Recently I have been trying to up the number of vegetarian meals I serve my family. I normally cook our meals from scratch anyway and always include two portions of vegetables with every meal, so my decision was not wholly an attempt to get more vegetables into our kids. But I wanted to try and see if reducing the percentage of meals that included meat would help our food budget, broaden the range of foods our kids (and my husband) would eat, and see us make a small change towards improving how we steward our resources.
I guess there are definitely a number of challenges that people have to overcome in order to have more vegetarian meals. We are definitely lovers of meat in our family, and I have only just persuaded my husband to eat seafood by smothering it in creamy sauces, so I didn’t want to cut out meat in our diet altogether.
So, by doing a little research online and a fair deal of experimentation in the kitchen, I tried different ways to get the most out of the flavour of our vegetables. I found that the key to getting my family to eat more veg is to make sure it is as tasty as I can possibly make it. I have selected my top five cheats for your perusal. These tricks have really changed the way my family have enjoyed their vegetables in our house.
After slicing them in half and giving them a good wash, I chop them up into fine slices and pop them into a saucepan. Put in a large dollop of real butter and a little dash of water. Cover with a lid and make sure the heat is on medium low. You will have to stir occasionally and keep an key on it so that it doesn’t burn. It makes a massive difference to the taste and texture of leeks. You don’t get the sharpness of the onion or the squeakiness of a steamed leek, but creamy, soft and mild flavours. If you want to be ultra decadent, put the leeks in a ovenproof dish, cover in grated cheddar cheese and grill until golden.
Treat the humble cauliflower like a roast potato and you will never boil it again! Par boil the cauliflower florets in lightly salted water. Then allow to steam dry in the colander. Place on a baking tray and cover with oil (preferably rapeseed) and a pinch of salt. Roast in an oven on about 180 for about 30-40 minutes, until it is cooked through and golden. The florets will catch slightly, but if this worries you, cover with aluminium foil. You can adjust the roasting time if you feel it needs it. Check on your cauliflower after 20 minutes just to make sure it isn’t burning.
Par boil your peeled and sliced parsnips in slightly salted water. Cover in oil and a pinch of salt and roast in a hot over (about 200 degrees fan) for 30 minutes. Remove and coat the parsnips in a table spoon of honey. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until golden all over. Delicious and sweet!
Now, this may be classed as cheating, but I believe that Brussel sprouts are definitely at their best when cooked into a side dish with pancetta and cream. This one was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe, but I have altered it to suit my tastes, so some credit to him on this one. Give them a wash and finely slice the Brussels. Fry some pancetta in a little olive oil in a frying pan. Once they have a had a few minutes sizzling, add the Brussels. You have to constantly watch over the veg, stirring it plenty so it doesn’t stick or burn. When the Brussels turn tender, remove from the heat and let it cool slightly. Add a dollop of single cream and stir in. Beautiful.
Again, the addition of some cheese really alters the flavour and experience of courgettes. After washing the courgettes, slice lengthwise and lay on a baking tray. Rub in a little oil (rapeseed is recommended) and season with a pinch of salt. Grate cheddar cheese (or a vegetarian equivalent) and roast in the oven on about 180 degrees for 15 minutes. Make sure you check the courgette as it can cook faster than you expect. The heat will draw out a lot of the water and intensify the flavour. Test with a knife to see if they courgette is tender all the way through before removing.
I don’t think that our tiny change will change the world. But I am certainly a believer that if everyone made small changes, the impact nationwide would be huge. I know that my kids are definitely eating more vegetables as a result of me experimenting with making them as tasty as possible. It takes a bit of persuading (dare I say it, bribery too), but I can safely say that my eldest son now loves courgette and Brussel sprouts with pancetta and cream, so we are definitely moving in the right direction.
I think my next great challenge with be persuading them that a cottage pie doesn’t need to contain meat at all!