Eating Deliciously by Dropping the Meat
Summer is coming and in the UK it comes on a tide of sun-cream, unfounded optimism, and…barbecues. In terms of BBQ restaurants, the London-based connoisseur is spoilt for choice. From classy, inventive joints like Shotgun, to Mongolian/Brazilian/Korean BBQs, to even a London Barbecue School, for those who want to become the best griller they can be. However, if you are a vegetarian, the Great British Barbecue can often be a disappointment for more reasons than the weather. So you should probably start preparing yourself for soggy mushrooms, and lacklustre bean burgers until the end of August. Or should you?
A trend has been sweeping the western world and it’s right out of a sci-fi novel: fake meat. And we’re not talking about Quorn burgers or Linda McCartney sausages, we’re talking about cheating chicken, phoney pastrami and fake steak, as juicy and fibrous as the real deal. It may sound strange, but vegetarian butchers are becoming a recognised part of the food scene, from Dutch brand “The Vegetarian Butcher” to American company “Beyond Meat”.
What is fake meat?
These new meat illusions are made from a whole host of different plant proteins. At Beyond Meat ingredients include soy and pea protein isolates, yeast extract, carrot fibre and canola oil, while over at the Vegetarian Butcher their meat alternatives are engineered from chickpeas, lupins, rice, maize, and even certain bacteria. And, unlike their earlier counterparts, these meat analogues claim to mimic the texture of meat as well as the taste. Now, no one who has tried Quorn chicken pieces before can say that they were fooled, but supporters say these new options could trick even the most dedicated carnivore.
Why is the trend on the rise?
So why is this demand for convincing meat alternatives growing? Beyond Meat’s website sets out their four reasons for developing meat-free products: Improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources, and respecting animal welfare. For those passionate about animal rights, vegetarianism may be a no-brainer, and when it comes to global warming, a decrease in industrial farming can only be a good thing, but are these new substitutes actually going to improve our health?
Beyond Meat claims that their products contain “no trans fats, cholesterol, dairy, gluten, or GMOs” and it is true that for non-meat-eaters, meat alternatives can be a valuable source of protein, but many argue that increasing our consumption of processed food can only be detrimental to our health. This is an opinion shared by supper club chef Carine Ottou - foraging fan, local produce lover, and BBQ enthusiast. Planning a vegetarian BBQ? She advocates ditching the fake meat and getting creative with vegetables instead
Put the whole aubergine, still in its skin, directly onto the coals – as you would if you were making a charred red pepper, for example – and keep turning it. When cooked, remove the skin and purée with lemon, garlic, olive oil and tahini to make smoky baba ganoush. Adds a little Middle Eastern flair to your halloumi burger.
Steam it very lightly first to intensify the sugars and bring up the colour, then cut it into large florets and put it straight on the grill, as you might a steak. (Alternatively, you can cook them in a wire basket, made for BBQs.) Once cooked, mix with a simple vinaigrette of high quality olive oil, lemon, and pepper. The flavour will not be like your normal broccoli, we guarantee.
Cameroonian Carine also recommends bringing a little West African flavour to your British BBQ with some plantain. When you buy it, don’t go for perfectly yellow or totally green, but somewhere in between the two. Peel the skin off and cook directly on the grill. The flavour is delicious and you can eat it with whatever you want, using it as you might a potato.
Put directly on the grill and cook until charred. Remove, chop up and add salad dressing. Serve cold as an unusual, smoky slaw.
Get your hands on an earthenware pot and cook your bean stew in this, directly on the coals. To amp up the smoky flavour, use woodchips such as oak or hickory along the side of your coals, or wrap a burning charcoal in tinfoil and pop it inside your pot.
Make your own spice blend
Marinating isn’t just for meat, and flavour can be so much more than your shop-bought BBQ sauce. Pick some of your favouring dry spices, mix them, and coat your vegetables in them before grilling.
Nonetheless, our prediction is that Vegetarian Butchers are going to be the next big thing hitting the high street but if sci-fi meat isn’t for you, we suggest you take this summer as an opportunity to be more creative with your barbecuing, whether you’re a vegetarian or not.