When he was twelve, our youngest, Charlie, became a vegetarian. It was for a twelve year old, a considered position: he just didn't want animals to be killed for his food. Or his shoes, or his duvet stuffing, come to that.
He was happy to eat eggs, milk, cheese, and so on, and to wear woollen clothes, as these involved no killing.
It was a disconcerting decision. My main experience of vegetarian cooking had been at a school camp held at a seventh day adventist venue, and we were served vegetarian sausages, vegetarian rissoles, vegetarian "meatloaf" and a variety of other meat "substitutes". Which really seemed to be missing the point....
About this time, somebody gave us a copy of Alison and Simon Holst's Very Easy Vegetarian Cookbook. This is one of those gifts that years down the track still figures in any "count your blessings" exercise.
Many of their recipes I modified over time to suit local taste. The most valuable aspect for me was a way of thinking about food that generated tasty and healthy vegetarian meals out of whatever was around. They also had to be fast and easy, as I was often cooking two meals, one vegetarian, one not.
Here are some of the enduring ones.
Country Onion Pie
An unusual dish, sweet and
savoury at the same time. Delicious. Another favourite for "take
a plate" functions, and earned the seal of approval from the family vegetarian.
Tomato and Mushroom Flan
A tasty pastry, equally good
hot or cold. Straightforward to make. This has accompanied us to many
"bring a plate" functions. The original recipe specified anchovies
dotted about the top, and the combination of olives and blue cheese I
used instead was aimed at reproducing for a vegetarian some of the pungency
of anchovies. It worked brilliantly.
This vegetarian recipe was devised as a fast and easy meal for Charlie who could not always depend on arriving home from work at a given time.
Franita's Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry
I have become an admirer of Franita's approach to food. A warming and comforting vegetarian dish.
Dave's Bean Stew
This is a relatively simple fast track recipe, using blackeye beans (cowpeas, blackeye peas) instead of the more traditional kidney beans or lima beans. Blackeyes do not require soaking for 5-8 hours before you use them. I do cook them separately beforehand, as I find most pulses cooked in the presence of tomato tend to become or remain a little leathery.
Kumara and Chickpea Stew
A hearty and mildly spicy dish, with a tasty possibility available for leftovers. Can use either pumpkin or kumara or a combination.
This, according to the Woman's Day Encyclopaedia of Cookery is the closest you will get to the mess of pottage for which Esau sold his birthright. It is, for want of a better description, savoury porridge, but is nevertheless a firm favourite with both boys. It goes naturally with a rough salad and sharpish dressing, and never before have I seen teenagers consume so many greens willingly. A hearty meal. (Goes well as a cold slice on a piece of bread the next day, too.)
Popeye Pasta: This pasta-spinach-cheese combo first arrived on our table via Alison and Simon Holst's Very Easy Vegetarian Cookbook. The considerably adapted version that follows was an on-the-spot extempore of mine from memory and fridge remnants, and worked very well for a fast meal for Charlie. Tasty.
Dave's Pasta with Yoghurt, Sour Cream and Vegetables: Pasta without tomatoes? Pasta without cheese? Not even bacon or mushrooms? No, we're not joking. This one makes a tasty change from the usual run.
Pumpkin Risotto: For me, the test of well-cooked
rice has always been fluffy, well-separated grains. I have steered clear
of risottos for ever because the end result simply spelled failure as
far as I was concerned - sticky sludge, whichever way you framed it. I
still have trouble with the appearance of a risotto, but one of my rare
attempts got such good feedback I am including it here. I still had to
ask the family if it was ok - I wasn't sure - but sometimes working outside
the comfort zone can be good for you. The large saucepan was scraped clean.
Quiche Darveed: This is one I arrived at by the simple process of elaborating on b*c*n and egg pie. (Vegetarian version available) It wasn't until much later I discovered that I had re-invented Quiche Lorraine, or at least a close relation. (I have since learned from Elizabeth David that what the world at large calls quiche is a gross and calumnious attack on the purity and simplicity of the original.)
Dave's Vegetable Curry: Yet another and, I modestly claim, a successful attempt to present the annual zucchini blessing in edible form at table. Bringing dairy elements into the curry, and dicing the zucchini to 1cm are I think key elements. I imagine you could probably substitute choko or lauki or pumpkin for the zucchini.
Dave's Bean Bake: As above, Think lasagne, change the white sauce into an egg, parsley, garlic and sour cream mix, and substitute cooked beans for the pasta. For meat sauce, think diced mixed vegetables. I'd already done something like this using potatoes instead of pasta, and I was looking for something with a slightly better GI rating - i.e., it takes longer for the resident carbohydrates to release all their sugar into the blood stream. Beans are excellent in this respect, and chickpeas or chana dal (wild chickpeas) even better. In fact you could substitute chickpeas for beans in this recipe if you wanted.
Dave's Potato Bake: Think lasagne, and then go sideways. Sliced boiled potato, pasta pauce, cheese, chopped vegetables, with a sauce of sour cream and egg to hold it together. Remember, you saw it first right here.
Pulsating Patties: Alison Holst-inspired. Nowhere near as revolting as the vision conjured up by their name might suggest. Basically a vegetarian fritter/hamburger patty based on pulses, nuts, seeds and rolled oats and a few other bits and pieces. Compared with commercial "nutmeats" I have tried, way out in front, and even better with a collection of fruity chutneys.
Curried Cashew and Carrot Soup This a soup but it's substantial enough for a main course, and delicious.
Zucchini Slice : An adaptation of an internet recipe. Absolutely delicious, but main claim to inclusion is that it uses up several of the surplus crop of courgettes. For vegetarians, leave out the b*c*n and throw in some chopped olives and/or blue cheese pieces. I have also substituted pumpkin for the zucchini for a distinct variation.
Spinach and Fetta Parcels: OK, there's nothing new at all in these; in fact I got most of the recipe from a packet of puff pastry sheets. If you're fussy about this sort of thing, spinach and fetta is something of a cliche, but so is bacon and eggs. (Whoops! Sorry. This is the vegetarian page.)