Cooking with Mark

PUY LENTIL LASAGNE

This versatile preparation is a great alternative to meat. Plus, you can always freeze it and save for later

Planning a meal for friends always throws me into a spin. When I ask my guests what they would like me to cook, they always say, “Oh just make us anything”. But soon, one will mention that they don’t eat fish, other will have a food intolerance, and another is allergic to some obscure vegetable.
Increasingly, a lot of my friends, like myself, have reduced the amount of meat we have in our weekly diets. I have always eaten meat. Growing up, if my mum was to serve a ‘vegetarian meal’, my dad would think she had lost her mind. His old-fashioned attitude was that a proper meal should include meat, potatoes and some vegetables.
Back then, being vegetarian wasn’t common, and what to serve a ‘veggie guest’ was tricky. Sure, now, there are full vegetarian ranges — meat-free burgers, sausages and through to vegetarian clothing lines.
My meat-reduced diet means I try to go meat-free for at least two-three days of the week. Do I miss meat? No, not at all. There are so many great dishes — I love a homemade soup, asparagus grilled with grated Parmesan or a veggie stir-fry, to which I add soy egg squares for added texture.

I HAVE ALWAYS EATEN MEAT. GROWING UP, IF MY MUM WAS TO SERVE A ‘VEGETARIAN MEAL’, MY DAD WOULD THINK SHE HAD LOST HER MIND

To make the squares, preheat the grill, and beat four eggs together with 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce, 1 tsp of garlic salt and 1 tbsp of sesame oil. Heat some oil in a pan. Add the egg mixture. Tilt the pan so the eggs are even, and cook for 3-4 minutes until it begins to rise. Then place under the grill for 2-3 minutes. Remove the pan from the grill, allow to cool then cut into strips, and then into squares. Finally, toss them into a stir-fry for two minutes, then serve.
This tried-and-tested veggie recipe is a winner, or so I’m told. This versatile preparation is a good base for pasta, lasagne or chilli. I use puy lentils; smaller than regular lentils, they are bluish black in colour, high in iron and magnesium and provide valuable antioxidants, similar to that found in blueberries and black grapes. Grown in the volcanic soils of the Le Puy district in the Auvergne in central France for nearly 2,000 years, they cook faster and make a great alternative to minced beef. You can source them from selected supermarkets, organic wholefood stores or online, from around Dh15 for 500g, a great money saver. I often make twice as much and freeze half, as spiced up for chilli, served with pasta or a great sharing dish, like this veggie lasagne topped with three kinds of cheese.

Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield

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