Last night, after enjoying a drink at the local pub, Andrew and I stopped in to visit my sister and her boyfriend, both to catch up and see if there were any spare baked goods lying around. (She is a baking blogger, after all.) Naturally, the conversation soon turned to food.
“You know what I hate?” Hil asked as she prepared a pizza for dinner. “Vegetarians who eat meat substitutes. Vegetarian chicken cutlets, vegetarian mince, vegetarian sausage- what’s the point?”
While “hate” might be a bit strong (she didn’t really mean it, anyway- I’m the sister given to emotional hyperbole), I completely agreed with her. I strongly believe in real food; food that’s natural, close to its intended form and isn’t pretending to be something else. This isn’t intended as elitist preaching; I just don’t like those meat substitutes my sister spoke of. In fact, I rarely even eat tofu.
It’s now been about 18 months since I gave up eating meat. What at first I viewed as a challenge turned out to be the easiest thing I’ve ever done, and now I barely even notice what I’m not eating. Of course, there are those few “off-limits” foods that I still crave occasionally.
You know the common-held belief that the one meat vegetarians miss is bacon?Bacon schmancy, I say. These days, the only meat I’m even tempted to miss is ground beef. I know you’re all scratching your heads and wondering where on earth my sense is, but to me, mince means food from my childhood. My Mum’s homemade hamburgers in the summer, spicy chili in the winter and her delicious spaghetti bolognese. My sister and I both mastered this dish by the age of 12, and have been making it ever since.
I don’t make my Mum’s Bolognese anymore, but when I’m craving a quick, simple pasta sauce, I make this. Using red split lentils instead of meat, it’s hearty without being heavy. While it won’t make you believe you’re eating meat, it will make you want to add it to your real-foods roster.
Note: Don’t feel that this is just a pasta sauce; I’ve had it with vegetables, spaetzle, in an omelette- like any good sauce, it’s pretty darn versatile.
Meaty But Not Really Pasta Sauce
serves 6 with pasta
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped finely
- 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp. chili flakes
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 1 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup passata or stock (if I have some passata open I’ll use that, otherwise I’ll use water and bouillon powder- either will
- make a good sauce)
- 3/4 cup red split lentils
- sea salt and black pepper
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid (I use a Dutch oven) over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and carrots and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chilli flakes and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and passata (or stock) to the pan and bring the mixture up to a simmer. Add the lentils, cover and turn the heat down so the mixture just simmers. Cook for 20 minutes until the lentils are tender stirring occasionally. (You may need to add a bit of water, but the sauce should be thick.)
- Season the sauce with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve over pasta, with parmesan cheese on top.