Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Recipes

Bill Granger's meat-free meals

A meat-free meal can be just the thing to balance a rich diet - and to make it interesting, take inspiration from around the world.

You could say that growing up with a father who was a butcher and a mother who was vegetarian gave me a balanced grounding when it came to food. As much as I loved, and still love, all kinds of meat, I remember going through a brief veggie phase myself in my early twenties – probably inspired by the Smiths. And even now, when I've been indulging in too much rich food, I long for the wholesome appeal of vegetable dishes.

These classics from different parts of the world always hit the spot. Not only are they healthy and tasty but they also make me feel that little bit virtuous. I'm just waiting for at least one of my three daughters to decide she's going down the vegetarian route, too. And I have to admit I'm almost looking forward to it.

Curried lentil soup

There's little that tastes as healthy and satisfying as a bowl of warming lentil soup. I use a mix of puy and red lentils for texture, and, as always, it's the addition of a few extras at the end that makes the difference.

Serves 4

25g/1oz butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 red chilli, diced

3 tbsp curry powder

1 litres/2 pints chicken stock or water (or a mixture of both)

250g/8oz puy lentils

100g/3 oz red lentils

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

Lemon juice

Chopped mint (optional)

To serve

Natural yoghurt

Sprinkle of cayenne pepper

Mint leaves

Naan bread

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, chilli and curry powder and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the stock and lentils and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season to taste, and stir through a squeeze of lemon juice and chopped mint. Ladle into serving bowls and serve with yoghurt sprinkled with cayenne and mint leaves alongside naan bread.

Mee goreng

This lightly curried egg-noodle dish, which can also be made with chicken or prawns, is a favourite in our house. It has a lovely salty sweetness, which is nicely offset by the crisp salad it's served with.

Serves 4

2 tsp turmeric

4 tbsp soy sauce

4 tbsp ketchup

2 tbsp light flavoured oil, such as sunflower

1 red onion, finely sliced

3 eggs

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

500g/1lb medium, fresh egg noodles

Pinch of caster sugar

200g/7oz beansprouts

Juice of 1 lime

To serve

Iceberg lettuce, sliced

Lime wedges

Cucumber wedges

8 spring onions, trimmed

In a small bowl, mix the turmeric, soy sauce and ketchup, then set aside.

Heat a wok or frying pan over a medium-high heat, add the oil and stir-fry the onion for 30 seconds then remove. Pour in the egg, lightly season and scramble until just set. Add the noodles and toss to mix. Add the sugar and turmeric sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute. Return the onions to the wok and add the beansprouts and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes. Add lime juice to taste. Serve immediately with the lettuce, lime, cucumber and spring onions on the side.

Chilli tofu

If you're not already a tofu fan, this might just convert you. It's so simple, it's virtually instant and, as with many of my dishes, you can amp up the flavours however you like by adding a bit more of what you fancy.

Serves 4

4 garlic cloves, crushed

3 large red chillies, sliced thinly

Sea salt

2 tbsp light flavoured oil, such as sunflower

400g/13oz firm tofu or paneer, cut into bite-sized pieces

300g/10oz green beans, cut into 5cm lengths on the diagonal

250g/8oz asparagus tips

100g/3 oz cashews, toasted

4-5 tbsp fish sauce

2-3 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp caster sugar

A small handful of basil leaves

A pinch of ground white pepper

To serve

Lime wedges

Steamed herb and chilli rice

Pound the garlic, one of the chillies and a good pinch of sea salt with a mortar and pestle to make a paste.

Heat a wok or frying pan over a high heat for 1 minute. Add the oil and, when hot, add the chilli paste and sliced chilli. Stir-fry for 15 seconds until lightly golden. Add the tofu and stir-fry until golden, then add the green beans, asparagus tips and cashews. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes until cooked.

Add the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and white pepper. Serve immediately with lime wedges and herb and chilli rice.

Mushroom lasagna

Although this dish takes a bit of work, the end result is well worth it. The mix of mushrooms provides a lovely depth of flavour and richness that more than makes up for the lack of meat.

Serves 4-6

30g/1¼oz porcini mushrooms

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

40g/1 oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

250g/8oz white-cup mushrooms, sliced

150g/5oz chestnut mushrooms, sliced

250g/8oz portobellini mushrooms, sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tsp thyme leaves

3 tbsp sherry

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

300g/10oz fresh lasagne sheets, soaked in 75ml/3fl oz boiling water

3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

35g/1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

For the ricotta béchamel sauce

50g/2oz butter

4 tbsp plain flour

800ml/1 pints whole milk

250g/8oz ricotta

75g/3oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt

Soak the porcini mushrooms in 175ml/6fl oz boiling water for 30 minutes, then remove, reserving the soaking liquor, and roughly chop. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and 20g/¾oz butter in a large frying pan. Fry the other mushrooms, garlic and thyme in two batches, for 5 minutes each. (Add the remaining butter and a further 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan for the second batch.) Combine both batches in the pan, stir in the porcini, their soaking liquor and the sherry, and cook for 5 minutes. Season and then set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4.

For the sauce, heat the butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until a biscuity colour. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Remove from the heat, add the ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and whisk well. Season to taste.

Now lightly grease a 25cm x 35cm baking dish and spread with 3 tablespoons of the béchamel sauce. Top with a layer of lasagne sheets, spread over a layer of béchamel sauce, then top with a third of the mushrooms. Sprinkle over a little of the parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano, then top with a layer of the lasagne sheets. Repeat the layers until everything has been used up, finishing with the béchamel. Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top, drizzle with the final tablespoon of oil.

Cover the lasagne with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for another 30 minutes, until brown.

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