The Men Who Sneer at Oats


I feel that I know my blog reader(s?) well enough by now to make a confession.

Since we began serving food at The Dun Cow, it has surprised and delighted us that a number of our most loyal customers are vegetarians.  However, this means that something has been weighing on my conscience and the time has come to admit my mistake and publically repent.

I have, in the past, more than once, openly sneered at vegetarians.

When I was first designing menus for The Dun Cow I was always careful that we had a variety of seasonal dishes, designed to appeal to as wide a public as possible. I would ensure that there was a good selection of fish, poultry, red and white meats and I would then proudly show Lisa my efforts. Inevitably, my heart would sink when she asked “is there a option for vegetarians?” “Yes”, I would snap, “they can p**s off!”

To me, vegetarian recipes always smacked of dull, colour-less, mono-flavoured, fart-inducing dishes that were usually a very poor imitation of some great carnivorous classic. “Vegetarian Shepherds’ Pie” & “Vegetable Lasagne” both still appear on many menus and I’m sure that our veggie friends groan when they see them, confident in the knowledge that the “vegetarian option” is a patronising sop thrown out by unimaginative chefs at a public that they feel are probably too under-nourished to protest.

So, having sulked a little, I would go back to trawling through our repertoire and it suddenly struck me that there are many meat free dishes that I love and that would do The Dun Cow proud; it’s just that I never thought of them as “vegetarian”, they are simply great recipes that happen not to contain meat. As a matter of fact, I now worry that putting that little green “V” after the title on the menu may be putting carnivores off of ordering some pretty special dishes.

June means that UK grown, new seasons fruit and vegetables are really starting to make an appearance and so it’s a great month for meat-free food. Our new June menu contains two of my particular favourites, the first is an elegant little starter that first appeared in the late May menus. “Green Pancakes with Lime Butter” is a recipe by the Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi. His “New Vegetarian” column in The Guardian was a great source of meat-less dishes for years and the best are now available in his excellent book “Plenty”, which I heartily recommend. Not a vegetarian himself, nevertheless the Eastern Mediterranean cooking culture in which he was raised is full of fantastic meat-free dishes that bear no relation to the tedious “vegetarian option”. Indeed, as he would often point out in his column (to the despair of the more puritanical veggie readership) “this dish is fine on its own but is even better when accompanied by some grilled lamb or chicken”.

The second, “Spaghetti with Roasted Fennel, Lemon & Chilli”, used to be served at The Eagle in Farringdon and is so simple and satisfying that it soon became the recipe that Lisa and I would reach for when we got home late, tired and needing to cook something that would be ready almost instantly. Here’s a copy of the recipe so that you can cook and enjoy it at home. When you’ve cooked it, I can guarantee that you’ll not be missing the meat.