While “usually vegan” seems right up there with “almost a virgin” in the wishful thinking stakes, I’m feeling it too. Pondering what I’m going to cook for supper, I’m more likely to dwell on the possibilities of a nubbly cloud of cauliflower, or some prickly, dusky green globe artichokes, than be inspired by chicken portions or pork chops. Meat and two veg just isn’t how we eat any more.
There are plenty of reasons to cut down, including cost, the environmental benefits and not least health. Just last Wednesday a study by researchers at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food recommended that red meat and processed meats like bacon should attract a “cigarette-style” tax, to offset the cost to the health service of illnesses related to eating too much meat.
In fact, looking to a future where we eat less meat, cooks need only to look back. Traditional dishes like Lancashire hotpot and Irish stew are all about stretching a small amount of meat around a family. And the same is true around the world. Food writer Elisabeth Luard, author of the classic European Peasant Cookery (Grub Street £16.99) advises “It’s about adding flavour not eating big bits of meat.”
Chicken and Aubergine Parmo
Parmos, the Middlesbrough classic post-pub treat got bad press recently for being a tad calorie-heavy – in part, because portions are so large they come in pizza boxes. Portion control aside, they are absolutely delicious, although baking them rather than deep-frying makes sense.
Here I’ve take inspiration from Australia where they make the similar Parma, using chicken or aubergine. I’ve used the chicken mini fillets sold in supermarkets, but you could slice an ordinary chicken breast into four or even six instead. It sounds mean, but once they are coated in crisp cheesy crumbs, it’s really satisfying.
- A large aubergine sliced into 8 rounds
- Oil, for brushing
- 75g fresh breadcrumbs
- 25g butter, melted
- 15g grated Parmesan
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 egg
- 4 x 40g chicken mini fillets
- 400g passata
- 200g mozzarella sliced into 8
- Brush the aubergine slices with oil and cook in a hot pan, turning once, until well browned and soft through.
- Mix the breadcrumbs, butter and Parmesan, using your hands to make sure all the crumbs are well coated. Add a fat pinch of salt and a good grinding of pepper to the flour. Beat the egg lightly with a pinch of salt. Arrange the breadcrumbs, flour and egg in three separate shallow dishes.
- Lay a chicken fillet on a board and bash with the base of a pan until about 2mm thick. Dip into the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs to coat. Lay on a large baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the chicken and then the aubergine.
- Bake for 15-20minutes at 190C/170C fan/Gas 5 until golden.
- Pour the passata into the base of a shallow baking tin. Arrange the chicken, aubergine and mozzarella in overlapping rows. Bake for another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and browned. Serve with a salad of winter leaves – watercress is perfect.
Chilli con not much carne
Lots of meat tricks at play here. Use dripping if you can – yes, I know it’s saturated fat, but you’re eating less meat so a tiny bit won’t hurt, and it will add beefiness to the mix. Chicken livers are intensely meaty too – as Delia knows, adding one to her bolognese sauce. Cooking all the meat and veg until they are really well browned gives lots of savoury flavour. All of this means that you can get away with less meat. Replace it with bulghur wheat, which has the same nubbly texture. A dried chilli gives a more depth of flavour than fresh, and if like me you don’t like too much heat, then remove the seeds before adding it.
Four to six with rice
- 2 tbsp beef dripping or vegetable oil
- 250-500g minced beef
- 1 large chicken liver, finely chopped
- 400g carrot
- 200g onion
- 200g celery
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tbsp cumin seed
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp Tomato puree
- 1 dried red chilli
- 1 l beef stock
- 100g bulgur wheat
- 1 tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- Heat the oil in a large pan and add the mince and chicken liver. Cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until it is patched with a good hazelnut brown. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and keep to one side. Add the carrot, onion and celery to the pan and cook for 15 minutes, until soft and golden.
- Stir in the garlic, cumin seed and paprika and cook for another minute. Add the tomato puree, oregano and dried chilli, plus the beef stock, bulgur wheat and salt if the stock is not salted. Cook very gently for three hours or overnight in a slow cooker: the longer you cook it the darker and more mellow it will become. Add the kidney beans for the last twenty minutes.
- Serve with rice or tortillas, mashed avocado, lime, sour cream, and chopped coriander.
How to eat less meat
- Brown off the meat you have really well – it should be a proper teak colour – for maximum flavour.?
- The expensive cuts aren’t the best when you’re cutting down. Fillet steak may be tender, but it has little flavour so is less satisfying. Opt for a smaller, and cheaper, piece like rib eye instead. The same goes for other “posh” cuts.
- Mince is perfect for stretching. Try swapping half the mince in a bolognese sauce for finely chopped mushrooms. Fry them really well to drive off the liquid and brown them, then carry on with your recipe.
- Coating thin pieces of meat with egg and breadcrumbs makes them seem twice the size, and once it’s baked to a crisp crust it’s delicious.
- Spiced sausages such as chorizo give heaps of flavour to bean, lentil and vegetable one-pot dishes.
- Don’t cut back on the gravy: vegetables doused in meaty juices are fabulous.
- Save the fat and juices from the Sunday roast, and use for cooking in the week: fat is a brilliant carrier of flavour so it’ll add a savoury punch to veg.
- A good side dish can easily be the main attraction, especially if there’s a bit of meat in there. Think of cauliflower cheese with a few chopped rashers of smoked streaky bacon added to the sauce.
