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Meat Free Week: how we got on with the meat-free challenge

To celebrate Meat Free Week (meatfreeweek.org), our editorial assistant Alex decided to give up her carnivorous diet for seven days. Read all about her new flavour discoveries, the best olive vegetarian recipes she cooked, and the inevitable mishaps she faced along the way...

I grew up eating meat every day – most Fridays my dad, who has always worked in the meat industry, would come home laden with pork pies, sausage rolls or bacon for us to enjoy all week. So it’s no surprise that the olive team thought me a great guinea pig for the Meat Free Week challenge, an initiative run by Meat Free Week (March 23-29) to encourage meat eaters like me to think about where our meat comes from, and what impact eating too much of it has on our health, animals and the environment. 

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Monday: off to a great start!

Monday wasn’t bad at all… after a hearty M&S Super Green Soup for lunch, I went home to make myself a recipe from olive’s vegetarian section. Sticky sushi rice with hot and sour aubergine made from red chilli, soy sauce, vinegar and a little sugar. It was so easy and super quick to whip up on a Monday night. Plus, a whole aubgerine costs less than half of what I would usually pay for my meat.


Tuesday: mac ‘n’ cheese goes a long way

I visited the pop-up When Mac Met Cheese on Tuesday evening and fortunately it focuses on fresh chilli ingredients rather than anything meaty. I had to forfeit the lardon toppers that I usually go for, but the creamy, cheesy ‘Carlos the Cactus’ macaroni was perfectly satisfying; and the deep-fried oreos that followed even more so. I definitely didn’t miss the meat that night. If you fancy making your own, try our crisp-topped mac ‘n’ cheese.


Wednesday: a slight stumble

Our wonderful cookery writer, Anna, made enormous amounts of food in the test kitchen today, including my favourite Spanish snack of padron peppers and chorizo. I tucked in as usual, and only realised my smoky sausage mistake half an hour later. So I redeemed myself in the evening with olive’s healthy penne with chopped puttanesca sauce (without anchovies, of course!)


Thursday: dodging lamb and a vegetarian mezze feast

Anna was again cooking up a storm in the kitchen – this time it was a huge leg of lamb. I resisted, and while the rest of my team tucked in I enjoyed a homemade packed lunch made the night before: courgetti with pesto and balsamic tomatoes. Not only was it fun to make (if you don’t have a spiralizer yet, you should really get one), but the sweet tomatoes, crunchy pine nuts and fresh courgette noodles were so light that I felt a whole lot more refreshed than my colleagues did. 

In the evening a friend cooked for me and two coeliac friends; not an easy task. She pulled out all the stops though, and made a mezze feast: carrot and red cabbage slaw salad, spicy babaganoush, and olive’s fresh, homemade falafel. Again, I didn’t miss the meat.


Friday: vegetarian curry alternatives

My friend came round for a curry and I was set on making olive’s ‘recipe of the day’, a Thai massaman curry. So I substituted the prawns for mangetout and courgette, and upped the amount of peanuts on top for extra crunch (and protein). For five delicious veggie curry recipes, click here.


Saturday: a brunch with a twist

Admittedly, I got out of bed with a sore head from the previous evening’s activities. So I got the grater out, ready to make olive’s potato and carrot rostis. I watched sleepily as the freshly-grated carrot, potatoes and spring onion turned golden in the pan, and I began to feel better already. A Saturday morning would usually begin with a bacon sarnie, but I think I preferred this healthier option. Two of my five-a-day already!


Sunday: the ultimate challenge

The ultimate challenge for me: missing out on Sunday roast. Growing up in Yorkshire, roast lunch on a Sunday was a huge deal – dad would carve the meat while mum whisked the juices into a gravy, and my brother and I wrestled over who got to choose their goose fat roast potatoes first (our biggest ever family argument actually started out with roast potatoes…)

Of course, a roast has to include meat – doesn’t it? But olive’s roasted roots and goat’s cheese was (nearly) as good – earthy beetroot and roasted parsnips and carrots were a great contrast to my rich and creamy baked goat’s cheese. Plus the honey, chilli and orange dressing added a sweet and fiery note, and I ended up eating two portions, it was that delicious.


So all things considered, this week has been a blast. Cutting out meat has not only saved me a few pounds (from both my purse and waist line), but given me the excuse to be really inventive with my cooking and experiment with new flavours and textures. I highly recommend giving Meat Free Week a go, especially if meat is an essential part of your every day life. 

As for the purpose of Meat Free Week (to ‘think about where our meat comes from, and what impact eating too much of it has on our health, animals and the environment’), not eating meat for seven days did change my attitude slightly. Although I always spend as much as I can on meat, and never get anything but free-range, I do feel a bit uncomfortable about how much I consume. So I’d like to try not eating meat for one day a week (Meat Free Monday) – let’s wait and see how I get on!


For more meat-free recipe collections, see below:

Best ever vegetarian entertaining recipes

Best ever vegetarian fritters recipes

Best ever vegetarian pie recipes

Best ever vegetarian pasta recipes

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Best ever vegetarian curry recipes