World Vegetarian day: Why are top athletes turning to greens, to stay healthy and fit?

World Vegetarian day: Why are top athletes turning to greens, to stay healthy and fit?

Three top UAE-based chefs give exclusive recipes for Gulf News readers to try

World Vegetarian Day
World Vegetarian Day Image Credit: Shutterstock

Today, add an extra serving of vegetables to your plate and make a conscious effort to eat your greens. No? Do try, because it’s World Vegetarian Day.

First celebrated on October 1, 1977, by the North American Vegetarian Society to promote the many benefits of a meatless diet, World Vegetarian day also kicks off Vegetarian Awareness Month.

For the uninitiated, vegetarianism is a dietary choice where an individual abstains from eating fish, meat and chicken for ethical, environmental, health and religious reasons.

The fringe nutritional movement that skulked on the margins of menus and culinary practices in the 1960s has now been catapulted into mainstream fame and has found a new found appetite in large parts thanks to social media.

If the terms 'Veganuary' and 'MeatFreeMondays' haven’t been drizzled over your dinner table tête-à-têtes, then it’s definitely been tossed around your newsfeed as hashtags.

So, is the buzz around vegetarianism all that it’s cracked up to be?

Those who’ve already made the switch to the plant-based diet will vouch for its virtues. The list of scientific studies and research extolling a vegetarian lifestyle’s value pile up higher than Instagram-worthy multi-stacked burgers.

For starters, the less red meat on your plate, the greener the planet– the livestock industry emits around 15 per cent of climate change-causing greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) and spearheads the felling of rainforests by cattle ranchers in South America to turn land into grazing pastures. Those expensive steak dinners do cost the Earth.

It's about more than just exercise Image Credit: Pexels

But surely you need poultry and fish to fuel your fitness goals and meet your protein requirements, yes?

A resounding no, from some of the world’s top athletes featured on the Netflix documentary The Game Changers, busts that myth. The likes of MMA fighter James Wilks credit their record-cinching stamina and peak performance bodies to a protein-rich vegan diet mined from legumes, tofu and oatmeal.

Hear us out before you think ‘vegan’ and flee. All vegans are vegetarian but not all vegetarians are vegans. That means you don’t have to cut out dairy and all animal-sourced products such as honey from your diet. So, those cheeseboards and Manuka honey-topped milkshakes can stay put. Unless you’re lactose-intolerant, of course.

Some of the world’s top athletes ... The likes of MMA fighter James Wilks credit their record-cinching stamina and peak performance bodies to a protein-rich vegan diet mined from legumes, tofu and oatmeal.

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Vegetarianism, in fact, goes one step further and also includes egg-eaters under its umbrella. The correct terminology for vegetarians who eat eggs are ovo-vegetarians or the more colloquial ‘eggetarian’. But it’s a topic that falls foul of strict vegetarians.

Whichever version of vegetarianism appeals to you, or even if you’re a staunch carnivore ambivalent about the power of produce, there’s nutritional merit to straying down the vegetarian path on occasion.

food diet vegetables
The correct terminology for vegetarians who eat eggs are ovo-vegetarians or the more colloquial ‘eggetarian’ Image Credit: Istock

Great way to fight heart disease and diabetes

The US-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that vegetarians are at a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.

If these reasons aren’t the carrot on a stick that sway you towards a flexitarian diet – a watered-down vegetarian diet that’s primarily plant-based but includes fish and meat on occasion – then these three scrummy vegetarian recipes should do the trick.

Packed with complex flavours, these dishes are flag-bearers for vegetarian cuisine’s versatility and creative range. Cooking techniques bound outside of salad bowls and there isn’t an iceberg lettuce in sight in the ingredients. But there’s plenty of crunch and zing, nevertheless.



Nargesi Image Credit: Supplied

This Iranian breakfast staple from Executive Chef Mansour Memarian would do Popeye proud. Loaded with garlicky spinach, it’s traditionally topped with a fried egg, making it resemble the bright yellow narcissus flower called Nargesi in Farsi. But this vegetarian version featuring an addition of potatoes lets you skip the sunny-side up. If you’d still like some protein, add poached quail eggs as a garnish.

Serves: 1

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 – 30 minutes


70 gms butter

5 pcs potato cubes

30 gms garlic, sliced

5 gms fresh thyme

100 gms spinach

70 gms potato, whole

3 gms salt

1 gm black pepper

Vegetable oil (for frying)


1. Melt 50gm of butter in a pan, add potato cubes, garlic slices and fresh thyme and cook all sides of potatoes in a low flame.

