am lucky to live in a city that offers so much food choice, however some other parts of the UK are still behind the times in relation to vegetarian and vegan cuisine, very much holding onto the traditional food, which does have a place but there does need to be more on offer. It’s a good job I wasn’t doing a vegan month when I was up in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, I would have starved!
I think I need to finish off this blog by re-iterating my line in the first paragraph about Thomas’s cooking, that after a month of being vegetarian, some of the best vegetarian food that I had during that month, and continue to eat on a regular basis, is definitely right here at home! 😊