Being a good vegetarian

old wooden typesetter box with 16 samples of assorted legumes: gThis week I saw a teen who has become a vegetarian for ethical reasons which is a decision I applaud. On a nutritional level however if you do want to cut out meat its critical to make sure that you do include the right sort of vegetarian proteins in your diet as well as lots of vegetables. The worst vegetarians I see in clinic are usually the ones who don’t like vegetables – chips and tomato sauce or toasted cheese sandwiches are not adequate sources of nutrition!!

So how do you become a good vegetarian? First off lets assume that you love your veggies or if not you had better learn to love them as its going to comprise the bulk of your diet – ideally at least 3 to 4 cups of vegetables a day. Then we need to add some protein sources, eggs, cheese, tofu and legumes are all good options. The egg is in fact the perfect source of protein against which all others are measured. Cheese and dairy foods are great if you can tolerate them, as many adults become lactose intolerant as they age and lactase levels decline. In which case yoghurt may be a better option as the fermentation breaks down the lactose.

Indian vegetable curry with spinach, cauliflower and potatoNext its really about seeking inspiration from cultures that have a wide range of vegetarian foods – Indian curries are a great source of variety and flavour. One of my favourite simple curries – potato, pea and cauliflower I found one day as I was googling recipes with only three ingredients to cook at Taste and its now a firm favourite. Another version of a simple potato curry I found in Stephanie Alexander’s cookbook and then modified to reduce the number of ingredients – if you like it spicy double the curry paste!.

One tablespoon curry paste,
1 tsp each cumin, mustard, ginger and garlic
One onion
2 potatoes
1 piece sweet potato or pumpkin or 2 carrots
2 red capsicum
1 eggplant
2 zucchini
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can coconut milk
Add a little oil to the pan and a chopped onion plus the spices. Fry the onion in the spices. Add two potatoes, a quarter pumpkin, two red capsicum (scrub potatoes, don’t peel – less work and better for you). Cut all the vegetables about the same size – for instance, in quarters.

Chop and slice salted eggplant and two zucchini. (Before you use eggplant – slice it, pour salt on it and then after 10 minutes scrape it off). Cut into cubes and then stir this through, add a can of chopped tomatoes, cover for 20 minutes, cook on low heat. Check that the potatoes are getting soft. Add a small can of coconut milk and simmer for a further 5 mins before serving.

Variations: add a bunch of spinach (chopped) or Chinese cabbage a few minutes before its finished cooking.Leftovers will make another meal with a tin of legumes or chickpeas added for some variety.

Whilst many people think of humuus as a good option to add to a vegetarian meal realistically most beans lend themselves to being cooked, pureed and flavoured with lemon, garlic and herbs. Try a cannellini bean dip for example.

Another option with vegetarian food is to look at Mexican recipes for inspiration – a recent addition to my repetoire was Mexican rice and beans. Basically saute an onion in olive oil , add 1 cup of rice to the brown and warm it through and then add a can of black beans , a crushed clove of garlic and two cups of stock. Cook through and serve. Makes a good filling for tacos or fajita’s, specially if you add some guacamole for a source of good fats and a flavour some topping!

Risotto with some type of legume like pea or mushroom also can create easy options. think about asparagus and pea risotto for example or spring vegetables. Use leeks rather than onions as your base to create a creamier taste.

Soups and noodle dishes can also add variety and inspiration – think about Malaysian laska with tofu for example or pad thai noodles.

Still struggling to find options? Christine Pope is an experienced nutritionist and can help you create nutritious vegetarian or other menu’s. Appointments are available on Tuesday or Wednesday on 8084 0081.

Student Budget Friendly Meals

Can you cook well on a budget? Whilst junk food may seem cheap often when you compare it to cooking yourself it actually works out far more expensive on a per person cost. Not to mention the longer term cost for your health.

There are three areas which really help keep food budgets under control, meal planning, cheap protein options and seasonal ingredients.

One of the first things you need to learn when on a tight budget is the most cost effective cuts of meats. Take the humble chicken – the demand for breast meat is high so it can cost between $12 to $16 a kilo, by comparison thigh cutlet chops are around $10 a kilo and chicken drumsticks often average $4. Cuts which include the bone usually respond better to slower methods of cooking but are great when you are on a budget. My Easy Roast Chicken recipe is a great way to use thigh chops.

Legumes are meat for vegetarians as well as a cheap and filling source of protein. Adding legumes such as lentils and chickpeas to a potato curry creates a healthy and filling meal.

old wooden typesetter box with 16 samples of assorted legumes: gThe second area that really helps keep costs under control is learning to cook using seasonal ingredients. Apple crumble is a bargain when apples are $1.99 a kilo but less so when they are $8.99 a kilo. Usually high prices represent the out of season cost and also reflect that it may be imported. Vegetables in particular change price significantly over the year depending on the season. The website seasonal food guide has a list of all the common fruits and vegetables and when they are in season. Check it before you go shopping.

The last but most important area to focus on in shopping on a budget is meal planning. Its much easier if you write out a week’s menu in advance and ensure that your recipes do not involve a lot of different ingredients as this can really add up specially if you only use them for one dish.

A sample week’s menu could be as follows;

Marinated Drumsticks with Asian salad

Marinated Drumsticks with Fried Rice

Vegetable curry with sausages

Vegetable curry with lentils

Turkey mince bolognaise with spaghetti

Turkey mince cottage pie

Baked Beans or dinner at your parent’s place (very cheap option)

Whilst not really a fan of minced meats (as often you don’t really know what you are getting) turkey mince is a good lean protein which has more flavour than chicken and is a good substitute for beef. Mince recipes are easy to stretch by adding chopped carrot, celery or cooked eggplant.

Honey Soy Drumsticks

1kg chicken drumsticks scored with a knife (cut in about half a cm)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce

Combine sugar and soy sauce and pour over drumsticks and allow to marinate for up to 2 hours. Place drumsticks uncovered in an over at 180c for 40-50 min. Turn at least once during cooking.

  Turkey mince bolognaise

750g turkey mince
1 brown onion finely chopped
2 carrots peeled and diced
1 jar of passata (chopped tomatoes)
1 glass of red wine or beef stock
1 tsp chili (optional)
1 clove garlic crushed

In a little olive oil saute onions and carrots on a low heat for a few minutes until onions are soft. Add mince, continue cooking until mince is browned and then add remaining ingredients and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes. Serve with pasta and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6-8

Turkey mince cottage pie

Leftover Turkey bolognaise
4-6 potatoes peeled

Depending on the remaining quantity of bolognaise you may want to add additional carrots, celery, mushrooms or lentils to bulk it up further. Boil potatoes for 15-20 minutes until soft and then mash with a little butter and milk until soft. Layer the bolognaise in a casserole dish and top with mashed potato. Heat in over for 15-20 minutes and then serve. Ideally with some seasonal greens such as steamed beans or snow peas.

Baked Beans

80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tbs freshly chopped rosemary

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 x 425g can 4-bean mix, drained

425g can diced tomatoes

¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Grated Parmesan, to serve

Heat half the oil in a frypan, add the onion and cook over medium heat for 1 minute.  Add rosemary, garlic and cook for a further minute until everything is well combined.  Add the beans, stir well, then add diced tomatoes.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent catching.  Stir in half the parsley.  Place on toast, sprinkle with parmesan and remaining parsley. Serves four to six or gives you an easy breakfast for a few days!!

This prompted a number of ideas about alternate menus so I will follow up with a second blog with some more ideas.

Let me know which of these recipes you try and how it works for you.