Q: How many vegetarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: I don’t know… but where do you get your protein???
Ok, so in April 2016 I wrote a blog that comprehensively covered the idea that we’ve heard all your reasons for continuing to eat meat, and that grilling my eating choices around the braai was getting old. It’s still old. But, something seems to have changed. In the last few weeks I’ve had at least 5 requests for insight in to what I eat, if its easy to convert, and if meat-free is sustainable for endurance sports. Well, there are some pretty big names on the international endurance circuit that have answered that for me, so I’ll skip to the part where I share ways to cut down on your (I nearly said dead animals… I very nearly did) meat. Or, convert completely.
First, I highly recommend consulting with a dietician. I’m not one. Gina Fourie is a Cape-based dietician and exercise science enthusiast with incredible insight in to eating for an active lifestyle, and she fully supports vegetarianism or veganism for athletes. She also promotes the balanced consumption of carbohydrates, so maybe leave your Noakes hat at home (same place you hide your empty chip packets) if you see her.
Second, I have a personal preference for ingredients that are fresh, food that is both local and seasonal and home cooked food from scratch, but I do not eat like a bird or avoid treats. Plain salted crisps are my downfall and I think wine is a salad, but I’m pretty good about most of the stuff I prepare and eat.
Third, my reasons for leaving meat behind some 7 years ago were all based on ethics. I’ve not cut eggs and dairy from my diet yet, but I know that in time I will. I have an egg dealer in the Southern Suburbs that sells eggs straight from a small farm where the chickens roam freely outdoors and eat a balanced diet without a sniff of a hormone or antibiotic. Let me know if you want her details.
Ok, so what do I eat? A lot. My average day includes:
Coffee and a rusk. Even if its 3am and we’re prepping for a race.
Egg; hard boiled with sliced avo and either rice crackers or a slice of wholegrain bread OR an omlette filled with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. I try to keep the omlettes for after very long runs.
Wraps and salads; but please do not think me a leaf eater. I love salad leaves, but the rest of the wrap or salad should be jam-packed with things like fried haloumi, roast veg, sprouts, nuts, seeds, red and yellow peppers (green peppers are the devil and ruin every meal by overpowering the flavours like big ugly green dictators on power trips), chickpeas or mushrooms. I’m particularly fond of heating a blob of butter in a non-stick pan, and frying sliced mushrooms, fresh chilli and fresh garlic until browned, then adding a handful of pumpkin seeds and stir until the seeds begin to pop. Set that aside on paper towel to drain and cool, then use in a salad with plenty of mixed green stuff (not peppers, obviously).
Rice crackers; like seamless lace thongs, they go with everything. Top them with mashed avo, lemon juice and crunchy seeds. Or cottage cheese, sliced tomatoes and black pepper. Or humus. Or marmite and sliced cheddar (YUM). Rice crackers are like the opposite of green peppers; all-inclusive and encouraging of the growth of individual flavours. They are a little bit like truly democratic leaders, just a lot easier to find and they don’t tweet shit.
Beans and lentils; here come the recipes.
Drain a tin of kidney beans and a tin of butter beans, and rinse them well. Chop a small red onion, large clove of garlic, half a small chilli and combine with the beans and one egg in a large bowl. Mash, but don’t blend. Add fresh herbs like finely chopped rosemary. Add 3 tablespoons of boxed bread crumbs or cornflake crumbs to the bowl, then cover a chopping board with a combination of flour and crumbs.
The bean mixture should be pretty sticky. Form round patties on the flour / crumb board and ensure they are coated with the flour and crumbs, then flatten slightly. Place on a plate in the fridge for at least 2 hours, can be more.
Heat coconut oil in a heavy pan and fry the patties until golden on both sides. Drain and serve on a bun or with salad.
I eat lentil dahl at least once a week, and I change up the ingredients according to the fresh veg at hand.
Roughly chop half an onion, saute on low heat in a bit of olive oil. About 3 min.
Add turmeric, dried coriander and cumin seeds; probably half a teaspoon of each. I usually throw spice around without too many creative limitations. Mix through, so that onion is coated in spices, then add a finely chopped garlic clove and simmer for another minute or two. Add a cup of red lentils (dry) and your choice of hot veg stock, enough to completely cover the lentils. Bonus points if you make your own stock. Google it.