- Slice the meat before it goes on the plate: it’s what restaurants do to make the meat go further.
Grilled hispi cabbage and sweet potato, with steak, peppercorn sauce and pickles
Just because you are eating less meat, doesn’t mean you have to do without out the sauce. Just trickle it over the vegetables too.
Two to four
- 400g sweet potato
- A hispi cabbage
- Oil, for brushing
- 1 tsp butter
- 3 small shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 2 tbsp white wine or vermouth
- 85ml double cream
- 250g-500g sirloin steak
- 1 large dill pickle, chopped into peppercorn sized pieces
- Wash the sweet potato and cut into 1cm thick slices. Cut the cabbage into eighths through the stem. Brush them with oil and sprinkle with salt. Heat a griddle pan over a medium heat and cook the potato slices for about 15 minutes on each side, until cooked through and somewhat charred. Lower the heat if they are burning before they cook through. Repeat with the cabbage. Keep warm on a serving dish.
- Heat the butter in a small pan and add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook until soft and just starting to turn golden. Crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and add to the pan. Cook for a few seconds, then add the wine or vermouth. Let it sizzle up, then pour in the cream. Draw off the heat.
- Heat a frying pan and with tongs hold the steak with its fatty edge pressed into the hot pan until it turns golden and liquid fat is seeping out. Turn the steak and cook on each side until done to your liking. Take out and put on a warm plate to rest.
- Pour the sauce into the steak pan and bring to the boil. If it looks curdled, add a splash of water and stir vigorously. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Slice the steak thinly. Arrange over the cabbage and sweet potato. Spoon on the sauce. Serve with a spoonful of the chopped pickle on the side.
Bean soup with bacon and lettuce
This soup is from Elisabeth Luard’s classic book European Peasant Cookery (£16.99, Grub Street), and is the ultimate in meat stretching – as little as 12g of bacon per person flavours the creamy soup delectably. It’s known as ciorba de fasole in Romania, where it is a favourite one-pot meal, writes Luard “thick and nourishing in the cold winter months.” You can even do without the meat altogether, she says. “Vegetable flavourings such as carrot, tomato, garlic, savory, tarragon, and thyme can replace the bacon. It is really a matter of making the best use of what you have.”
Six to eight
- 250g cannellini or butter beans
- 250g pinto beans (the speckled ones: or use borlotti)
- 100g piece of smoked bacon, or use a ham bone instead, which will still impart flavour
- 1 cos lettuce (or use sauerkraut in winter)
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 tbsp soured cream
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- Small bunch of dill
- Put the beans to soak in cold water overnight – or at least for four hours.
- Cube the bacon, if using. Drain the beans and put them into a roomy saucepan with the bacon (or ham bone) and enough water to cover to double their own depth – beans need plenty of room to expand.
- Bring to the boil, skim, and then turn the heat down. Simmer for two to three hours until they are soft. You may need a little more boiling water – it depends on the beans. At this point, remove the ham bone if you’ve used it.
- Shred the lettuce and stir it into the soup when the beans are soft. Cook for 10-15 minutes.
- Mash the beans a little, remove from the heat. Fork up the egg, cream and vinegar, and stir into the hot (but not boiling) soup. Taste and season. Finish with finely chopped dill. Don’t reheat.
- Serve the soup with black bread and a bottle or two of Romanian red wine. Fresh fruit should follow – plums, apples, pears, apricots.
Penang-style pork curry
The legendary Australian chef Lyndey Milan gave me this recipe for a Malaysian-inspired curry, with its deliciously rich peanut-spiked sauce. It looks like a long recipe but it’s fast and easy to put together, so don’t be put off.
Four to six
For the marinade
- 60ml dark soy sauce (a low sodium one, ideally)
- 65g palm sugar or light muscovado sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 250-500g pork tenderloin
- 500g parsnips, halved or quartered lengthways
For the paste
- 5 fresh long red chillies, chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp chopped coriander root (optional)
- 3cm piece fresh ginger (15g), sliced
- 20g sliced fresh lemongrass
- 2 small shallots, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 60ml water
- 75g roasted peanuts
For the curry
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 8 kaffir lime leaves, bruised
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp grated palm sugar or light muscovado sugar
- 400ml can coconut milk
- 300g Tenderstem broccoli
- ?Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- Make the marinade by bringing the soy sauce and sugar to the boil in a small pan. Reduce the heat and simmer until thick. Stir in garlic and cool. Mix in the 1 tablespoon of oil. Marinate the pork and parsnips in this for one hour or overnight, turning once.
- Make the curry paste by blending all the paste ingredients until almost smooth.
- Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. Lift the parsnips out of the marinade and spread them in a roasting tin. Roast for 20-30 minutes until golden and soft.
- Cook the pork over a medium heat in a frying pan on all sides until nicely browned and almost cooked through. Pop in the oven with the parsnips for ten minutes to finish cooking. Leave to rest in a warm place.
- To make the curry, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok, and stir-fry half the paste until fragrant. Add the kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and palm sugar and stir-fry for one minute. Add coconut milk. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally.
- Stir the broccoli into curry mixture and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until tender. Add the parsnips for the last 5 minutes.
- Slice the pork and arrange on the curry, then scatter over coriander leaves. Serve with some sticky rice on the side.