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From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

Let’s hear it for veggie days – they’re vegtastic!

Back in 1988 Rose Elliot told us that vegetarian eating was ‘Not just a load of old lentils’. She was right, of course. It’s Mars Bars and chips (cooked in vegetable oil, obvs) and rhubarb crumble. And, actually, it is quite a lot of beans and lentils too. But, amazingly, it’s easy to eat nice veggie food (I’m not talking vegan – that’s a step too far at the moment) – and to feel full after eating it. In fact, eating veggie two days a week has surprisingly proved to be one of the most easy and pleasurable of my five aims for 2015.

It is surprising because we are confirmed carnivores who salivate at the thought of a succulent piece of pork encased in crackling, we celebrate a plate of practically mooing steak, we crack into crustaceans with undignified lipsmacking delight and hoover up sushi as soon as it’s been sliced or rolled. Pleasurable because I have really enjoyed searching out vegetarian recipes and cooking them – and the Husband and 13-year-old have licked their plates clean. I’ve always adored vegetables but tended to think of them as accompaniments rather than the standalone star of a meal. My journey to meat-free meals has has not come out of the blue: I do believe our meat and fish should be grown and dispatched with love and respect. And sadly that’s just not the case. Most of us would be disgusted at the way the animals that grace our tables are treated.

Even without the indecent intensity of the meat business, a succulent tomato salad lavishly seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh basil and drizzled with top-notch olive oil would never be unwelcome on my table. I’m also most partial to Delia Smith’s peppers stuffed with tomatoes and anchovies from her ‘Summer Collection’ (Smith credits Elizabeth David with the original creation). The sweetness of the red peppers, tang of tomatoes, and saltiness of the anchovies delivers that wonderful umami punch that gives you the tingles from your tastebuds to your toes. I know the purists amongst you will already be screaming ‘anchovies! anchovies! They’re not vegetables’. True enough. You could always substitute capers for anchovies – they’re just not as delicious. And that is an issue. The tiny anchovy is such a brilliant seasoning – it is, I think, impossible to replace with a veggie alternative. If any vegetarian out there knows of an anchovy-alike fish/meat-free alternative – tell me, please!

Now then, the mere mention of one name in particular can set me all a-quiver… Yotam Ottolenghi. He is the main man when it comes to veggie eating IMHO. What that man can do with a sweet potato or a couple of aubergines, or some asparagus. *Sigh*. Of course, the drawback with Ottelenghi is that his recipes are not only ingredient rich (and often a little difficult to source for those of us not in big cities), they can also be pretty time-consuming to create – great for a dinner party but not always ideal for a family supper.

Spinach & ricotta cannelloni - glass of red optional!

Spinach & ricotta cannelloni (see below) – glass of red optional!

Risottos and pasta have always featured in our family meals and that’s still the case. The 13-year-old was delighted with a recent mushroom risotto topped with roasted butternut squash and sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds (a welcome addition to pretty much any salad, pasta or rice dish). And it’s always the season for pasta lavished with homemade pesto (I make mine with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper,a dash of sugar, and a splash of vinegar to keep the colour – I leave out Parmesan so people can add to their own taste). Finally, in no particular order, here are a few recipes I’ve stumbled across that we’ve enjoyed creating and are jolly tasty to boot. With thanks to the many people on the internet who take the time to post fab recipes.

Red lentil and potato dahl

This spicy and delicious little mouth warmer is not only sustaining it’s fabulously cheap to make. As well as the cilantro (fresh coriander) I like to stir in some spinach at the end of the cooking. Just yum. My personal favourite recipe so far.

Veggie crumble

A rib-sticking feelgood feast – the Husband declared it ‘worthy’. I loved it.

Spinach & ricotta cannelloni

What can I say? If you’ve never piped spinach and ricotta mix into cannelloni: get to it! It’s fabulously easy and the results from this recipe are tip-top – although careful not to overcook as it can get a bit dry.

Chilli con veggie

This is brilliant because you can cook up loads and freeze – my version was a little lacking in chilli punch so do check out how hot your fresh chilli is or chuck in some flakes to give it some umph.

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