Annabel Langbein: Lighten up your meals with plant-based cuisine
When our daughter Rose was 17, she took a gap year after finishing high school to do some volunteering work. She came to us with numerous suggestions and ideas, all seemingly designed for rich kids whose parents wanted them off their hands. One programme in Costa Rica was charging $40,000 a year per teen to take part as a volunteer.
Finally, Rose found a small girl’s orphanage in Jaipur where she could help out. The princely sum of NZ$2 a day was required to cover her food, nothing more. I was worried that on $2 a day she’d be coming home skinny. But no, she said there was enough food and it was good, really good, in fact. The girls, who called her Didi (an affectionate name for “Auntie”), were always on the lookout for her and every time a really hot chilli dish was served they would say: “Oh Didi, you must not be eating this, it’s VERY, VERY hot and you will be getting the runs.”
I visited her near the end of her stay and found her happily ensconced in the orphanage kitchen, learning first-hand the incredible resourcefulness of this modest Indian kitchen. It may have been cheap, but it sure was delicious and, as everyone was Hindu, all of it was vegetarian.
Indian cooks are masters of conjuring incredible flavours and textures out of the humblest of vegetables, grains and pulses. The results, even in the poorest of kitchens, are nothing short of spectacular.
As the politics and ethics of eating become more complex and issues around clean water, climate change, food waste, industrial farming and animal welfare gain global attention, the trend towards plantbased eating grows. Today’s consumers are getting more conscious — not just of their health but of the planet’s. Millennials, in particular, are mindful of the products they put in and on their bodies and of the environmental impact they have.
If you are new to the idea of cooking vegetarian meals, it’s a good idea to start by thinking of favourite meals you make where you could easily leave out the meat and substitute vegetables or pulses. For example, make tacos with beans instead of mince; laksa with kumara, pumpkin and green beans instead of chicken or prawns. Whip up your favourite stir-fry without meat and add some firm tofu or a handful of roasted cashews instead. And of course you can make all kinds of vegetarian pasta dishes, risottos and pizzas. With World Vegetarian Day on Monday kicking off World Vegetarian Month, there’s no better time to start.
I love the squeakiness of halloumi and its toothsome texture delivers a satisfying “chew factor” to this simple pasta dish. Accompany with a spinach salad with spring onions and cucumber dressed with vinaigrette.
This recipe is a perfect example of my Essential cookbook philosophy, where once you know a recipe method you can substitute different ingredients and flavours. Try it with roasted cauliflower instead of spinach, or leave out the saffron and cook 300g mushrooms with the onion.
Use store-bought peanut butter or make your own by blending roasted peanuts with oil and a little salt. You can buy shrimp crackers at the supermarket and Asian supply stores, either ready-made or to deep-fry at home yourself.