Like most vegetarians I am constantly asked how I get along with my vegetarian cooking when I don't have meat on offer for the meal. Most meat eaters do not realize that the portion of meat on their plate is really quite small (or should be) in comparison to the other ingredients that take up the rest of the room.
I'm talking here about the home cooked meal, not the fast food or the fancy restaurant that offer the piece of meat as the main ingredient. Most homes will cook the meal and will offer vegetables alongside the piece of red or white meat. Even in a stew type dish there will be plenty of vegetables. So it's really just a matter of replacing the piece of meat with something and serving it exactly the same - that is, with the vegetables and/or salad.
So now we come to the next question. What on earth do you replace the piece of meat with? And following hard on the heels of that question is - Does it take a long time to prepare vegetarian meals? So let me explain to all the meat eaters who are reading this article. Vegetarian cooking can be as quick and easy or as long and detailed as you want it to be - just like cooking meat.
Take for example the time that is taken in preparing a stew. Cutting up the vegetables (vegetarians do the same), making the stock (vegetarians do the same) preparing the meat.....ah, that's where we've got one over on you. For us it's just a matter of putting in some beans or chickpeas, both of which can come in a tin or which have been prepared beforehand and used for other dishes.
Now, personally I think preparing chicken is more time consuming that preparing chickpea patties, which is just a matter of throwing all ingredients into the food processor, blending then spooning them straight into the pan. Of course, I can get fancy if the mood takes me by rolling them in breadcrumbs etc, but I don't seem bothered and they taste just as good anyway.
Of course there's always the nights that I can't really be bothered cooking a fancy meal. You know those nights. Home from work late, tired and maybe a bit stressed. Whereas a meat eater would probably throw a couple meat patties into a pan, or have cold left over meat the vegetarian can do pretty much the same.
It's always good to have the frozen vege patties on hand to throw into the pan or instead of cold meat - half an avocado is just fine. Add either of these things to whatever else the meat eater is going to have with the meat patties and voila, vegetarian cooking at it's best. My meat eating friends love coming to my place for meals - be it breakfast, lunch or dinner. They love the taste and textures of the foods I prepare and marvel at how quick I can "whip up" any sort of dish with what's in the pantry and fridge.
It's really a mindset this vegetarian cooking, and it's certainly not as difficult or time consuming as most people think. Like every type of food, it's the balance that gets it right. So meat-eaters out there, don't worry if you have vegetarian friends, they will happily come for dinner, you won't have to do anything different and they will enjoy all the food you prepare, they just won't eat the piece of meat.
Jane Hartwood is a mother of three and grandmother of two who enjoys vegetarian cooking. To read her story Becoming Vegetarian and find a wide range of quality foods, books and cooking tools visit www.thevegetariancenter.com her website.