8 no brainer "meat free" dishes, and their "less meat" cousins

The last 5 years have seen a welcome acceptance within the food industry that we need to eat fewer animal products ("we" being us lot in developed countries, by and large).  The practical implementation of solutions is more challenging however.

Here we  do our bit and throw into the pot 8 no brainer "meat free" dishes, and their under-estimated cousins, the "less meat" equivalents.  The key point is that "meat free" is not the only way to reduce consumption of animal products.   Great tasting "less meat" dishes can actually achieve more in the long-run.  A little every day, and so on.

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1. Curry

Anyone who can make a good curry will tell you that it's all about the spices.  You don't really need much or any meat to make a curry shine.  I often use lentils as the base ingredient, because they are packed with protein and have a meaty feel to them.  Cauliflower also seems made in heaven for curry. 

And your "less meat" equivalent?  Well here's the thing, if the flavour is in the spices then the amount of meat you use is only really indicative of your customers' expectations.  If you re-frame the dish as "Lentil and chicken" rather than "Chicken", then you shift people's expectations, and you don't need to use 100 or 120g of meat.  80g is plenty in a well-spiced dish.

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2. Pasta

Obviously, anything where you are using garlic, tomatoes and olive oil.  No need to tell chefs how to do this!  Many different vegetables can bulk out the dish so that its not just a bowl of carbs.  Your use of seasonal vegetables fits really well here: spring greens, summer veg, autumn roots.  All on a base of garlic and tomato sauce.  Or pesto. Etc.

And their "less meat" cousin?  Bacon.  Does any other animal product provide so much flavour for so little volume?  Or a good smoked ham if you are feeling fancy.  You could just go for a carbonara, but its more interesting to use small amounts of strong flavoured meats with your seasonal veg, no?

So you get the idea.  Here are the other dishes that make sustainability easy!

3. Pie (part 1: pastry-based pies)

A vegetable quiche is nothing new to the culinary world and, again, plays very well with your seasonal sourcing goals. And the "less meat" cousin?  Quiche lorraine with a twist.  Smoked fish (please go "beyond salmon").  Amazing flavours for tiny amount of meat or fish.  20g goes a long way.

4. Pie (part 2: Shepherd-ish)

I know people say you shouldn't mess with classics, but really?  Classics are only classics within the time-frame we give them, so let's give the food snobbery a miss and see the opportunity.  A meat free shepherds pie is a wonderful thing.  The key is to use the right vegetables: mushrooms, beans, lentils (hello again) are great for that fill-you-up pie feeling.  And you go "less meat" by using some meat, but not too much.  Lamb for the shepherd's pie purists, beef for the cottage pie converts.  But you don't need to make it all about the meat. Change the name, change the game.

5. Pælla

Ok, so you want to annoy some purists?  I'm with Jamie Oliver on this one.  Food purists are only a few steps away from food fundamentalists, and that's not what we need right now.  Pælla is perfectly suited to both meat free and "less meat" options.  Why?  Because the flavour is in the dish and its clever use of ingredients (see curry, pasta and so on).  You can use tiny amounts on chorizo and mussels to give a pælla a lift.  If you go meat free, charring some of your veg to accentuate the flavour, or even smoking them (smoked red peppers?) will add an extra flavour dimension, and loads of colour.  And colour counts in a dish like this.

6. Risotto

Same principles as pælla.  Say no more.

7. Burgers

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Recent work by the Wold Resource Institute looks at the concept of "power dishes" - those dishes that are culturally influential and good options for re-framing how people think about their food.  Burgers are one of these "power dishes".  And with good reason, partly because you find burgers everywhere, and partly because they are the kind of poster boys for unsustainable food systems : the massive associated environmental impacts from beef and connotations with junk food.  But they're popular, so there is a lot of scope for creating change.  Most people will have seen good and bad veggy burgers, but it is fair to say that the "standard" is improving.  The best in my opinion combine the stodginess of beany/starchy ingredients with the some crunch.  We could of course just wait for the Impossible Burger to get their price low enough and off we go, but I fear that is going to be a long and winding road my friends.  And here is the beauty about a burger... whilst there is a strong burger trend for all things "gourmet", not many people have seen the light with "less meat" burgers.  You don't really need 150g of beef to make a great burger.  Swap out 60g of meat for beans, sweet potato, lentils, mushrooms and so on and you create something with a new dimension in flavour and texture.

8. Burritos

Ok so we are dipping deeper into fast food territory here, but let's be honest, there is a growing trend for good food on-the-go, so we might as well get it right.  Apply the same rules to a burrito (or any of the wrap family) and you can make something truly delicious with no meat.  Again, your protein rich veg features a lot here, partly because of the "proteiny-ness" but also because they can handle a bit of chili.  And the "less meat" cousin?  Instead of 150g of meat in a large burrito, use 75g.  Easy.  We had a client who did just that.  They did the marketing for the new dishes really nicely and everyone was happy.

So there you go.  Lots of menu areas where meat free and "less meat" ideas are already considered mainstream (mushroom risotto,  carbonara and so on).  What we need to do is add some good old chef creativity and we create a whole new food movement around new twists on old classics.  The real challenge is how to change menus when they are rooted more in meat as the star of the show.  Steak is a really easy example of course  Half a steak, anyone?  Clever chefs can reinvent these dishes too though, but it is admittedly a bit more challenging.  The trick is to focus on the dishes that you can change, make a big deal about them, and over time you can start to make changes in the more challenging dishes.