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Jessa CrispinBack to OpinionJessa Crispin

‘The Vegetarian Option’

I have been trying to cut down on the amount of meat that I consume.

To people who know me, who know that I traveled to Buenos Aires just so I could eat a steak every night for a month, who know my proclivity for pig’s ear, duck egg, tripe, rabbit, foie gras — and do we even need to mention my philosophy about the happy marriage of bacon and the human soul? — this is a shocking revelation.

It would be great if I could claim noble reasons for my change of diet, if I could mention a religious experience I had looking into the eye of a pig or something, but that would be a lie. The reason is this: an organic chicken costs €28 in my new home of Berlin. That is not some new breed of super chicken, by the way, that is your normal, everyday chicken.

I suppose I could break down and buy your regular factory-farmed chicken, but I have seen the documentaries, and I made a decision years ago that I’d rather go meatless than do that. The problem is that I also vowed never to eat fake meat or fake cheese, because that stuff is disgusting.

So what to do? Luckily, vegetarian cookbooks have been getting better and better in recent years, as the writers remember that just because you are not eating meat, that doesn’t mean you have to hate your food. And Simon Hopkinson, a food writer from the U.K., has written one of the most beguiling vegetarian cookbooks I’ve come across in a long time. Arranged by ingredient, which helps when you’re trying to eat seasonally, Hopkinson has gathered recipes for creative and incredibly delicious salads, soups, main dishes and desserts, with nary a textured vegetable protein in sight.

The recipes also vary in difficulty, with a few showstoppers that you can proudly show off at a dinner party (also good for seduction dinners, where giant steaks are an, um, inappropriate choice). But some of the simplest recipes have become my favorites, like the carrot salad. I know, carrot salad does not scream transcendent. But I have pulled this out at multiple gatherings, and the last serving in the bowl is always fought over. And it’s always nice to be thought a genius over a dish you spent exactly 10 minutes throwing together.

When I can afford the chicken, I still buy it. But now I’m spending much more time in the produce aisle, so that I can experiment with Hopkinson’s Wilted Radicchio with Green Sauce, Spinach & Ricotta Pancakes, or the Mushroom Salad with Parmesan Vinaigrette. If that improves my food karma accidentally, that just means I can order the pig’s ear a little less guiltily next time.

Carrot salad with coriander and green chili
Serves 4

  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • juice of 1 small lime
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • cilantro leaves picked from 4-5 bushy sprigs
  • 1 large green chili, de-seeded
  1. In a large bowl, mix the grated carrot together with the salt, sugar and lime juice. Leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place the coriander seeds in a small, dry frying pan and gently toast them over a low heat until they smell very good, but be careful not to burn them. Tip into a mortar and lightly crush with the pestle.
  3. Now finely chop the cilantro and chili together (this makes for a more aromatic mix, in a similar way to persillade — garlic and parsley given the same treatment). Add to the carrots together with the coriander seeds and mix well. Turn into a serving dish.

(Copyright Simon Hopkinson, 2010, From “The Vegetarian Option,” published by Abrams)