The idea that I would ever become a vegetarian is completely laughable. There is no food that I would rather give up less in this world, and I include chocolate in that assessment. My life without chicken wings, beef burgers, steak, roast pork, bacon sandwiches, meatballs and the like would be a miserable existence, one I wouldn’t like to think about. I’m coming out in a cold sweat just writing about it, so help me! However, that doesn’t mean that I have to be lean, mean, meat eating machine (no worries on the lean part right now I must say) who shovels meat into my mouth without considering the consequences. I’m aware that raising cattle for meat production and the amount of grain we have to feed them with are causing huge problems globally and that this is just not sustainable forever. I’m also uncomfortable that chicken processing factories aren’t doing enough to prevent chickens contaminated with the lethal bacteria campylobacter being sold in supermarkets. And if I’m honest with myself, I don’t really want to see or know about the process in which animals are killed so that we can eat them. In the developed world we’ve gotten too used to having meat every day and I don’t believe that in 20 years time it will be affordable as an everyday item. The cheapness of meat right now (you can buy a whole chicken in Tesco today for £2.48- at that price what sort of life will that chicken have had when its 6 months of existence are equal to the cost of a vanilla latte?) comes at a price to the welfare of the animals and the quality control in the factories that process it. How long this will be allowed to go on for I don’t know. I don’t believe for a second that meat should be the preserve of the middle and upper classes, everyone should be able to eat meat, but we as consumers definitely need to change our shopping and eating habits so that we can demand better from the big supermarkets who’ve driven prices so low that corners are cut. How else did horse meat get into ready meals last year? We and the animals deserve better.
Bearing all this in mind, I thought I should try and do my bit to lessen how much meat I buy and start having a couple of vegetarian meals throughout the week. Being pregnant I’m also very conscious of how many of my 5 a day I’m getting, and was getting a little bit bored of my ‘go-to’ veggie sides of peas, corn on the cob and broccoli. All good for me, but I needed more variety. Step forward Gwyneth Paltrow! If you’re looking for some healthy or veggie alternatives, she’s your gal. She might get on my tits at times with her ‘conscious uncoupling’, love of quinoa and that goddamn perfect skin, but I can’t really knock her cookbook ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’ which my auntie bought for me as a housewarming present. I opted for her portobello mushroom and slow roasted tomato burger, which, let me be clear is tasty but is in no way a burger. It would be far more honest to label it as a sandwich, which I believe in the past both Nigella and Nigel have done. Portobello mushrooms are juicy and meaty – as far as vegetables go at least – and suit being slapped in between a burger bun but it’s definitely not a burger. For a decent vegetarian meal though, it’s handsome.
I roasted the tomatoes in the oven for 3 hours earlier in the day until they had been sapped of all moisture and the edges had begun to caramelise. The mushroom was left to sit in a marinade of olive oil, garlic and lemon juice for 20 minutes before being placed under the grill. Once the mushroom was cooked, I topped it with the tomatoes, some grilled onions and some liberally applied cheddar, then placed back under the grill for just a minute to melt the cheese. It smelt heavenly, although it needed very careful watching as it wouldn’t take long to go from perfectly cooked to burnt to a crisp. The mushroom was delicious, juicy and garlicky with a nice meaty texture, with some sweetness coming through from the tomatoes and onions. And anything topped with melted cheese is a winner in my book. Gwyneth suggests using smoked mozzarella but I made do with the extra strong cheddar I already had in the fridge – it is the best cheese in the world after all, you can’t possibly go wrong. Gwyneth most likely would not approve (nor indeed would many of my friends) but regardless I served my ‘shroom burger with potato waffles and randomly, some beetroot. What can I say, I just needed that waffly versatile taste of childhood alongside my rather grown up burger. Pregnancy means you can eat what you want, no judgement. As satisfying as it was, I did feel a little short changed afterwards and not as full as I’d like to be – perhaps a psychological effect of missing beef maybe? Still, on an upcoming weekend in London I will be going into full on carnivore mode with the intent of trying out the London Shake Shack. I’ve had the New York Shake Shack and deemed it the best and most addictive burger in the world, so I’m keen to see if its just as good over on these shores. Absolutely worth missing out on meat in my so called burger this time around.
Vegetarian meals don’t have to be boring or virtuous, they can still pack a flavour punch and be incredibly more-ish. I really will be planning on having a couple of meat free days a week and experimenting a little more with vegetarian dishes – perhaps try and give it a go yourself? After all, supermarkets and food producers won’t change if we don’t.
*There’s no photo of this burger I’m afraid because there really is no way to make a mushroom in a bun look remotely appetising, especially when accompanied by Birds Eye’s finest*