Chances are that you have a friend who is a vegetarian (or vegan, or pescatarian, or pollotarian, or ovo-lacto-vegetarian). It’s hard to come across firm statistics, but I’ve seen figures of between 2% and 5% of Australians who describe themselves as vegetarians. If you’re anything like me, you like to have people at your house, and you like to serve them something special. If you’re very like me, you even secretly hope they like your food so much that they talk about it when you’re not there. Now it turns out that vegetarians and the like are often the easiest guests to impress, if only because they are so often served a bowl of limp lettuce while everyone else has a steak on the BBQ.
Trying to make a meal that is special and complete and meat-free can be hard sometimes though. So I often find that the best place for me to get inspiration is to consider what kinds of things people in general need from their food, and then look at how to fill those requirements without resorting to meat.
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council present recommendations for the required intake of various nutrients and minerals and such for the general population. I’ve chosen just a few to represent here:
Protein – The average woman requires 0.75g per kilogram of body weight, and the average man 0.84g. So, for me, I should be eating about 55g of protein a day.
Fatty Acids – Two types of fatty acids that the Council gives recommendations for are: linoleic (men 13g/day, women 8g/day), and alpha-linoleic (men 1.3g/day, women 0.8g/day).
Dietary Fibre – Although there is no hard and fast definition of dietary fibre, the Council has defined it as “that fraction of the edible parts of plants or their extracts, or synthetic analogues, that are resistant to the digestion and absorption in the small intestine, usually with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine”. Using that definition, the requirements laid out are 25g per day for women and 30g per day for men.
Calcium – 1000mg per day for men and pre-menopausal women.
Iron – 18mg per day is recommended for pre-menopausal women and 8mg per day for men and post-menopausal women.
So how does this help me, you ask. Well you have to ask yourself (or google) the following questions:
Which foods are rich in protein? You’ve got loads of options here. Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Black Beans and the like all have around 7.5g of protein per half cup. And there’s about 26g in a cup of rolled oats.
Which foods are rich in dietary fibre? Avocado has the highest fibre content of any fruit, and other great sources are wheat bran which is around 45% fibre and leafy vegetables work well with around 5%.
Which foods are rich in iron? 40g of cashews will get you 2.4mg of iron, a half cup of our chickpeas from before contain 1.8mg and a half cup of spinach contains 2.2mg of iron.
So have you gotten any ideas yet?
If I had a better kitchen, rather than the kitchen I’m sharing here in my student accommodation, I’d be down there right now cooking up a feast with a leafy green salad complete with walnuts, sunflower seed ‘cheese’, chickpeas and lightly steamed broccoli (plus some roast beetroot because I really just quite like beetroot), then for dessert a fig crumble using some blackstrap molasses and rolled oats for crumble topping.
Of course, there’s no need to include everything in one meal, but even just one or two ingredients can be the basis around which you can build something super yummy.