Tasty Ideas for the Vegetarian Lunch Box

Lunchtime. Is it the one meal of the day that you give the least thought to? Do you find yourself simply ‘grabbing a bite’, or making up the same old sandwich each and every day? Well fortunately it doesn’t have to be this way. Below I have given you some great ideas that are suitable for your lunch box. Don’t be afraid to try new things as well as incorporating your favourite vegetables, beans, grains etc. All of these ideas are vegetarian. However, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat a vegetarian lunch. Experts suggest people try to go meat free at least some of the time for both health and environmental reasons. Cutting meat from your lunch is a simple way of doing this.

Sandwiches and rolls

Sandwiches are such an easy choice. However it doesn’t have to be cheese and tomato sandwiched between two slices of white bread. There are many, many ways you can make this simple option more interesting. Begin by varying the bread you use. There are an abundance of different breads out there these days. Think wholegrain, rye, spelt, pumpernickel, sourdough – to name just a few. Furthermore, it doesn’t just have to be sliced bread. You can have rolls, baguettes, pitas, wraps and all the different variations that come from these options.

Now to choose your filling. Mix and match to make some tasty combinations. There’s cheese and all its varieties – including cream cheese and spreadable cheese. Don’t forget cheeses such as halloumi and feta, which work so well in wraps and pitas. Then there’s egg – mash or slice, add some curry powder or mustard, or just salt and pepper. Beans and chickpeas go really well – you can mash them up for a roll or sandwich or keep whole for pitas and wraps. Cannellini or butter beans are great as you can mash them up and then add herbs or spices to transform them. You can pad out your sandwich with your favourite vegetables – salad leaves, grated carrot, sliced tomato, corn kernels. Things like broccoli and cauliflower go well in wraps – raw or roasted. If you like, you can finish off your sandwich with some relish or mayonnaise.

Salads

A salad is not just some lettuce, cucumber and tomato. Really it is a combination of ingredients, mixed together to make something delicious and perfect for your lunch box. To make your lunches more filling you could add a base to your salad. Things like couscous, bulghar wheat, pasta, brown rice and quinoa are good options. Couscous is a great option as it is so quick to prepare. Whilst your base is cooking you can prepare the rest of your salad.

Add whatever vegetables you fancy. Onion (whether, spring, brown, red or even pickled), baby kale, spinach, cherry tomatoes, carrot, broccoli, avocado, rocket are some options. You can add them raw or roast or fry them if you like. Your vegetables can also come from a tin or jar. Things like artichoke hearts, olives, capers and sundried tomatoes work really well and their flavour goes a long way. You can even add some nuts – I love toasted pine nuts, but cashews and almonds are good or just whatever takes your fancy. Don’t forget beans – just rinse and drain and stir them in.

To enhance your salad further, make a simple dressing. Simply combine extra virgin olive oil with your choice of vinegar or lemon juice (or lime). For a salad for two, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil mixed with 1 tablespoon of vinegar is the quantities you need. You can add spices and herbs, even mustard if you choose. Then stir the dressing into the salad.

Spreads and dips

This is a fun way of eating lunch. Add some crispbread or similar to your lunch box, pop some spread in a container, remember a knife and you’re good to go. Instead of crispbread, you could always make up some polenta. Cook the polenta, pop into a pan and leave it to firm up. Slice it up and serve with your choice of spread or topping. Alternatively you can cut the polenta into fingers and serve them with a dip. Try cutting up some raw vegetables such as carrot and bell pepper. These are perfect with dips along with button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and radishes.

What works as a dip generally also works well as a spread. Cream cheese is a good choice and can be enhanced with herbs, spices, mustard. I like to blitz up chargrilled peppers and mix them into the cream cheese. You can also blitz up beetroot, artichoke hearts, any type of canned bean or chickpeas. Try adding horseradish sauce and some blue cheese to beetroot – it’s lovely. Raid your pantry and don’t be afraid to experiment.

To add even more variety to your lunch you could add a hard boiled egg, some cubes of cheese, raw nuts, olives, sundried tomatoes or pickles. Grapes also go well, as does dried fruit.

Slices

I’ve got a perfect recipe for a vegetable slice. You make it ahead, slice it up and what you don’t use can be popped into the freezer than thawed as needed. You can vary what vegetables you add to it, but the basic recipe remains the same.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 30 x 20cm baking tin. In a large bowl, whisk together 4 eggs and ½ cup (125ml) of milk. Beat in ½ cup (75g) of wholemeal self-raising flour and ½ cup (75g) of regular self-raising flour to make a batter.

