At the age of 16 my son turned vegetarian. The guy who honed his cooking skills over the barbecue, the guy who was the envy of his friends when he turned on the Thai chicken curry, the guy who relished eating a juicy filet steak then wiping the plate clean was now a "veggie".

Other family members thought he was weird and wanted none of it. I just thought he was a pain.

The ingredients to cater to his whims were supplied, but he had to help cook them. I love vegetarian meals because they are relatively inexpensive and taste great. But not every night.

Quiche - that was okay until he told me "real men don't eat them"; beans were acceptable in small doses (we know they cause flatulence) as long as they were served Tex Mex style; cheeseburgers (sans meat) were a brief passion until his girlfriend said he was getting fat; then came stir-fried vegetables with ginger and garlic - stirred with lashings of sweet soy sauce. But in all these delights, where was the protein?

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We need protein to maintain and repair body tissue and it does provide a "full" feeling for longer. Meat has the perfect combination of amino acids for protein and it is also rich in other essential nutrients.

Dairy products are also a good source of protein, as are dried peas, beans and lentils.

When you follow a plant-based diet, you need to eat a variety of foods to meet requirements for protein, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12.

There are three main types of vegetarian diets: the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet allows dairy products and eggs; the lacto vegetarian diet excludes eggs but keeps dairy products; the vegan diet excludes all meat and animal products. Luckily, son followed the first.

The heir to the family silver carried out his mantra with verve for 10 months, after which, for a few years, he hardly touched a vegetable.

PS: Son is now married to a vegetarian. Most nights he cooks two different meals.

RECIPES
CHEESY CAULIFLOWER BAKE

Cauliflower is the vegetable of the moment. Try it chopped very finely to resemble cooked rice and stir-fry it, or douse it in spice paste and roast.

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1 medium cauliflower, cut into large florets
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 cup light sour cream
1 cup shredded tasty cheese
3 springs onions, chopped
flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Topping:
1 cup toasted croutons
several sprigs fresh thyme
chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a 20cm baking dish.

Steam or boil the cauliflower, until soft. Drain and coarsely mash.

Add the carrot, sour cream and half each of the cheese and spring onions. Season well.

Place in the baking dish and top with the remaining cheese, spring onions and the croutons.

Bake for 20 minutes or until hot.

Sprinkle with the thyme and parsley before serving.

Great served with a chunky salad.

- Serves 4

ONE-PAN VEGETARIAN CHILLI

Peel the carrots and parsnips only if the skins are tough.

1-2 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 each: medium carrots, parsnips, celery stalks - thickly sliced
1 tsp each: ground cumin, smoked paprika, crushed chilli
1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed
2 x 400g cans diced tomatoes

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Saute the onion, until softened. Add the garlic and vegetables. Saute, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add rest of ingredients and stir well. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.

Serve garnished with spring onions, sour cream and corn chips. Serves 4.

MUSHROOM & TOFU WRAP

Based on a recipe from Jinu Abraham, executive chef for Heritage Hotels, serves wasabi avocado mousse with the wrap.

4 tbsp canola or mustard seed oil
3 cups peeled and sliced portobello mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
200g firm organic tofu cut into strips
2 tsp thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp vegan salsa (see following recipe)
4 x 25m to 30cm soft tortillas
4 handfuls mesclun

Heat half the oil in a pan. Saute the mushrooms and garlic, until fragrant. Place aside. Add turmeric and tofu and stir-fry on high heat. Add thyme. Season.

Spread each tortilla with the mushroom mixture.

Place 2-3 tablespoons of mesclun in the centre. Add a little salsa then the tofu. Fold the sides inwards and then roll up.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan. Add the wraps - sealed-side down first - and cook, until golden. Turn to cook on all sides. Cut wraps in half diagonally to serve. Serve with extra mesclun and salsa. - Serves 4

VEGAN SALSA:

Place 2 cups of flatleaf parsley (roughly chopped), 2 tablespoons of pinenuts, 3 tablespoons of capers, 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon of lime juice in a blender.

Whizz until smooth.

LEEK & GOAT'S CHEESE TART

The topping is also great on thin pizza bases.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
2 tbsp thyme leaves
finely grated rind and juice of2 lemons
400g puff pastry
190g soft goat's feta
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
freshly ground black pepper to taste
chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the leeks and cook over low heat until very soft but not coloured. Add the thyme, lemon rind and juice. Boil until the juice has evaporated. Cool.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly oil an oven tray.

Roll the pastry into a 30cm x 20cm oblong. With the tip of a sharp knife, lightly mark a 1.5cm border around the edges. Prick the base with a fork. Spread leek mixture over pastry within the border. Crumble the cheese over the top then sprinkle with the walnuts. Season.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry edges are golden. Sprinkle with parsley. - Serves 4