Saturday, July 28, 2018

Show me the (no) beef

There have been many times I’ve run across recipes to try after watching television. Some of them have been vegetarian, or mostly so, but the latest was actually nearly vegan. And it was really good.

The TV show I watched was the BBC Series Eat Well For Less, Series 3 of which, from 2016, is currently airing on TVNZ’s TV One (in the UK, the show is on Series 5). In each episode, the presenters, Gregg Wallace and Chris Bavin work with a British family who are spending a lot of money for food. Despite spending too much, their diets are often not nutritious, or too high in sugar or fat, or sometimes too many takeaways.

The show takes away all their usual foods and replaces them with foods in plain packaging. Sometimes it’s their normal brand, sometimes a different one. They also give them some recipes to try, mostly with an eye to making a less expensive meal that is highly nutritious.

The episode I watched featured a vegetarian recipe they called “Puy lentil bolognese with pasta”. The main feature of it lay in substituting lentils for the beef mince (known as ground beef in the USA). I thought it sounded good, especially because I make Bolognese quite often.

The hosts said that using lentils would be dramatically cheaper than using meat, and it would have high, and high quality, protein, while being lower in fat and contributing three serves of vegetables, all of which sounded like a good idea.

They had the family use dried lentils because they’re cheaper. When I went to the grocery store, I was looking for brown lentils (I didn’t know what Puy lentils were at the time), but the only dried lentils our store carried were the red ones at 99¢ per 100 grams. I found some lentils in the “health foods aisle”, and they were much more expensive—$1.55 per hundred grams for organic French green lentils.

However, in the normal aisle I found tinned lentils on the shelf next to ordinary beans. The unit price on the shelf told me the ordinary store brand was about 31¢ per 100g, and the organic one (pictured) was 35¢ per 100g. There was so little difference in price that I bought the organic brand, just because.

In my university years, and shortly thereafter, I ate lentils a lot. I knew they were hearty like meat, but much cheaper, so I was pretty sure I’d like this version. However, the recipe called for chopped carrots, something I never put in my own Bolognese, so I finely grated the carrot instead. I knew the carrot would add a little sweetness, and being finely grated, it would thicken the sauce.

However, I didn’t have the recipe at the time I made it, and was remembering what they’d said in the episode, so I was actually winging it. That meant, among other things, I used the herbs I’d normally use—mainly basil, and some oregano. I frankly forgot about thyme, which I normally add. I knew they’d said to add some celery, but Nigel isn’t that keen on celery, so I skipped that. I didn't know about the vegetable stock, but I only needed a little water, anyway. I also poured a little wine in the pan once the onions and garlic were cooked, allowing the alcohol to evaporate off before continuing.

The instructions said to serve the finished dish with a green salad, but instead I added some chopped spinach to my sauce. I knew that spinach is often used in vegetarian meals because it adds meat-like bulk, but I wanted it for its different nutritional properties. And, of course, I used tinned lentils (which I rinsed).

I made less than the recipe calls for—there are only two of us, after all—but it still made enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

The meal I made was vegetarian because all the ingredients were, but I grated actual parmesan cheese at the table, not the vegetarian versions (which I presume are available at our grocery store, but I’ve never looked). Wthout the cheese, it may have been vegan, but none of the tinned ingredients claimed they were, and I have no way of knowing.

The object here was to make a non-meat meal that was yummy, and that I’d want to have again (it definitely was both). The reason I’m doing it is that after my stent, the doctors wanted me to cut back on red meat in particular, and to generally eat more of a vegetarian diet. They recommended the Mediterranean diet because it’s heart-healthy.

As it happens, a largely vegetarian diet is also helpful for avoiding gout attacks, so everything all comes together. However, I am not vegetarian (and certainly not vegan), and I have no intention of changing to eliminate animal products completely. I like dairy products (cheese in particular) and chicken eggs, as well as meat. I’m just eating more vegetarian, or largely vegetarian, meals.

Because I want to cut down on meat, I’m quite curious about the non-meat meat substitutes coming onto the market. Most of them so far have been made from legumes, but there will be all sorts of new varieties coming onto the market in the years ahead, as we need to reduce pollution caused by farming animals for meat production, and as fresh water becomes more scarce. I talked about how dietary changes can help fight climate change late last year.

This is only one dish, but it’s part of a growing list of meatless or largely meatless meals we’re now having. Given how well my cholesterol levels are doing, it’s clearly a good idea. And once I’ve perfected all my recipes, I may even put together an e-book of them. Because, why not?


rogerogreen said...

Lentils for ground beef. Interesting idea.

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

I'd never thought of it, even though I've seen vegetarian burger patties made, at least in part, from lentils. I really liked this concoction. It's not beef or even beef-like, but the flavour and texture were wonderful, and it was pleasantly filling. I recommend it!