05 May, 2014 / Family

Edging towards veggie

I wasn’t overjoyed when my 14 year-old daughter said she wanted to stop eating meat – and only have fish – soon followed by not wanting much fish at all. But then I thought, this is okay, I’ve wanted to do this for ages. Our two sons (aged 17) are confirmed carnivores and it’s been meat, meat, meat all the way for as long as I can remember. Whopping amounts of beef and chicken and lamb – it’s vastly expensive, and also feels a bit… unnecessary. Too heavy and fleshy and animally. So instead of moaning about all the extra work daughter’s meals would entail, I decided to go with it and join her and it’s been fine. Things may be more challenging if, or rather, when – she is a teenage girl after all – she goes fully veggie. But maybe I’ll join her in that too.

We’ve been scoffing loads of curries. My favourite Indian cookbook is by Rick Stein, accompanying his brilliant series – here’s Jimmy making daughter something spicy with peppers and haloumi (instead of paneer) which was SCRUMPTIOUS. If I’m cooking, I’ll generally knock up a chicken/lamb curry for the boys and a veggie one for daughter. It’s a tiny bit of extra work, but when you think about it, making any curry tends to involve raking around for about half a day to find all the blasted spices and then grating and chopping and destroying the whole kitchen and using every implement you have. So you might as well make two – or even three – curries rather than just the one. And of course, most freeze brilliantly so you can eat another day without grating more bleedin’ ginger.

Also – the wonderful Jack Monroe’s carrot and cumin burgers (from her cookbook, A Girl Called Jack, but the recipe is everywhere), which daughter makes for herself. They’re easy, delicious and – according to Jack – work out at 9p per burger. Although ours are frisbee-sized, compared to her dainty ones. Anyway, they beat their meaty counterparts hands down, I reckon.

We’ve also plundered Leon: Fast Vegetarian – it’s modern and fresh and doesn’t make you feel as you’ve been propelled back to Crank’s, circa 1983, in the days when veggie food was terribly farty and made you want to sleep, fartily, for a week. Daughter has made a yum butternut squash stew, and a sort of posh beans on toast thing, with an egg draped on top. The book recommends a kind of bean we didn’t have, so daughter used Heinz baked beans with the overly sugary sauce washed off (a Jack Monroe tip).

Fish-wise – as we still have fish about three times a week – a sort of spaghetti puttanesca-with-tuna is easy as pie (why do people say this? Pie recipes ramble on for page after page!) for teens to make. Another fave is a big slab of salmon dribbled with fish sauce, honey, a few flecks of chili and lime or lemon juice, all wrapped in a greaseproof paper parcel and baked.

This, too, is gleaned from a Leon book. I’m a little obsessed with Leon cookbooks. Everyone’s so jolly and you get the impression that no one looks at the clock and thinks, ‘Christ, teatime already, I really can’t be fagged cooking tonight.’ And there are always faded old photos of the contributors having big family holidays in the Dordogne in the 70s and we only went to Scotland or Wales. I used to dream about being propelled into a Famous Five story and now – Christ, I must be old – I want to live in a Leon cookbook. 

Anyway, back to our food thing here in our un-Leon world. It’s early days, I know, and true dyed-in-the-wool vegetarians might mock my excitement over our tentative steps towards a new way of eating. But daughter’s happy, as am I. I’m more energetic, my skin’s looking better and I haven’t felt remotely deprived. 

Also, after 17 years of trying to control what my kids eat, it’s immensely refreshing to throw in the towel and say, ‘Okay then – you decide.’ We’ve been poring over websites and cookbooks and it’s been a lovely thing. Any edging-towards-veggie tips gratefully received. 



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