If you are vegetarian, then you probably have some heirloom recipes or old cookery books lying around. Rather than throwing them away, this article shows you how to easily convert meat-based recipes (particularly ground meat recipes) into vegetarian recipes very simply.
A while ago I was asked by a friend to help her convert a number of heirloom recipes from being meat-based to being vegetarian. A lot of the recipes were based on ground (minced) meat, and though you can use commercial ground meat substitute (such as Quorn) I was also asked to make a home-made version, which I made with fried vegetables, mushrooms and lentils cooked in vegetable stock and flavoured with soy sauce. This gave a rich depth of flavour and if cooked until almost dry it worked well as a substitute.
The next step was to adapt the recipes to being vegetarian (which was easy for most, I just directly substituted the Quorn or lentil mix for the ground meat).
Here are two of the recipes that I modified:
American-style Chopsuey Recipe
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 packet Quorn (or 250g [1/2 lb] vegetarian lentil-based ground meat substitute)
2 tins Campbells’ Tomato Soup
1 tbsp catsup (traditional mushroom catsup is best, but you can use tomato ketchup if you like)
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
500g (1 lb) ribbon-style egg noodles (or pasta)
Heat the olive oil in a pan over low heat. Add the onion and fry gently for about 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent but not coloured. Add the Quorn (or lentil meat substitute mix) and if frozen heat until thawed. Now stir in the tomato soup and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes then stir in the catsup and season to taste.
Cover and simmer gently for 60 minutes, or until nicely thickened. When the sauce is almost ready, bring a pan of lightly-salted water to a boil, add the noodles or pasta and cook until al dente (typically 6 to 8 minutes). Drain the noodles, toss in a warmed with the sauce to coat and serve.
Vegetarian Dolmades Recipe
Serves: 8 to 10 as an accompaniment
Dolmades or Dalmas are known in various local forms from Greece through the Balkans to Turkey.Typically they are a meat and rice mix wrapped in vine (grape) leaves, packed into a casserole dish and cooked in a tomato-based sauce.
300g (2 cups) cooked basmati rice
1 jar of grape (vine) leaves in brine
75g (1/2 cup) currants
75g (1/2 cup) pine nuts
100g (1/2 cup) thawed Quorn (or vegetarian lentil-based ground meat substitute)
2 tbsp dried mint, crumbled
4 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
2 tbsp coriander (cilantro) leaves, minced (optional)
1 tsp mind chili pepper, finely minced (optional, but often added in the Balkans)
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1 small tin of tomato purée (tomato paste)
juice of 2 lemons
Drain and rinse the vine leaves then unfold and rinse again. Trim off the leaf stems then lay the leaves on paper towels and set aside to dry as you prepare the filling.
In a large bowl, mix together the rice, currants, pine nuts, ground meat substitutes, mint, parsley, oregano, cilantro (if using), chili pepper, salt, black pepper and tomato paste until thoroughly combined.
Take a large (4.5l [1 gallon]) cast iron casserole (French oven) and line the base with grape leaves. Now begin filling the remaining leaves with stuffing. Take a grape leaf and turn it with the vein side uppermost. Add a heaped tsp of filling about 1/2 inch up from the bottom (stem) edge. Fold the two sides over the middle to hold the filling in. Now, grabbing the stem end fold this over the filling then roll the leaf up very tightly. You should end up with a log about 1 1/2 inches long.
Arrange this in the base of your casserole dish. Now fill and fold the next leaves. Arrange the filled leaves (these are the dolmades) in a spiral pattern in your dish, packing them in tightly and setting the seam edge on the bottom. Don’t worry if you have several layers. Once finish, drizzle over the lemon juice.
Now find a plate that will just fit in the casserole and set this on top of the dolmades (this holds them down so that they keep their shape). Gradually pour in cold water until the dolmades are just covered. Bring the contents of the casserole to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 40 minutes or until tender. Traditionally the casserole is moved to an oven to finish cooking (but it works just as well on the hob).
When done, carefully hold the plate then drain away the excess liquid. Set aside (with the plate still in place) until almost cool to the touch.
Serve as a starter or as part of a main dish, accompanied by yoghurt. These are wonderful served the next day, and if you make a large batch you can freeze the excess for later use.
If your recipe calls for butter and you do not eat butter, do not worry. Just substitute cooking oil.
I hope you see that making old meat-based recipes (especially ground meat recipes) vegetarian is very simple. So, don’t throw away those old cookery books, adapt the recipes inside them.