What came first: the meat or the grains?

Cooking for our ever-changing dietary needs

By Lydia Brownlow

My first job in the late 80’s was cooking lunch for about eighty partners of a large London law firm. It was the heyday of haute cuisine and fine French dining and the eighty or so partners would be fed in house in their long luxurious dining room, with plenty of time over lunch for a glass or two of wine and a convivial chat.

Their cooks were busy in the kitchen gently poaching vats of chicken breasts in a wine, stock and cream sauce. If that was not to their liking there was the option of a roasted beef fillet, thickly sliced with a large spoonful of béarnaise sauce alongside.

As a nation we are constantly being told that we need to eat less meat.

Plus there was always a generous portion of potatoes and some steamed vegetables. Woe betide if the one vegetarian turned up and asked for something to eat. It was always the same, he was treated to a sigh and a sniff and the response we can make you an omelette!

Now I cannot imagine wanting to eat or to cook like that. As a nation we are constantly being told that we need to eat less meat. This is crucial not only for a healthy diet but for a healthy planet.

As plant based foods have now become the main focus of mealtimes, I enjoy getting up from the table feeling well nourished and energised, rather than the overwhelming feeling of sleepiness that I get when having eaten a meal too rich in meat and carbohydrates.

Plus having to balance the needs of a vegan and a vegetarian with two die hard carnivores  at home, our daily meals have changed hugely. In fact my mother recently announced that we wouldn’t be getting an invitation to lunch as cooking for my family has become too complicated! 

But has it? I don’t think so, it just has to be approached from a different angle. Instead of meat or fish being the main focus it is now the grains and pulses taking the starring role. Though they are often plain, cooked with spices, herbs and nuts they can be transformed into something out of this world.

Then stir through a spoonful of roasted vegetables and you end up with something that is so good I often find myself having a sneaky spoonful from the fridge when everyone has dispersed for the evening. Plus they seem to improve with age meaning that in my home lunchtime is getting earlier and earlier as we race to the fridge to  fight to get to eat up the leftovers.

So once the grains are sorted the rest is a piece of cake. The vegan will be happy with the grains, salad leaves and a spoonful of roasted harissa tomatoes. To that you can add some grilled halloumi for the vegetarian and if that still has your carnivores baying for blood add some grilled prawns or chicken breast.

For more info: www.lydiabrownlow.com

Lydia Brownlow was a cookery editor at Good Housekeeping Magazine and a contributor to the Daily Beast, New York. Latterly she has been inspiring children to cook.


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