Finely chop a head of broccoli and ½ cup (25g) of baby spinach. Cube 100g of feta cheese and grate 1 carrot. Stir the vegetables and cheese into the batter. You can vary what you add at this stage. Try diced pepper, onion, corn kernels, spring onions, cauliflower florets, courgette.

Season. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and firm.

Leave to cool and remove from the tin. Slice into quarters, then halve each quarter. Place 2 slices into each lunch box, then into the fridge. The rest can be frozen by wrapping each slice in plastic wrap then placing into a container or freezer bag, then popping into the freezer.

The Vegetarian’s Survival Guide to Christmas

Christmas is a time of indulgence. For some this seems to be about consuming as much meat as possible. Whenever I read through Christmas cookbooks, I notice an inordinate amount of recipes that seem to include cooking every animal under the sun. So if you are a vegetarian, this time of year can be tricky for you. You may come under a lot of pressure to eat meat, or people may give you a hard time when they notice you are not eating meat. Or perhaps you are worried about what to cook or whether you will go hungry – especially if you are to be a guest in someone else’s house. These issues can be particularly tricky if you only recently became vegetarian. Hopefully the following will make your vegetarian Christmas a happy time for all.

Dealing with the pressure

When friends and family gather at Christmas there’s a chance that you being vegetarian crops up. Whether in conversation or when they see you not eating meat. So it’s entirely possible that you start feeling the pressure to eat meat. It may pay to remind yourself that what you eat has nothing to do with anybody else. Do such people pay as much attention to all the other aspects of your life? What I am saying is being vegetarian is just one of the hundreds of choices you have made in your life. It is a small part of who you are but it is an important part. Don’t let pressure from others derail you.

Sometimes you may also feel the pressure to eat meat when it feels like you don’t have any good food choices. There are many options out there and it’s a great opportunity to head into the kitchen and create something amazing. It can help if you think back to why you became a vegetarian in the first place. I remember arriving in Australia and there were barely any choices for vegetarians. It was in stark contrast to the UK where vegetarians were much more catered for. However, it never occurred to me to start eating meat again. Instead I got stuck into cooking from scratch and was soon easily able to convert many meat recipes into something vegetarian.

What to eat

If you are cooking for yourself this Christmas there are a number of directions you can take and your personality may come into it. Are you a traditionalist or are you happy to move away from the norm?

I personally love tradition. Or rather, the tradition of roast potatoes since they’re the best bit and the rest are just accompaniments! If you would prefer a traditional dinner, think about how a traditional dinner can be tweaked to make it vegetarian. Mock meats are widely available and can be easily substituted for the meat other people are eating. It may be worth trying out different brands before Christmas and see what your like. If you don’t fancy meat alternatives, there are many other tasty options out there that go well with all the trimmings. Nut roasts, and delicious things wrapped in pastry can be fantastic (I’m thinking pies, Wellingtons, en croute and strudel). Just remember to make a vegetarian gravy and ensure your stuffing balls are vegetarian if you are having them. I often do pigs in blankets – just wrap vegetarian bacon around vegetarian sausages.

If tradition doesn’t work for you – don’t be afraid to ignore it all together. It’s always nice to create new traditions when you find something that works for you. My traditional Christmas breakfast is Nigella Lawson’s Christmas morning muffins. I’ve done them for so long, I can’t remember what I used to do and even what a traditional Christmas breakfast would look like. One thing you could do is look at the different dishes people eat around the world at Christmas and take inspiration from them. Or you could just eat your favourite meal. Perhaps primp it up a bit by using the best ingredients or adding some festive flavours or garnishes. When I first moved to Australia I had to get used to Christmas in summer and spent a few years trying out different things, until I found something that worked for me, the climate and made it feel like Christmas. So as well as my traditional dinner I enjoy things like mango salads and the abundance of fresh fruit available – especially cherries.

If you are after recipe ideas – the internet is a fantastic source. The vegetarian society always puts up a Christmas menu and I look forward to checking this out each year. If you like cookbooks, I love Rose Eliot’s ‘Vegetarian Christmas’ and have used it for years. There are some good magazines out there that feature seasonal fare for vegetarians – Good Food magazine is great and also there are some good vegetarian cooking magazines around.

