The Rise of Vegetarianism
Now let’s get one thing straight. Chefs don’t hate vegetarians! There may have been a time many years ago when they were looked upon as an annoyance to many professional kitchens, but times have changed and vegetarianism is now ingrained into mainstream cookery.
When I was a child, my older sister one day decided to become a vegetarian due to her opposition to animal cruelty. It is a scene played out within many families over the years I am sure. Suddenly you need to cook a separate meal for one person. Luckily for my sister, my mother was always a good and inventive cook. I seemed to remember a lot of tofu with satay sauce, but my memory has never been that good. Mum would usually cook a vegetarian dish, maybe eggplant parmigiana or a vegetable lasagne, and that would be the vegetable component for the rest of the family’s meal. My sister was fortunate that we had a good cook in the family, as even back in the ’90s, vegetarian offerings were sparse to say the least. The comment of, ‘you can have the burger without the burger’, or the offering of a plate of steamed vegetables was the norm.
When I started cooking at a large Melbourne five-star hotel in the mid ’90s, polenta and roasted vegetable stacks were all the rage for vegetarians, but luckily times have moved on. My sister stayed a vegetarian for 10 years but has since gone back to eating meat. With five children and owning a farm where they grow their own meat, this is understandable!
Vegetarianism is not a new concept. Famous philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras was a vegetarian, as was George Bernard Shaw, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi. It is a strong belief within Hinduism and other religions, with about 70 per cent of the world’s vegetarians residing in India.
In Australia it is very slowly on the increase, however, there is definitely an upward trend in the sales of vegetarian dishes in restaurants. This may be because there is a greater choice of dishes on menus, and more interesting ones at that, with many top restaurants even offering full vegetarian degustations. And whilst we are not all vegetarians, there is certainly a stronger link today about the positives of a vegetarian diet. With people more conscious of their health, the issues of carbon pollution from cows and the ethical treatment of animals, many people ordering the gnocchi or tofu dish aren’t actually vegetarians.
We always have a vegetarian choice in both the entrees and mains at the Epicurean Centre, with both usually selling very well. At present we have for entrée the spiced cauliflower, quinoa and cashew salad with smoked cauliflower puree, buffalo labneh and pomegranate. The main is a baked spinach gnocchi with Jerusalem artichoke cream, grilled king brown mushrooms, silverbeet, pinenuts and a truffled pecorino, with both pictured below. Don’t be afraid to try the vegetarian option at good restaurants as the choices are often more interesting these days than the protein dishes. And I guess 400 million Indians can’t be wrong!
Middle Eastern Quinoa, Tofu, Cashew and Blood Orange Salad (recipe below)
Quinoa is being touted as one of the latest ‘superfoods’. It is definitely one of my new favourite things to cook at home. Easy to cook, high in protein, high in fibre, gluten free, it is one to have in the cupboard for a quick meal and it comes in different colours which you mix together and cook at the same time. This dish is a version of the dish currently on at the Epicurean Centre. Ras el Hanout is a Morroccan spice mix. Greg Malouf makes a great one available at Essential Ingredient and is handy to have in the pantry as a quick seasoning for all sorts of things, from chicken to prawns. This dish will cook a good size dinner for 4 people.
1 cup Quinoa (I use about 80% white and 20% red)
1 block of firm tofu
2tsp ras el hanout
½ butternut pumpkin, diced
½ head cauliflower, cut into small florets
50g toasted pumpkin seeds
100g toasted cashews
2 blood oranges, segmented
½ bunch coriander, chopped
2 lemons, juice of
Extra Virgin olive oil
- To cook the quinoa, pour it into a sieve and rinse very well under cold running water. Place into a pot and place 2 cups of cold water in with it. Always use the 1:2 ratio of quinoa to water no matter how much you are cooking. Place a lid on the pot and bring to the boil on the stove. When boiled, turn down to a low simmer, remove the lid and cook for 10 minutes. Most of the water would have evaporated by now, remove from heat and place the lid back on and allow to sit for another 10 minutes in a warm place. Place through a strainer and run under some cold water and then let it sit in the strainer to remove all the water.
- Cut your tofu into pieces and then lightly season with some salt. Allow this to sit for 15 minutes to draw out some of the moisture. This will help make it go crispier.
- Meanwhile, roast your diced pumpkin and cauliflower florets on an oiled tray in a 180 degree oven until they are cooked and golden brown.
- Prep all your other ingredients; toast pepitas and cashews, segment the blood oranges, wash and chop your coriander.
- When everything is ready to go, place a non-stick pan on medium heat and place about 2tbs of vegetable oil into it. Whilst this is heating, press your tofu between some sheets of paper towel to remove excess moisture and toss them in the ras el hanout and cornflour mixed together. When the oil is hot, place the tofu in the pan and fry until golden brown on all sides.
- In a big bowl, put in the quinoa, coriander, lemon juice, a splash of extra virgin olive oil, the warm pumpkin and cauliflower and blood oranges and mix. Add more oil or salt if you like.
- When the tofu is cooked, it should go nice and brown and have a good crust on it, pat dry on some paper towels.
- On the bottom of a nice platter, place around most of the tofu, put the quinoa mix on top and then garnish it with the rest of the tofu, cashews and pepitas.