Add a tin of crushed tomatoes and a half a teaspoon of brown sugar. Bring to the boil just briefly, then simmer on low heat until lentils are cooked. About 30 min. Stir frequently.
You can add mushrooms just after the onions, or chopped marrow for extra veg. Can also stir in baby spinach at the end if you like. Add fresh chilli when you add the other spices if you want it hotter.
Swirl of coconut milk just before you serve – if you are feeling fancy. Eat as it is or on rice.
There are some challenges to living meat-free in South Africa. THE BRAAI for example. I love a braai. Don’t try to sell me on a charcoal attempt, because it’s Blitz and Wood Forever, bru. If you are attending a braai and it is one of those “bring the stuff you want to destroy on the grid” ones then make mushroom skewers. Marinade sliced shiitake mushrooms (best texture) and thread them on to damp skewers, alternating with peppers (I don’t have to tell you what colour you should use). If you don’t have skewers you can use the chopsticks that you’ve gathered from various Thai food take outs*, but make sure they are well damp first. Or Rosemary twigs. Don’t judge, I’m not a food blogger or stylist!
*Thai food is a great vegetarian treat. I can’t seem to cook Tofu myself so I order a Thai Penang curry with extra Tofu and the world becomes a better place.
The downside to being the vegetarian at a braai is that you might have to ask to use their oven grill, and you will need to bring at least 4 times the number of mushroom skewers that you will eat. Everyone will want one.
Another challenge, if your family celebrates it, is the CHRISTMAS MEAL. The annual feast with half a farm’s worth of animals on the menu. You don’t want to be the asshole that has a grilled cheese sarmie in the corner, or be forced to pick on the pineapple rings and cherries that fall from the glazed pig, so prepare your own feast. Again, you might have to negotiate some oven time, but it is worth it. Stuffed festive mushrooms are my current Christmas treat, with loads of different salads on the side.
You can do stuffed mushrooms in many ways but basically the bigger the better, with depth for stuffing. Remove the stalks and chop them up. Smear the inside of the mushroom with garlic butter (or garlic oil) and in a bowl combine the chopped stalks, dried cranberries (soak them in rooibos tea first if you like them plumped out), grated mozzarella, grated marrows, a teaspoon of cinnamon and chopped walnuts. Stuff the mushrooms, then bake in foil at 180 degrees celsius until they are oozy but haven’t collapsed. Don’t drink too much wine or you might lose track. Again, make more than you can eat because the meat eaters will want some.
The next challenge on your list is WEDDING SEASON (adjust to retirement parties, work events or similar). Most times you can tell your hosts that you are vegetarian and there will be relevant canapes and a meal suited to you and the growing number of plant fans on their guest list. Sometimes hosts get caught up in other elements of their event planning and pulled-pork criteria, and you’ll find yourself dangerously eyeball deep in champagne (adjust to craft beer or gin extracted from the fart of a lessor spotted mountain moth) with some hapless hipster waitron unsure of how to calm your hangry vibes. FFS don’t eat the centre pieces. Attend these events with a little bag of nuts and a protein bar in your purse, or have a pizza delivered to the car park and save a lot of awkward friendship vibes.
I’m pretty much always thinking about my next snack or meal if I’m in peak training mode. I can’t possibly imagine how hungry the pros get, with the hours they put in. If I don’t plan ahead, I end up swimming in a massive bowl of salted butter popcorn when I should be scooping humus with red pepper and cucumber sticks.
Yes, I have a protein recovery drink after a long training run or race. Gina Fourie recommends Peptopro mixed with something else to make it more palatable. I have used Peptopro, and it meets all the nutritional goals. I also love the GU Recovery Drink Mix (vanilla cream). During a race, I favour a combination of whole food like marmite sarmies on brown bread, potatoes and nuts as well as GU Roctane gels. I drink Tailwind, preferably the Green Tea flavour.
The greatest thing about vegetarian eating is the simplicity of creating a meal when you are tired. Steam brocolli, set aside. Heat coconut oil and add brocolli, garlic, chilli, sunflower seeds and mix well. Add crumbled feta and serve to a bowl. One of my favourie quick meals. Pesto pasta is our pre-race meal and macaroni cheese is a family favourite. Gina does not endorse my full eating plan!
Hope that I have debunked the myth that vegetarians are hungry, skinny beings that miss out on flavour and variety. I’ve never enjoyed cooking and eating quite as much as I do now.