Did you know that 10th-16th May is National Vegetarian Week? Having recently become vegetarian myself, it’s an initiative I’m especially interested in. I’ve never been a big meat eater, and after watching the Netflix Seaspiracy documentary about the environmental impact of fishing, I decided to stop eating fish too. Some people become vegetarian for health reasons, but I must admit it was concerns about climate change and animal cruelty that finally convinced me to make the switch (I try to use vegan skincare and toiletries too).
If you’ve been thinking about becoming a vegetarian, why not take part in the Veggie 123 Challenge? The perfect activity for National Vegetarian Week, this initiative aims to encourage people to try veggie food for seven days. You also nominate two people to join you – and donate £3 to the Vegetarian Society – a fabulous resource that I’ve found to be hugely helpful as I make my transition to living a plant-based life.
“Our mission is to inspire, inform and enable people to be vegetarian,” explains Su Taylor at the Vegetarian Society.“Vegetarian food is inventive, mouth-watering, convenient and affordable….Going vegetarian is also an easy way to lower your own environmental impact and help ensure worldwide food security.”
So far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with new meat- and fish-free recipes. Read on for a round-up of some of my favourite vegetarian meal ideas:
Baked baby aubergine with lentil and chickpea curry
If you’re looking for hale and hearty vegetarian meal ideas for dinner, this tasty, filling curry is an out-and-out winner. This is the first recipe I have tried from the Vegetarian Society – and even the husband asked for seconds! It combines tender baby aubergines and a rich lentil and chickpea curry sauce, all topped with a spoonful of refreshing yogurt. Simply serve with a mix of wild and basmati rice for a wonderful flavour/texture contrast.
Top tip: Not a fan of aubergines? Replace with a handful of grilled Portobello mushrooms, or some roasted baby courgettes.
Stir-fry with satay sauce
If you’re keen to take your vegetarian meal ideas one step further with a few vegan dishes, do take a look at the Vegan Recipe Club. Run by charity Viva!, it’s brimming with delicious tried-and-tested recipes, from simple smoothies to three-course feasts. This stir-fry with satay sauce created by Maryanne Hall, a member of Viva!’s Vegan Recipe Club is super speedy and deliciously moreish. I like to serve mine with some fresh coriander, a squirt of lime juice, and some spicy Thai crackers.
Top tip: If you’re short on time, enjoy a main meal in minutes by using a pack of ready-prepped veg and some straight-to-wok noodles.
Halloumi and red pepper salad
If you think salads are generally sad and unsatisfying, think again! Nutritionist Anita Bean’s halloumi and red pepper salad, from The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook, by nutritionist Anita Bean, has fast-tracked its way onto my list of favourite vegetarian meal ideas. Peppers and tomatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C and phytonutrients. And if you’re concerned about your dairy intake, it’s good to know that halloumi is slightly lower in fat than most hard cheeses.
“As a lifelong vegetarian I have never tasted meat and fish, so I do not know how difficult it feels to stop eating them,” Anita explains. “I believe that eating less meat (and fish) is healthier, kinder, more sustainable and better for the planet. But, vegetarian or not, I believe that everyone can enjoy vegetarian food and benefit from eating less meat, fish and more plants.” I think that this salad would be an excellent option for the Veggie 123 Challenge.
Top tip: Halloumi is a very forgiving cheese. Here you can grill, fry or even barbecue it, as preferred.
Orange and black bean quinoa salad
This bright, colourful salad – courtesy of The Flexitarian Annabelle Randles – also happens to be vegan and gluten-free. Fast, filling and full of invigorating flavours, it combines oranges, peppers, quinoa, black beans and sweetcorn. It’s a great vegetarian meal idea when it’s grey and gloomy outside, but you fancy tucking into something fresh.
Annabelle tells me: “A balanced plant-based diet is high in nutrients, fibre and low in saturated fats. Animal products such as meat, fish and dairy from animals raised in intensive farms require a lot of resources, such as land space, water while contributing to CO2 emissions. Intensive farming also contributes to very low animal welfare as well as a disproportionate use of antibiotics. Embracing a plant-based diet – even part-time – can benefit your health and help lower your carbon footprint.”
Top tip: To speed things up, prepare the rest of the ingredients while the quinoa is cooking. If you like your food hot, add some chilli flakes to the dressing for some extra va-va-voom.
Jersey Royal black bean tacos
I am a huge fan of the humble potato, and look forward avidly to the Jersey Royals season. These potatoes don’t just taste fantastic; they’re incredibly nutritious, too. Did you know, for example, that potatoes (especially the skins) are a great source of vitamin C? If you’re after some unusual vegetarian meal ideas, how about these Jersey Royal Black Bean Tacos (which happen to be vegan, too)? In this recipe, the ‘tacos’ are actually little gem lettuce leaves – so creative!
Top tip: If you can’t find any edible flowers/tiger pink lemons for the garnish, substitute with regular lemons, limes and perhaps some coriander instead.
Flahavan’s oaty spinach and chickpea kofta
Porridge has always been one of my go-to breakfast foods, so I was thrilled to discover an inventive oaty take on a classic Middle Eastern dish. This recipe for chickpea and spinach koftas with pink pickled onion, tahini sauce and oat flat breads uses my favourite Flahavan’s organic jumbo oats. It’s a clever way to recreate a typically meaty dish with a vegetarian version. It’s packed full of protein, to keep you feeling fuller for longer. And the pink pickled onions look so pretty!
Top tip: Do make sure you generously flour your work surface, so that your flat bread dough doesn’t stick.
Lemon and elderflower drizzle cake
Regular readers will know how much I enjoy a slice of cake, so I was very relieved to discover plenty of delicious vegetarian meal ideas for desserts. Feast your eyes on this fabulous lemon and elderflower drizzle cake, made with Stork margarine.
According to research conducted by plant-based spread producer Upfield, 45% of consumers said they would buy margarine instead of dairy butter, if they knew it was better for the environment. So even if converting to full vegetarianism isn’t an option for you personally, there are plenty of other ways to make positive environmental changes through your food shop. And I’m pleased to report that this cake tastes as good as it looks!
Top tip: You could add a dash of elderflower cordial to the glace icing too. Just make sure all of the ingredients are well blended until they are smooth, not grainy.
Carrot cake with watercress
Keen to add more greens to your diet? How about this carrot cake with watercress and cream cheese? Now, I admit that this might seem like a strange combination for a sweet treat. But watercress is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. Gram for gram, it contains more calcium than milk; more vitamin C than an orange; more folate than a banana; and more vitamin E than broccoli. It’s also high in fibre, iron and key antioxidants – so it’s a great option for vegetarians. This clever cake recipe is also dairy-, egg- and gluten-free, so it really is the perfect pud if you’re catering for guests with any of these dietary restrictions.
Top tip: Make sure you allow the cakes to cool completely before icing. And do beat the cream ‘cheese’ icing on a low speed, otherwise the mixture may split.
If you’re keen to introduce some vegan meals into your culinary repertoire, click here for more recipe ideas.