Planning a meal for friends always throws me into a spin. When I ask my guests what they would like me to cook, they always say, “Oh just make us anything”. But soon, one will mention that they don’t eat fish, other will have a food intolerance, and another is allergic to some obscure vegetable.
Increasingly, a lot of my friends, like myself, have reduced the amount of meat we have in our weekly diets. I have always eaten meat. Growing up, if my mum was to serve a ‘vegetarian meal’, my dad would think she had lost her mind. His old-fashioned attitude was that a proper meal should include meat, potatoes and some vegetables.
Back then, being vegetarian wasn’t common, and what to serve a ‘veggie guest’ was tricky. Sure, now, there are full vegetarian ranges — meat-free burgers, sausages and through to vegetarian clothing lines.
My meat-reduced diet means I try to go meat-free for at least two-three days of the week. Do I miss meat? No, not at all. There are so many great dishes — I love a homemade soup, asparagus grilled with grated Parmesan or a veggie stir-fry, to which I add soy egg squares for added texture.
To make the squares, preheat the grill, and beat four eggs together with 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce, 1 tsp of garlic salt and 1 tbsp of sesame oil. Heat some oil in a pan. Add the egg mixture. Tilt the pan so the eggs are even, and cook for 3-4 minutes until it begins to rise. Then place under the grill for 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the grill, allow to cool then cut into strips, and then into squares. Finally, toss them into a stir-fry for two minutes, then serve.
This tried-and-tested veggie recipe is a winner, or so I’m told. This versatile preparation is a good base for pasta, lasagne or chilli. I use puy lentils; smaller than regular lentils, they are bluish black in colour, high in iron and magnesium and provide valuable antioxidants, similar to that found in blueberries and black grapes. Grown in the volcanic soils of the Le Puy district in the Auvergne in central France for nearly 2,000 years, they cook faster and make a great alternative to minced beef. You can source them from selected supermarkets, organic wholefood stores or online, from around Dh15 for 500g, a great money saver. I often make twice as much and freeze half, as spiced up for chilli, served with pasta or a great sharing dish, like this veggie lasagne topped with three kinds of cheese.
Puy Lentil Lasagna
Serves 6, prep time 15 minutes, cooking time 45 minutes
■ 200g of puy lentils
■ 800ml of vegetable stock
■ 1 tbsp of olive oil
■ 1 onion chopped
■ 2 garlic cloves chopped
■ 1 can of chopped tomatoes
■ 2 tbsp of tomato purée
■ 2 tbsp of dried oregano
■ 1 tbsp of Worcester sauce
■ Salt & pepper
■ 10-12 lasagne sheets
■ 150g of red Leicester cheese
■ 150g of red cheddar cheese
For the chees sauce
■ 400ml of fresh milk
■ 150g of grated mozzarella
■ 1 tbsp of corn flour mixed with little cold water
In a large pot. bring the vegetable stock to boil, rinse the lentils and add to the stock. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until the lentils are soft but not mushy.
Then in a large pan, heat the oil and sautethe onions with the garlic until soft. Next, add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, oregano and Worcester sauce. Season and bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Next prepare the cheese sauce. Gently heat the milk in a pan, add the cheese and continue to stir until the cheese has melted. Next, a little at a time, add the corn flour until the sauce thickens, don’t allow the sauce to boil. Turn off the heat and set to one side. Now preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Drain the lentils, add to the tomato sauce and simmer for a further 15 minutes. In a large ovenproof dish start to layer the lentils, cheese sauce, grated mozzarella and lasagne, alternating the direction of the sheets. Top the final layer with red Leicester and some oregano, cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the cheese looks crisp and golden. Finally, serve with some fresh bread and salad.
— Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield, follow him on Instagram @gasmarksix