Vegetarianism is not a modern phenomenon. Indeed, as a lifestyle vegetarianism began with the Greek aesthetes and was subsequently adopted by many Romans who thought a frugal lifestyle to be beneficial to themselves and to the state.
However, through much of human history people have relied on a mainly vegetarian diet to survive. The great civilizations of central and south America also had a predominantly vegetarian diet. This actually isn’t as easy as it sounds, as the human body needs to source a number of proteins from the diet. Now, one way to ensure that these proteins are gained in adequate quantities is to combine grains and beans.
This is why almost all cultures have their mix of the ‘grain and bean’ staple either as part of their current cuisines or as parts of their historical cuisines. In Africa, historically this was a millet pap or porridge served with a black eyed pea stew. Today it tends to be a maize-based porridge with the same beans. In Europe it was a grain-based gruel (oats, barley or wheat) with the broad (fava) beans or peas stirred into it. Asian diets had rice and dishes in which beans, if not a direct part of the meal were a condiment (soy sauce, black bean paste, yellow bean paste).
In Central and South America it was a mix of maize and beans. The interesting thing about this diet was the inclusion of chillies. Chillies both act to spice and flavour the food. However, the fresh chilli fruit are also a good source of vitamin C which is critical in a vegetarian diet as it aids in the uptake of non-haeme (ie non-blood) iron into the body. This may well explain why chillies spread worldwide so quickly and why they remain very important in countries and regions where meat remains, or historically was, a very small portion of the diet (Asia, the Caribbean, Africa and India).
However, you don’t have to have a subsistence diet to be a vegetarian, far from it. But the rules of the subsistence diet remains in terms of eating a healthy vegetarian diet. Mix grains and beans or mushrooms to ensure you get all the necessary dietary proteins. Add nuts for proteins and essential oils and ensure you have plenty of vitamin C in the diet. Beyond these basic rules what you eat is very much limited only by your own imagination and the number of ingredients you have to hand.
Here, however, are some classic vegetarian dishes to get your started.
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely-chopped basil leaves
250g chanterelle mushrooms
60g freshly-grated Parmesan cheese
180g Arborio (or other risotto) rice
150ml white wine
450ml vegetable stock
Add half the butter to a frying pan and use this to gently fry the onion and garlic until soft and golden. Now add the basil and chanterelles and cook for a few minutes before adding the rice. Fry to coat the rice grains in the butter and continue cooking for 4 minutes before adding the wine and half the stock.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer then cover and allow to continue cooking. Check every now and then, topping-up the liquid when the risotto becomes too dry. Continue cooking until the rice is creamy and just al dente (about 30 minutes). Add the remainder of the butter and the parmesan cheese at this point.
Cook for a few more minutes, stirring all the while then serve with crusty ciabatta and a green salad.
Chickpea and Lentil Stew
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
60g coriander (cilantro) leaves, finely chopped
140g lentils, soaked over night and drained
450g cooked chickpeas
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried thyme, chopped
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp harissa
60g green olives, sliced
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a pan and use to fry the onions for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and coriander and fry for 3 more minutes. Now stir-in all the remaining ingredients (except the olives and lemon juice). Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 35 minutes, or until the lentils are tender (add more water, as necessary).
Season to taste with salt and black pepper then add the olives and lemon juice. Simmer for 5 minutes more then serve on a bed of couscous.
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Category: Diet Recipes