Lust for life
Rebecca Ford highlights some of the inventive vegetarian dishes which now feature in many ethnic restaurants.
In the 19th century. vegetarianism was seen by many as a useful controller of lust. Dishes were intentionally bland. with no herbs or spices. so as not to ‘stimulate‘ the body and. consequently. only the most committed were willing to put up with the monotonous and uninspiring diet. When George Bemard Shaw became a vegetarian — for moral rather than camal reasons — he was disappointed to find that restaurants would offer him nothing but ‘macaroni. rice pudding and waterlogged cabbagef
Thankfully things have changed beyond all recognition since those dark days. No one thinks that giving up meat decreases the sex drive and. far from being plain and stodgy. vegetarian food has long been inventive and appetising. Some of the most exciting dishes are to be found in ethnic restaurants — and if you think that means those safe veggie standbys of Indian and Italian food. think again.
In many culinary traditions vegetables. far from being a mere accompaniment to meat. are revered as important in their own right. In many countries where meat or ﬁsh are out of reach of the majority ofthe population or where they are proscribed for religious reasons. simple ingredients are turned into delicious dishes by the addition of herbs. spices. fruit and nuts. The cuisine ofthe Middle East and North Africa. which for far too long has been held in popular regard as a hotbed of goat meat and sheeps' eyes. makes extensive use ofbeans. lentils and rice as well as vegetables. Exotic and unusual flavours are created by adding dried fruit. lemons and nuts and many recipes. even if not traditionally vegetarian. are easily adapted.
Do you really want to eat me?
At Phenecia in Edinburgh. North African cuisine is the name of the game with eight vegetarian main courses being complemented by meatless starters such as felafel and tabouleh. Their vegetable couscous has a delicately spicy tang and is served in the traditional way with little bowls of
Greek cuisine was highly regarded throughout the ancient world and Greek chefs treated as seriously as their French counterparts are today.
harissa. a fiery chilli sauce which can
be splashed on to the grains for added bite. The Marrakech. also in Edinburgh. adapts several Moroccan recipes for vegetarians. Their vegetable tajine is a rich casserole with prunes. almonds and sesame seeds.
Greek food. which has strong Middle Eastern influences. is often dismissed by vegetarians who have suffered the ‘omelette and chips or Greek salad‘ syndrome while on holiday. However. the restaurants which have opened up in Scotland have responded to demand and offer a variety of suitable dishes. Greek cuisine was highly regarded throughout the ancient world and Greek chefs treated as seriously as their French counterparts are today. The characteristic flavours are simple: olives. oregano. lemon and salty feta cheese. while pastries are laced with fragrant honey and almonds. A delicious vegetarian starter is vine leaves stuffed with rice and spices
Athena in Glasgow has several vegetarian main courses including two traditional bean dishes: fasiola. a stew of cannellini beans with tomatoes. and oluvia. black-eyed beans cooked with spinach. Apparently these have proved popular with meat eaters as well. Cafe Serghei. also in Glasgow. has a similarly veggie friendly menu. Should indecision strike. try their vegetarian platter which allows the sampling of a variety of hot and cold Greek dishes.
Moving east. veggie dishes are an integral part of the Thai diet and are cooked in the same startlingly ﬂavoured sauces as the meat and fish. Stir fries do feature of course. and the meal can look disappointingly bland when it arrives. as Thai food is stronger on taste than on appearance. but the unusual combinations of ingredients soon overcome any resistance. Peanuts. chillies. coconuts and coriander are used liberally. along with delicate aromatics such as lemon grass. Thai basil and kaflir lime. At the Thai House in Edinburgh try the Gaeng Keow Wahn. a green vegetable curry with coconut and Thai basil. The tastes are unpredictable — first mild and then satisfyineg spicy. with a slight lemon tang from the basil.
Chillies play an important role in Thai cooking. but it is Mexican food that gives them pride of place. Hot and spicy sauces. soft tortillas and cooling dips make an irresistible combination and can produce far more innovative
food than the ubiquitous vegetarian chilli. Cantina del Rey in Glasgow has veggie versions of almost all its starters and main courses — rather bewildering for those accustomed to the lone vegetarian choice on many menus. Guzzle the fajitas. strips of fried vegetables which are piled into flour tortillas and covered with a wonderful jumble ofguaeamole. refried beans. creme fraiche and fiery salsa Mexicana. The Victorian vegetarians would have been horrified at the thought of it — all those spices. all that lust.
I Athena (Greek) 7781 I’ollokshaws Road. 424 ()858.
g I Cate Serghei (Greek) 67 Bridge Street.429 1579.
I Cantina del Rey (Mexican) 6 King's Court. 552 4044.
I Prince Armany (Middle Eastem) 7 Clyde Street. 420 6660.
I Thai Fountain (Thai) 2 Woodside Crescent. 332 2599.
I Ayutthaya (Thai) 14b Nicolson Street. 556 9351.
I Marrakesh (North African) 30 London Sreet. 556 7293.
l Phenecla (North African) 55—57 West Nieolson Street. 662 4493.
I Thai House (Thai) l76 Rose Street. 220 0059.
I Viva Mexico (Mexican) [0 Anchor Close. Cockbum Street. 226 5145; 50
East Fountainbrtdge. 228 4005.
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