Mildred’s chef & co-author Sarah Wasserman shares some essential tips…
At Mildred’s we attract a range of people – from hardcore vegans to carnivores who just fancy a change. In honor of vegetarian week we’d like to help anyone out there who is thinking of going vegetarian, whether its for life or just a couple of times a week. Here are some tips from our kitchen to help bring more vegetarian dishes to yours.
1) Go Seasonal
Preparing a meal with meat as its main component is usually just a case of choosing how to cook the meat and then a carbohydrate and vegetable to go with it. So often when people cut meat, they struggle to find replacements for that central peg to hang the meal off. We don’t use meat substitutes at Mildred’s, preferring instead to let the vegetables take the starring role. We try to make sure a main meal has a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables, but we take the lead from the vegetables.
Letting the seasons guide your food choices makes cooking simpler and more ecologically sound. In spring, when asparagus is at its best, create your dish around that. Try making some delicious hollandaise and poached eggs, savoury crepes or a fresh primavera salad. Summer is a great time to bring fruit into your cooking, with mango and brie quesadillas or peach salad with homemade labneh. Mushrooms are abundant in autumn, so a great wild mushroom and ale pie compensates for the shortening days. In the winter when lots of root vegetables are in, try cooking up a warming pumpkin and butterbean stew. Shifting the focus of the meal to the key seasonal produce will help inspire your cooking in the same way it inspires ours in the restaurant.
One of the great things about going vegetarian is it’s quite often cheaper. Good quality meat is expensive and great quality vegetables and pulses are very cheap in comparison. So splash out on some lovely bits to brighten up your cupboards. Buying some really good quality beans and chickpeas will make a huge difference to dishes which feature pulses. Delicious piquillo peppers mean you can make a great sauce in a flash. A great truffle oil makes a mayonnaise or potato salad suddenly seem luxurious. The range of vegetarian cheeses has hugely expanded over the last few years, so no need to miss out. The same goes for vegetarian wines that have become much more easily available and more diverse. Also check out what’s available in terms of vegetarian staples like tofu. There’s lots of great new suppliers and you can get a fantastic range of smoked tofu, as well as firm and silken varieties. This means you can make a great range of protein rich dishes, like smoked tofu ragu and fried tofu puffs for stir fry, but also a range of desserts like coconut mousse cake.
3) Get Inspired
A great thing about trying a new diet is you can get inspired and start trying out some new things. In Britain we are quite open to international food and that’s great for vegetarians. At Mildred’s we have an eclectic international menu, which means we can draw from cultures where meat is less available or excluded for religious grounds and so have a wealth of ideas to offer. We have had dishes on the menu from Sri Lankan curries, Vietnamese Pho to Middle Middle Eastern Meze or Eastern European Latkes. Trust me, you will never run out of dishes to try. There’s no need to live on vegetarian lasagne (not thats there’s anything wrong with vegetarian lasagne).
4) Spice things up
In order to explore a real range of international food, it’s a good idea to start trying some new ingredients. Cooking in London used to mean you had a real advantage, because a lot of ingredients were available that you couldn’t get in other places. Now almost every supplier we use has an online shop. So you can get all kinds of amazing Mexican and Latin American ingredients to mail order as well as unusual Chinese, Thai and Japanese seasonings, oils and vinegars. Its a good idea to stock up on some good quality spices, so you can whip up an authentic stir fry or curry in a flash. In the book we have a list of great suppliers you might not be aware of.
We also recommend making your own stir fry sauces and curry pastes from scratch, like our shitaki stir fry sauce. However, we’re all about convenience, so try freezing patches in ice cube trays so you have something delicious and homemade at a moments notice. This will bring really rich authentic flavours to your everyday cooking.
5) Get out there!
Vegetarian food is so much more available and exciting than it once was, so dont just stay at home. Go out and have some fun! When Mildred’s opened 26 years ago eating out could be a really bland experience for vegetarians but a lot has changed and there’s a great range of vegetarian restaurants out there to try. If your choice is limited locally, try engaging online. There is a diverse community of vegetarians and vegans out there who are happy to share recipes and advice. Treat yourselves to a few new books too of course.