You know, I’ve been meaning to do a series of Ask Veggie Mama posts for years. YEARS. I get asked a lot of things, from food ideas and recipes to working mum stuff and baby advice. I’m pretty stoked to finally kick it off! Do please let me know if you have any questions you’ve always wanted to ask, I’m heeeere for you.
For now, let’s start with question numero uno – my friend Annette recently asked me a brilliant one that required some thought and a bit of searching through the mental archives of days gone by.
Annette has recently been diagnosed with some health issues, and as such, has decided to eat more veggie-centric meals as opposed to meaty ones. Only with the meat mindset we basically all grew up with, she said she was finding it difficult to switch her thinking from veggies being part of the meal to making them the focal point. Like, what do you replace meat and two veg with if you take the meat away?
I HEAR YOU, ANNETTE.
I definitely went through something similar when I went fully veg (in the dark ages about 11 years ago now), and really had to do some mental gymnastics some nights to figure out what to serve when meat isn’t an option. Sometimes I still think it would be nice to have a something with mash, steamed veg, and gravy – I just have to think a little outside the square about what to serve it with.
Now, of course you can swap your animal meat out with a vegetarian/vegan mock meat option. I do semi-regularly, and definitely did heaps more of at the start of my veg journey. If you find something you like, absolutely go for it. For me, it’s the Quorn fillets and the Linda McCartney sausages. Trial and error has led me to narrow these two down!
For other veg options though, I really had to start thinking of dishes where the plate isn’t separated into meat and veg, leaving a gaping, sad hole to fill with a substandard substance. I opted for making a mental list of dishes where if there was to be meat, it would probably be in amongst other things, or easily subbed for something else (you really can’t sub a steak, I promise, but mince is a no-brainer).
This is where blogs, cooking sites, cookbooks and magazines are invaluable. Not being able to fall back on familiar meats meant a whole new world had opened to me. I started trying new recipes, new veg combinations, new grains, it totally revolutionised my life. I made a shift to saving recipes where meat was an add-in – things like pastas, soups, pies, quiches, stir-fries and meals where the focus was on the dish as a whole, not each element separated. I would always read blogs and books for dinner inspiration anyway, but now I made more of a concerted effort to look for recipes like this while I was planning my meals or shopping list for that week. Eventually the new dishes became old favourites, and I very soon forgot the dependence upon building a meal around a big chunk of flesh.
The other thing I needed to experiment with was easy veg substitutions, so if I found a carnivorous recipe I wanted to try, I could easily vegetarianise it with my favourite swaps. These will be different for everyone, but once you’ve got your go-tos on lock, you’ll never really struggle with a dish coming together again. Brown lentils are great in pies or mince dishes, I love swapping out beef or lamb chunks for mushroom, chicken can be done with tofu (properly marinated, please, I can’t eat that white blob straight up either), cannellini beans, paneer or haloumi… that sort of thing.
I’ve got about 250 recipes on this site to help get your brain percolating, but I would also advise checking out other blogs or books you might not normally, just to give you some guidance. And then you can break the rules to suit yourself! There are incredible sources of plant-based recipes from junk food to extremely healthy diets out there, it’s just a matter of you finding what jives with your ethos. I will do another post soon of the spots I recommend.
So to answer your question, Annette… it’s a process that takes a little time and forethought. Get as much inspiration as you can of dishes that may be a little out of your repertoire, but are a plateful of amalgamated deliciousness. Get to know your favourite swaps and substitutions, and find places that are your go-to when you feel like your brain just cannot put this jigsaw puzzle together. You’re in for a world of fun!
Also I cannot believe the amount of times I’ve typed “meat” in this post. I don’t think I’ve ever even said it this many times in the last decade, haha. meeeeeeat.