This first meat-free week has been a whistle-stop tour of conflicted emotions.
I cried into my final Christmas ham sandwich before my drive back to Dublin (I suppose I do that every year, though). I rejoiced at my shopping bill, comprising largely of tinned beans and root vegetables.
There was a sense of resignation on New Year’s Eve, when I realised there was no point in using that Tomahawk steak voucher we’d been saving up.
A goat’s cheese pizza without the chorizo just didn’t have the umami I was used to, and there was something especially grim about having beans on toast for lunch three days in a row.
I have tried to take comfort in the fact that for these first two weeks I am pescatarian, meaning I can eat fish. I took the liberty of spending some time making a fish pie, which is one of my favourite dinners to make regardless of any dietary requirements.
I follow a Jamie Oliver recipe that uses a chopped tomato salsa and creme fraiche instead of any heavy white sauces. The acidic, zesty dressing you save from the salsa makes the accompanying side salad much more than an afterthought. If I could bottle it, these next few green weeks would be much easier.
The only thing about fish pie is that you can’t bring the leftovers into work. Our administrator in The Irish Times newsroom, Caroline, would have me hung, drawn and quartered if I were to heat it up in the kitchenette.
I was sick of beans on toast, though, so I rummaged around for the sweet potato and butterbean stew recipe I got from the Big Style Atlantic Lodge in Mayo last summer.
I had made it a few times before so I wasn’t scared about it not filling me or being disgusting. It consists of diced sweet potato cooked with garlic, chilli, spices, vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes – with some beans and lemon juice thrown in at the end.
Served with rice, wedges of lemon and blobs of natural yoghurt, it is both sweet and sour, comforting yet light and ideal for putting in the lunchbox the following day.
The great thing about this kind of dish is that it can be made largely from packets and tins hanging around your cupboards. The only thing you really have to plan in advance here is the sweet potato. I love the idea of being able to make a substantial dinner without having to worry about what date is on the chicken, or how long you can leave the mince before it must be cooked.
All that aside, I have caught myself walking past deli counters with my tongue hanging out, longing for a sausage roll or warm chicken sandwich.
It is not the kind of impulsive craving you might have for chocolate, but there is a definite feeling of something lacking. I’m not hungry, but I do feel a little . . . empty?
I have a long way to go yet if I am to be able handle the vegan train that is hurtling towards me
It can be tiresome, too, skimming menus for meatless dishes – which often yields very little.
It seems like an added punishment that the most delicious-sounding courses have meat as their centrepiece.
We went to Wagamama this week, where I had a salmon teriyaki soba, and it was only okay. I was tempted to try the vegan version of the katsu curry – it’s called yasai, the Japanese for “vegetables”, and is made with panko breadcrumb coated vegetables – but I thought I’d save that for when my soft opening of pescetarianism ends next week.
The idea of tofu creeps me out (tofu fried eggs? Gross) and I’m only just about getting my head around going all day without meat.
I have a long way to go yet if I am to be able handle the vegan train that is hurtling towards me. I’ll deal with that in three weeks.
For now, pass the fish, milk, cheese and eggs, because there is a beauty in what is scarce.
Niamh Towey is writing a weekly column about cutting meat from her diet – first by adhering to a pescatarian diet (i.e. a vegetarian diet, apart from fish).
Part 1: Embracing the challenge
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