2. Heat the pan and sauté spinach with remaining butter, season with salt and pepper.

3. Slice potatoes in thin sizes, fry them in hot, slightly bubbling vegetable oil. Drain.

4. Place all items in a plate, serve and enjoy!

Recipe courtesy: Palazzo Versace, Dubai

Tortang Talong

Tortang Talong
Tortang Talong Image Credit: Shutterstock

You’d be hard-pressed to find purely vegetarian dishes in Filipino cuisine since it relies heavily on seafood and meat for flavouring but the Tortang Talong, a fried aubergine pancake comes close enough, but with eggs. For the average Filipino, doing away with the mandatory egg wash strips the iconic comfort food of its authenticity. The aubergine is the star, but it’s the egg that works hard to enhance the aubergine’s earthy chewiness and smokey flavour, lending it a satisfying crunch. Executive Chef John Buenaventura, however, has tailored the recipe to suit strict vegetarians by replacing the egg wash with flour – equally crunchy, equally delicious.

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes


4 pcs long aubergines

½ cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp cooking oil


1. Wash the aubergines and score it with a fork multiple times to allow steam to escape while grilling. Let the stalk remain.

2. Grill the aubergine until soft and skin is almost black. Let the eggplant cool until you can peel the skin off. Set aside.

3. In a bowl mix flour and salt.

4. On a flat surface, place the whole aubergine and flatten using a fork.

5. Dust the flattened eggplant with the flour and salt mix and ensure it is coated completely.

6. Heat cooking oil to medium heat in a frying pan. Then fry the coated aubergines for approximately 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

7. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy.

Recipe courtesy: Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island

Samosa Doughnut

Samosa Doughnut
Samosa Doughnut Image Credit: Supplied

In Michelin-star celebrity Chef Vineet Bhatia’s modern take on the quintessential Indian appetizer, the teatime hit sheds its triangular pastry casing for a circular doughnut-shaped one. The traditional potato-based filling welcomes into its fold a range of healthy vegetables, such as carrots and broccoli.

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes 


For dough

2 cups refined flour

2 tsp ghee

Salt to taste

½ tsp carom seeds or ajwain

1 ½ cup water

For stuffing

½ tbsp oil

½ tsp ginger, chopped

½ tsp garlic, chopped

½ tsp garlic, chopped

¼ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

¼ tsp cumin powder

¼ tsp coriander powder

2 carrots, chopped

½ cauliflower, chopped

8-10 baby corns, chopped

½ broccoli, chopped

1 large potato, boiled

Salt to taste

For Punjabi chickpeas masala (chole)

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped

1 tsp green chilli, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 ½ tbsp tomato puree

300 gms canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 tbsp channa masala powder

2 tbsp red onion, chopped

1 tbsp coriander, chopped


For tamarind chutney

100 gms tamarind, seedless

200 gms jaggery

3 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp green cardamom pods

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh ginger

1 green chilli, roughly chopped

1 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp chaat masala

½ tsp ground dried ginger or sauth



Sweetened yoghurt


Pomegranate seeds

Chopped coriander


For dough

1. Mix refined flour with salt and carom seeds.

2. Add in warm ghee and water and knead to make a semi-hard dough.

For stuffing

1. Heat oil in a pan and splutter cumin seeds, then sauté garlic and ginger until it sweats.

2. Add powdered spices and chopped vegetables except potato to it and cook it for a while. Then mix it with the boiled potato and season it.

3. Cool it down and transfer to a piping bag.

Making the doughnut

1. Roll the dough into thin sheets of 1 ½ cm. Then cut the sheets in squares measuring 8cm all the sides. Pipe out stuffing into the centre leaving a little space on the sides of the sheet to enclose it.

2. Roll halfway (like a cigar) and make 3 to 4 vertical slits on the dough leaving the edges.

3. Now, close both ends by applying water on the edges to get them to stick and fold it to make a round shape.

4. Deep fry the doughnut until nicely golden brown crisp, drain on kitchen paper.

Punjabi chickpea masala (chole)

1. Heat the oil in a deep pan and add the cumin seeds.

2. When they crackle add the garlic and sweat until soft. Add the chopped onions and cook until lightly golden, then add the ginger and green chilli and sauté for a minute.

3. Stir in the chopped tomato, cook for a minute longer and add the red chilli powder, turmeric, cumin and coriander.

4. Cook over medium heat till the oil separates from the side of the pan, then stir in the tomato puree and add 50ml water.

5. Add the chickpeas and cook until they are coated in the masala. Add the channa masala, chopped red onion and some salt. Then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Finally, stir in the chopped coriander.

Tamarind Chutney

1. Place all the ingredients except the chaat masala and ground ginger in a saucepan and add 750ml of water.

2. Bring to water to a boil and cook spices for 30 minutes or until reduced by half, stirring frequently.

3. Strain immediately through a fine sieve to remove all the whole spices, then stir in the chaat masala and ginger. Leave to cool.

4. If you are not using the chutney straight away, it will keep in the fridge for a month.


Spoon the warm chickpeas masala into the centre of the plate and place the doughnut on top. Drizzle with the tamarind chutney and sweetened yoghurt. Sprinkle the gram flour vermicelli (sev), pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander leaves.

Recipe courtesy: Indego by Vineet, Grosvenor House Dubai

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