Food: Veggie might

Food: Vegetarian options without apologies - or Linda McCartney
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Rehydrated textured vegetable protein (contains starch), water, breadcrumbs, wheatflour, hydrogenated vegetable oil, maize flour, vegetarian seasoning (contains flavourings), soya protein concentrate, stabiliser, E464, salt, spices, sugar, yeast powder, bread improver, mustard powder, raising agents (E450, E500), natural colour, E160c, rusk, onion powder, garlic powder." These are the ingredients for something called "Southern fried grill", a "delicious meat-free recipe" from Linda McCartney's range of frozen dishes. Other choice products include cannelloni, lasagne and sausages. Yes, sausages.

I have just tried the sausages and the southern fried grills. Apart from my kitchen smelling like a cross between McDonald's and KFC, and my tongue and mouth being coated with a clarty substance, the vile taste just will not go away. What is even more alarming is that the sausages tasted like sausages, smelt of sausages, looked like sausages - but the sort you find in the worst works canteen or greasy spoon. The southern fried grills are also clearly meant to resemble chicken breasts that have been bread- crumbed and fried. And, by the by, what exactly is "bread improver" and "vegetarian seasoning" that "contains flavouring"? I'd like to know.

What makes me angry is the need for this company to produce a dish for non-meat eaters that looks and smells like something made from meat. And isn't it rather tasteless to ape something that, particularly in the case of a sausage, is processed in the most chopped-about, ground-up manner.

On a slightly different tack, but relevant, is that it is often the case that a small minority of vegetarian folk fail to appreciate dishes on restaurant menus that exclude meat yet are not virtuous about using just vegetables. It has not been fashioned with "them" in mind.

Several years ago, the personable, steadfast and upright Mr Graham Williams (then maitre d', now head honcho at Bibendum) took the order of an American lady who was, it transpired, a vegan. GW went through the whole card with her, explaining all the dishes so she would know what she could and could not eat. The lady finally went for the Piedmontese peppers - roasted peppers with tomato, olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Quite correctly, and with deference, she asked that the peppers might be unadorned by the anchovy fillets.Off he went into the kitchen to dispatch the order, where the dish was swiftly assembled, complete with little salty brown slivers, and placed before the vegan from Virginia (or was it Vegas?). "Forgive, forgive," muttered GW, whisking away the offending plate. "I told you not to put bloody anchovies on it! Why can't you listen for once!" he bawled quite rightly at the cold starter chef. So we picked off the fishy bits and sent it back.

"Erm... did you, by any chance, just remove the anchovies and give it back to me?" the lady asked. "Erm... yes, we did do just that," GW whimpered honestly. "Well, I'm sorry, but I can't eat it. I'll have the risotto with white truffles instead."

"But madam," GW shrieked, "you can't have that! The truffles have been on the end of a pig's nose!"

Here are really nice vegetable dishes for everyone.

Baked aubergines with tomato, onions, garlic and olive oil, serves 4

I have found that salting the aubergines is unnecessary for this dish.

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

6tbsp olive oil

4 small aubergines

8 small and ripe tomatoes

salt and pepper

10-12 leaves fresh basil, torn into pieces

generous splash of dry white wine

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Peel the onions, cut in half and slice thinly. Mix with the garlic and scrunch together with your hands in a large bowl. Set aside. Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, slicing right through the stalk as well. Then slice the halves in four, starting to cut from just below the stalk and continuing towards the bulbous end and right through, thus creating a sort of fan effect. Remove the core of the tomatoes and cut in half. Slice these into thick-ish half-circles. Now, on a work surface, push the halves of tomato (rounded side up) in between the gaps of the cut aubergines (skin side up), until all the tomatoes are used up. You should now have eight halves of aubergine with three lines of red tomatoes poking out of each.

Smear a couple of tablespoonfuls of olive oil into the bottom of an oven- proof dish, pile in half of the onion and garlic mixture and spread out flat. Add a little seasoning and half of the torn basil leaves. With the help of a fish slice or similar, carefully place the aubergines on top, skin side up, being careful not to let the tomatoes fall out. Sprinkle with the rest of the basil and spread over the remaining onion and garlic mixture. Give the dish a final seasoning, spoon over the remaining four tablespoons of olive oil and douse with the wine. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until the aubergines are very soft and the onions have completely wilted. Serve at room temperature with good bread.

Gratin of Swiss chard with cheese and cream, serves 4

12 large leaves of Swiss chard, leaves neatly cut away from the stalks

50g/2oz butter

salt and freshly ground white pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

75g/3oz fresh ricotta cheese

50g/2oz freshly grated Parmesan + 1 extra heaped tbsp

275ml/10fl oz double cream

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Peel the stalks of chard if any parts look particularly stringy, and slice into 2.5cm/1" pieces. Coarsely chop the leaves and set a pan of salted water on to boil. Cook the stalks briefly in a large frying pan with the butter and a little seasoning until softened, but leave a little crunch to them. Tip into an oval white, or terracotta dish. Put the chopped leaves into the boiling water. Bring the water back to boil, drain into a colander, refresh under cold running water and squeeze dry in your hands. Loosely mix with the stalks and the garlic to evenly distribute all three ingredients.

Whisk together the 2 cheeses and the double cream (leaving the extra Parmesan to one side) and pour over the chard, moving and lifting the chard around with a spoon so some of the cream mixture runs underneath. Sprinkle the extra Parmesan over the top and place in the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the surface is golden and bubbling. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before eating, so allowing the flavours to develop. Serve with a crisp green salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Braised celery with mushrooms and tarragon, serves 4

200ml/7fl oz hot vegetable stock, not too salty (the instant Marigold brand is very good or make your own, of course)

15g/12oz dried porcini mushrooms

50g/2oz butter

4 celery hearts (the ones in packets from supermarkets are ideal), the outer stalks peeled

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 small glove garlic, bruised

50ml/2fl oz Madeira or medium sherry

1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

pinch celery salt (optional)

freshly milled white pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4. Pour the stock over the dried porcini and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Melt the butter in an oven-proof cast-iron dish. Gently stew the celery in the butter, colouring it lightly and add the vinegar. Allow to bubble and reduce to almost nothing before adding the stock and porcini. Bring to the boil and slip in the clove of garlic, together with the Madeira, tarragon and seasoning. Cover with foil (or put on a lid if there is one) and place in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour, turning the celery over halfway through. Check from time to time that liquid is still there, turning down the temperature and adding a little more stock if it starts to look at all dry. The finished look should be syrupy and golden brown. Conversely, if the dish looks a bit wet, reduce swiftly over an open flame

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