I am not a practising vegetarian and never have been. But over the years I’ve got into the habit of lessening the reliance on meat taking a starring role on the dinner plate – a stark contrast to growing up in a household in an era where Australian dinner was meat and three veg. At first my reasons were budgetary, then habit forming due to an aversion to half a lifetime of lamb chops, plus the joy of learning to cook for myself and the independence to make new choices. And then there was suspicion of those monstrously large, pale chicken breasts on the supermarket shelves (antibiotics, anyone?) before organic chicken was more readily available. In recent times it’s become second nature, and dovetailed with a growing awareness that it’s better for the environment (livestock emit more greenhouse gas than all transportation put together) and the many studies that have shown eating mostly a plant-based diet lessens your risk of heart disease and cancer. Oh, and you consume less calories. So a win win win. Good for the planet, and good for you, inside and out.
And yet I don’t want to give up meat entirely. Yes, I have a weak will when the smell of roast chicken wafts through the house on a cold winter’s day. Add to that the visceral association I have, and I’m sure many of you share, with the Australian tradition of the Sunday roast: the table, the aromas, the togetherness. Some of those loved ones at my grandma’s table have passed away, but those Sunday dinners remain integral to a time and place, that as a little girl tied me to stability and family and delivered me safely into adulthood. The roast dinner is still a ritual that brings us together.
So betwixt and between. The usual position of the ambivalent! But in this case, what I consider to be a middle ground.
How? By being a weekday vegetarian. I’d never thought about it quite like that, until I happened upon this great Ted talk by Graham Hill. His simple message? Eating “nothing with a face” Monday to Friday equates to being vegetarian about 70 percent of the time.
In some senses this is easily achievable, given vegetarian food is incredibly sophisticated in settings as varied as India to Italy, and has a wide-ranging adaptable recipe base. Pies, pizza (such as the pumpkin, olive and bocconcini one above), pasta, stir fries, pilafs, risotto... the possibilities are endless. But it can be tough, if you’re trying to avoid carbing up with pasta, bread, potato and rice.
This silverbeet pie is a variation of a Greek spinach pie I cook often, when I want to break with my reliance on pasta in weekday veg. From Adrian Richardson’s new book The Good Life out in August, it jazzes up the often worthy silverbeet with currants, pine nuts and lashings of buttery filo pastry.
Silverbeet, Currant and Pine Nut Pie
From The Good Life
1 large onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
80g pine nuts
100g feta, crumbled
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
4 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and black pepper
10 sheets of filo pastry
Cut the silverbeet leaves from the stems. Slice the stems into 1cm pieces and roughly chop the leaves.
Melt half the butter in a large, heavy based frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and gently fry fro 3-4 minutes, until the onion is soft but not coloured. Add the ginger and silverbeet stems and cook for 5 minutes, until the stems are beginning to soften. Add the silverbeet leaves and stir well over the heat for another 5 minutes until they are completely wilted.
Stir in the cinnamon, currants and pine nuts, then the cream, feta, parsley and lemon juice. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes before stirring in the eggs, salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Melt the rest of the butter and lightly brush some inside a 20x22cm baking dish. Lay a sheet of filo into the dish and brush with more butter. Top with 4 more sheets, brushing with butter as you go. Now spoon in the silverbeet filling and spread it out evenly. Top with the remaining sheets of pastry, brushing each with butter. Fold in the edges of the pie and brush the top and edges with butter. Bake for 25-30minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature with a garden salad.
Okay, it doesn’t look amazing in my incarnation(!), but I’m eating it this week, and it’s more-ish and filling, and goes down a treat amid freezing cold and non-stop rain.
So while I will never be strictly veg, I am part of the clan Michael Pollan refers to as ‘flexitarian’: mostly veg, occasionally a meat eater, and on Hill’s terms about a 70/30 split. The timing is a work in progress though, as give me a strict guideline and I’m guaranteed to break it with bacon in that weekday pasta. But the beauty of the flexi is, that you would never ever find yourself to be in that tug of war of denial and craving, yet you’re no longer heavily dependent on one part of the industrial food chain to feed you.
Each to their own, right? But on occasion, in future, if I have a great weekday veg recipe I’ll be posting it here.
Have a great first week of winter... or summer if you’re a Northie.