“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~Dalai Lama
As a child, I had no idea that such a concept as vegetarianism even existed, let alone veganism.
Since I grew up on a sheep farm, raising animals and eating them were just what we did.
The sheep, cows, and chickens from my childhood seemed to have pretty happy lives. There was grass to eat and water to drink and space to roam about. The only thing that used to worry me about them was that they’d freeze outside in the winter with no coats on.
It wasn’t until I went to university that I even thought to question whether I should be eating lamb, or beef, or chicken.
Over the years, I’ve come back to the point of view that while I really respect people who choose to be completely vegetarian or vegan, it’s not for me.
As a little experiment, I spent a month being vegetarian last year. While I found I struggled with a completely plant based diet, it did give me some great ideas for how to eat more compassionately by not eating meat every day.
It was quite refreshing to look at my diet with a completely fresh pair of eyes. To be honest, I was surprised how easy was to adapt some of my favorite dishes to suit a meat-free way of eating.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve picked up to help get you started eating more compassionately.
Something I’ve been experimenting over the last few months is making a conscious decision to eat meat-free on Mondays. It’s a great way to add a bit of veggie fun into the week. And I’ve actually found that seeking out vegetarian options for Monday has meant we’re more likely to eat vegetarian at other meals as well.
I’ve always been a fan of lentils, but after my month of vegetarianism, I developed a newfound respect. If you’re in a hurry, canned lentils are a really convenient option.
Cooking lentils from scratch is pretty simple, unlike beans and chickpeas. No soaking required, just simmer in a pot like pasta until the lentils are tender (about 15-20 minutes). Drain and use anywhere you’d normally use ground beef. Lentil bolognese, lentil tacos, lentil burgers, lentil lasagna, lentil chili—there are endless possibilities.
You can do this whether it’s a tuna or salmon salad or a tuna sandwich. Canned white beans or chickpeas will be equally as satisfying and quick. If you normally mash your sandwich tuna with mayonnaise, try mashed chickpeas with Veganaise for a change.
If you love your grated parmesan sprinkled liberally over everything but are keen to cut down on cheese, consider Brazil nuts. They make a wonderful alternative. Just finely grate your buts with a Microplane and use anywhere you’d normally be reaching for the parmesan.
Known as ‘meat’ for vegetarians, a large roasted portabello or field mushroom can be just as satisfying as a steak. Just pop them in the oven with a little garlic, thyme, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Leave for about a half-hour until tender and juicy.
One of the surprise outcomes of my vegetarian month was the discovery that the ‘vegetarian’ option on restaurant menus can be surprisingly delicious. Next time you’re out, why not give the veggie lasagna or the veggie burger a go?
While tofu may have a reputation for being pretty bland, it’s actually a great protein sponge for soaking up flavor. Try cubes of tofu in your favorite curry or stew. Crumbled tofu tends to work well as a ground beef replacer when you’ve had enough of lentils. Or try scrambled tofu with a little curry powder and a softened onion as an alternative to scrambled eggs.
Love creamy sauces? Then tahini, or ground sesame seed paste, could be just the thing if you’re looking for a dairy-free alternative. Drizzle this nutty sauce over roast vegetables or make a dressing by combining equal amounts of tahihi, lemon juice, and water.
More than just a source of essential fats, nuts are a great way to add crunch and protein to veggie meals. They’re also a wonderfully portable snack for vegetarians and carnivores alike.
When eating meat-free, it can be difficult to fill up. Avocado salad with a handful of nuts is one of my favorite vegan lunches. And don’t forget guacamole.
Dessert can be a lonely place without butter and cream. Fortunately there’s a whole world of vegan-friendly dark chocolate to explore. You could even get creative and serve a few different dark chocolates from different regions or chocolates with different cocoa contents, and have a little chocolate tasting party to end a meal.
I recently read a theory the Buddhist monks invented soy sauce as a way to convince the masses to become vegetarian. Fish and meat are rich in compounds like amino acids and glutamates which make them taste delicious.
Soy sauce also contains a generous slug of these tasty glutamates. So it can be a great flavor booster in vegetarian dishes. Other sources include tomato and mushrooms.
I’m a fan of Michael Pollan’s adage to not eat anything your grandparents wouldn’t recognize as food. To me, it defeats the purpose of avoiding meat products if you’re going to expose yourself to the additives and flavors required to get something that isn’t meat to taste like meat. They can’t be good for us.
Ready to give meat-free Monday a try? Here’s a simple recipe to get you started:
Inspired by the good old family classic spag bol (or spaghetti bolognese), these baked zucchini noodles are one of my favorite options for gluten-free comfort food. It’s handy to have a mandoline or vegetable peeler to get lovely fine noodles. You could serve the lentil ragu with pasta if you prefer.
Feel free to add to the lentils – I’ve kept it super simple but a little garlic, onion, chilli or even basil would work.
1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).
2. Layer zucchini ribbons over a baking tray a few layers deep. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes or until the zucchini is no longer crunchy.
3. Heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add lentils and tomato paste and cook for a few minutes until hot.
4. Taste and season lentils, adding a little more olive oil or some butter if the tomato is too sharp.
5. Divide zucchini between two plates and top with lentils.
6. Serve with grated Brazil nuts on the side and a green salad
Boy eating watermelon image via Shutterstock
Jules Clancy is a qualified Food Scientist and the creator of The Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School. She blogs about her commitment to cooking recipes with no more than 5 ingredients over at Stonesoup.
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