Although it’s been six months since I started my journey to become a dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free and refined-sugar-free vegetarian, the question that I still get asked the most is “what do you eat?”. People (read: the world) seem to be concerned that I’m missing out on vital nutrients and that I’ll keel over at any given moment. But fear not, worried individuals, I am healthier than I have ever been!
Before I became an almost-vegan, I ate a typical Western diet of meat and starchy carbs washed down with something sweet. But I was lethargic, disinterested in everything and suffered chronic headaches. Modern medicine couldn’t tell me why I was getting so many headaches or why they were so painful and, being someone who ‘doesn’t do pills’, I needed to find an alternative to manufactured drugs.
So I turned to the books and blogs and, literally overnight, became a vegan. Except I didn’t know what I was doing – I had no concept of what I could eat, how healthy it was for me or even if I’d enjoy it. It took me a few weeks of subsisting on tasteless ‘lonely meals’ (those soul-destroying ready-prepared meals from the supermarket) before I plucked up the courage to get experimental in the kitchen. But man, when I did! Food started tasting of something again. I lost weight. My skin improved. I had energy! And I haven’t had a headache that I couldn’t explain in months.
Now my diet consists of lots of fresh organic fruit and veg, some gluten-free grains (such as brown rice), pseudo-grains (quinoa and amaranth), seeds, nuts and pulses (chickpeas, lentils etc). Traditional dairy has been replaced with coconut and almond ‘milks’, while eggs provide a source of protein and vitamin B12.
My journey of food-discovery has taught me a lot. I know that my body can’t process cow’s dairy and that wheat & gluten leave me bloated and uncomfortable. The smell of meat turns my stomach (that weirdo walking past the butchers with a scarf over their face is probably me) and I know that I can’t live without a ready supply of fresh organic eggs, tomatoes or coconut milk. My partner-in-crime and his mini-me (read: my husband and our son) have embraced my new approach to eating but there are others who are still unsure about what I eat, or what to cook for me.
So, to answer, here is a typical day’s menu. If you’re looking into becoming a vegetarian, just want to eat less meat but aren’t sure how to do it, or you’re my mum looking for catering ideas, hopefully it will help you too.
My Favourite Breakfast Smoothie (serves 1)
250ml Koko brand coconut milk
3 – 4 ice cubes
1/2 celery stick
Measure out the milk in the blender jug and layer on the ice cubes, fruit and veg. I put my spinach in last to make sure that the ‘hard’ ingredients are closer to the blender blades. Blend for about a minute or until the mixture is nice and smooth (take it from me that you don’t want stringy celery bits in your smoothie). Enjoy!
Celeriac & watercress soup (serves 4)
2 leeks, washed & sliced
1/2 celeriac, peeled and diced
750ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
Cook the leeks in the olive oil until soft but not coloured. Add the celeriac and stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until the celeriac is soft (about 20 minutes). Add the watercress and stir until it is just wilted (about 5 minutes). Blend until smooth, season and serve.
I use a hand-held blender to blend my soups – I just find it less of a faff than letting the mixture cool enough to be able to use a jug blender. But you can use whichever option you prefer… Or just don’t blend it at all. Either way, this soup is delicious and filling. The other good news is that any leftovers can be frozen for upto 3 months.
Really quick tomato, pepper & lentil pasta (serves 1)
50g brown rice pasta (I use the Doves Farm brand)
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
4 tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 tbsp pre-cooked green lentils (I use the Merchant Gourmet brand)
Start by putting the pasta on to cook in boiling water. Add a splash of olive oil – this will help to stop the pasta from sticking together.
In another pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil and allow it to heat up. Add the shallot and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the balsamic and cumin and stir. Then add the pepper and tomatoes and stir to combine. You might want to press down on the tomatoes to help them break down if you want a really saucy sauce. After about 5 minutes add the lentils and stir until warm. By now your pasta should be cooked, so drain and serve with the sauce.