Cooking for others

I know some vegetarians will cook meat for other people. However I’ve never been one of them. When I left home I became a vegetarian and moved into a flat with my vegetarian boyfriend. So my kitchen has always been vegetarian. Last year I had family for Christmas and warned them beforehand that the meal would be vegetarian. They were happy with this and loved the meal. On Christmas day I made a tasty en croute filled with delicious things like Stilton and chestnuts. With all the trimmings of course. On New Year’s Day I did a traditional roast dinner – Yorkshire puddings and all, but instead of beef I used a mock meat. Since I knew my meat eating guests probably wouldn’t like the mock meat I told them to bring some slices of cooked meat to add to their meal. This worked well and everyone was happy. Some people will be more open than others to trying mock meats – you’ll probably have a fair idea who they are.

Being a vegetarian guest

Some people are more than happy to accommodate the vegetarian, whereas others go into panic mode and draw a blank. So try to make it easy on your host. If your host is worried about what to do, an easy solution is to prepare and take your own main that can be served with the trimmings. Depending on what you are eating, you can also prepare a gravy to take with you. This doesn’t have to be a weird thing – tell them it will ease their burden and save them having to worry about you. I’ve done this before and cooked up a nut roast and taken it with us.

I’ve found being a guest over the years quite easy. I’m not the activist type – being a vegetarian is a personal thing to me. Although it would be great if everyone was a vegetarian, it’s not my role to preach to them. If you do like to be quite vocal however, maybe Christmas (which can be stressful enough anyhow) isn’t the time to discuss your beliefs. This way you can enjoy your meal and your family and feel good about yourself.

Finally, you may dread the digs about you being vegetarian – which can become tiresome. One quick solution to this is to smile politely and then change the subject. If you want a winning subject – make the conversation about them. Most people are quite happy to talk about themselves and will soon forget about you.

Now happy eating and happy Christmas!

Butter Mushroom Masala

Yesterday evening when I reached home from office, my wife was busy with my 4 year son’s daily activities and study. As I had bought some fresh mushrooms and I had nothing else to do, I thought to revisit a recipe which I had seen one of my uncles prepare many years back.

By the time the activities and study was over for both of them, I was ready with the recipe and was very delighted to see that not only my wife but my son also enjoyed the Butter Mushroom Masala very much and took several portions himself.

So I thought, why not to share this recipe with all of you.

INGREDIENTS:

1. Fresh mushrooms – 200 grams – qudra – sliced (sliced into 4 equal parts)

2. Onion – 2 medium, Finely chopped

3. Ginger + Garlic paste – 1 teaspoon (use fresh, not processed)

4. Kaju – 8 – 10

5. Tomatoes – 2 big

6. Green cardamom – 2 – 3

7. Cinnamon stick – 1 inch

8. Cloves – 3 – 4

9. Bay leaf (Tej patta) – 1

9. Cumin – 1 teaspoon

10. Turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon

11. Coriander powder – 1 teaspoon

12. Red chilli powder – 1 teaspoon

13. Garam Masala powder – 1 teaspoon

14. Refined oil – 1 tablespoon

15. Butter – a generous chunk of it or if it is melted use 2 – 3 tablespoon.

16. Salt – as per taste.

17. Rock salt, Green chilli and Cilantro (Green coriander leaves) for garnishing

PREPARATION:

1. First, take sufficient water in a saucepan and boil kaju and tomato for 20 minutes.

2. Once both are boiled, strain out tomato, peel it and cut in small chunks and along with Kaju and some water, make paste in a mixer and keep aside.

3. In the meanwhile, heat a thick bottom kadhai or deep pan and add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add butter to it.

4. At full heat, add bay leaf, cumin, green cardamom, cinnamon stick and cloves to the butter oil mix and then turn the flame to medium.

5. After 30 second, add finely chopped onion and saute well till it tuns golden color. Add ginger – garlic paste to it during saute.

6. Add some salt and then add sliced mushroom and mix well. Cook it at medium – high flame for 4 minutes, keep stirring regularly else it may burn.

7. Add turmeric, coriander, red chilli powder and garam masala powder and cook well while continuously stirring the mix for 3 minutes cautiously so that powdered masala does not burn.

8. Now add tomato – kaju mix and mix well at medium heat for 2 – 3 minutes.

9. Add required quantity of water for desired consistency. Mix well, top up with salt as per taste, cover it and let it boil for 5 – 7 minutes. Add more water if required.

10. Once it is done, take out in a deep serving bowl while hot.

11. Garnish with quarter inch thick sliced green chilli and cilantro leaves. Sprinkle some rock salt. Serve as side dish.