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The Veg Report

February 4, 2012

It seems a bit early to report on my first week as a vegetarian seeing as it’s actually only day four of our VegFeb month, but what the hell.  I am already finding it an interesting experience.

Day one was – well, a great big veg fail, because I omitted to read a menu properly.

Senor and I were at Sydney Theatre Company to see Never Did Me Any Harm (which we loved – I thought it was a beautifully original production and I loved the slipping and sliding narratives and use of dance and text as well as speech) and sat down for a quick bite from the cafe menu there at the Wharf.

I ordered while S found a table, and I found some good veg stuff on the menu including a mushroom bruschetta with shaved Parmesan, an oxheart tomato bruschetta, some warm olives and a fig & goat’s cheese salad. The bruschettas & olives were very good (although it’s lucky we are including anchovies in our almost-veg adventure, as unbeknownst to me some big fat delicious ones were in the tomato & pesto mix).

When the fig salad arrived, S looked at me as if I was crazy. ‘What are we going to do about that?’ he asked, pointing at the plate. There were a few halved almonds dotted over the dish. I put on my special Patient Voice and said, ‘Sean, nuts are fine for vegetarians.’

Then it was his turn to employ a special Voice for the Stupid:

‘I’m not talking about the nuts, I’m talking about the pig.’

And there it was – four large, pink and curling satiny ribbons of prosciutto nestled among the figs and the rocket and the goat’s cheese. How could I have missed reading this on the menu? And how did I miss seeing it on the plate!?? And why did I even think figs would be served without some kind of cured pork – especially given that it’s a particular favourite combination of mine?

If there had been a non-vego at the table it would have been easy – just make them eat the prosciutto and forge merrily on. But now we were faced with the dilemma – knowing that restaurant rules would surely mean this beautiful stuff was thrown away if we didn’t eat it, or sticking to our VegFeb plan. Of course we ate it, and it was delicious.  But it was an interesting lesson in how much more carefully I need to be reading menus in the next little while. I can’t bear the idea of being one of those people who sits asking waiters about every ingredient in every damn dish, though. Which is probably one of the reasons I know I’ll never be an actual vegetarian. But I will be more careful about thoroughly reading, rather than quickly scanning, menus for the rest of February. And we have added a new rule – if we eat meat due to menu stuffups like this one, or to be convivially polite at a friend’s house, then we add another day at the end of VegFeb. Easypeasy. (Which reminds me – mmmm, peas…)

But the rest of the week has been fun, and lordy we have eaten well.  The day after VegFail (at least I know I’m not alone. A pal of ours, also doing a VegFeb version but stricter – i.e. no anchovies – was forced to eat meat on her day one, when the burger restaurant where she’d arranged to meet a friend offered no veg options, which seems pretty hopeless!) we had several folks round for dinner. I marinated and roasted some chicken pieces for them, which we served along with:

 

And followed with a traditional Middle Eastern orange cake with yummy sweetened labneh.

The leftovers from these kept us going for lunches for a few days. Dinners this week have also included this chickpea & cashew curry, and this very tasty silverbeet tart, minus the bacon and plus some sunflower seeds as well as the pine nuts.

After a few days I jumped on the scales, curious to see how quickly my new meat-free existence was sending me to Svelte City – and I’d put on over a kilo. Hmmm.

This salad was one I made last weekend prior to official VegFeb start, inspired by the fantastic recipes in Heidi Swanson’s book Super Natural Every Day (I’ve now bought three copies of this book for friends as well as my own, for the originality and big flavours in the recipes) and the first Ottolenghi book, both of which I love to death. One thing I’ve noticed with both these books is how often vegetables for roasting are cut into quite small pieces – which is of course fab for getting that lovely fat and crispness to a lot more surface area, especially with otherwise quite soft veg, not to mention a greater caramelised flavour through the whole thing.

So this salad was basically a matter of using a quarter of a pumpkin and an eggplant from the fridge, both of which were starting to fade. And I had just stocked up on lots of nuts from the farmer’s market. As I sort of made it up as I went along I don’t have a proper recipe, but from memory these things went into it. Quantities don’t really matter in a thing like this, obviously – whatever you feel like doing works.

  • pumpkin, skin on, chopped into 2cm squares & roasted in a light spray of olive oil in a hot oven for about 20-30 mins or till caramelised
  • eggplant, ditto
  • pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • pistachios, lightly toasted
  • pecans, roughly chopped & lightly toasted
Once these were cooled and tossed together, I made a dressing of
  • maple syrup
  • olive oil
  • orange juice
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • chilli flakes
To be honest I think the dressing was a bit too acidic, so would probably do something about that next time. But it was still damn fine, and a bit of chopped coriander over the top finished it off nicely. We took some of that and a bit of other stuff round to some friends who had just moved house, so they had something other than takeaway to eat among the boxes that evening, and everyone was happy.

Now, I now you’re all great cooks with some fab veg recipes in your repertoire – don’t forget to point me to any particular favourites as I progress through the month.  I’m already excited about a couple of new things I’m trying this week – I’ll be back with further reports soon.

Oh, and PS: Just in case you’re interested, I have a piece on why and how I came to love oysters in the new (March) issue of SBS Feast magazine, which I believe is in the shops on Monday. I haven’t seen the final version yet, but because it is a kind of oyster love story it includes a photo of me and my beloved shucking oysters at our pals Jane & Brian’s place at New Year, which is kind of nice. Thanks to B for taking the pic. 

6 comments

  1. love both the ottolenghi books, and have super natural everyday but only tried one recipe so far…I say well done so far


  2. What a delicious start, and I’m glad you ate the pig. Actually, it was a similar event that brought me back to meat the first time I was veg in 1991 – I ordered tortellini in Geneva with my last Swiss francs before catching a train bound for Spain. In California, tortellini by default was filled with cheese. In Switzerland, it came filled with veal… I knew it was my mistake, I had no more cash, and that the animal had already died, so I ate the tortellini (with great sadness, I must say). Over the next couple months backpacking around Europe, I slowly re-introduced meat to my diet whenever it was difficult to find vegetarian options (and was healthier for it as the language barriers meant I hadn’t been eating very well as a vegetarian!).

    I think that as well as not wanting to be utterly lacking in conviviality amongst friends, acquaintances or colleagues, I simply can’t bear the idea of wasting food that is already there.

    Looking forward to your next update on VegFeb! :-)


  3. I understand the 1 kilo! I gave up meat last year for about 9 months and put on weight – maybe more bread and pasta and cheese and butter and….and…. Oh yes – and Nutella :-)

    Good luck!

    Celia


  4. ‘I’m not talking about the nuts, I’m talking about the pig’ = way to get your readers to burst out laughing. I love it. You were struck swine blind.


  5. Keep it up! I’ve been vegetarian for over 2 years now. It gets easier! (I know you are only doing it for a month, but perhaps you’ll fall in love with it…!)


  6. [...] experience of avoiding meat brought a few surprises, a few hiccups – you may recall my VegFeb fail on day one! – and some interesting insights into our food culture and my own cooking. So, in the [...]



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