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Ingredients of vegetarian cuisine

When you tell meat eaters that you are a vegetarian the standard reply is 'so what do you eat'? However there are endless possibilities of vegetarian meals and they certainly don't have to be boring!

When meat eaters think of food they normally think of what type of meat they will have first and then decide what to go with it, whereas as a vegetarian I think of whether I want pasta, rice, noodles or potatoes and whether I want the meal to be spicy or plain and then decide what to have.

Basic vegetarian ingredients are the same as meat eating ones. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, pulse and dairy products. But the amounts used are the things that differ. Meat eaters might add a few lentils to thicken up a soup for example but a vegetarian may make the lentils the main base for that dish.

There are alternatives to meat that can be put into different meals. Textured vegetable protein is a mince alternative that can be used in pasta sauces, cottage pie, chili to name but a few dishes. It comes dried or frozen and can easily be added at any stage of the cooking process.

Tofu is made from soya beans. It can be deep fried (and is then called bean curd) or marinated and then added to a wide range of different dishes. I have it in Thai curries, on kebabs and in stir fries. You can marinate in a whole range of things but simple soya sauce is the easiest and quickest, and is tasty too!

Vegetarians also have a wide choice of non-meat burgers and sausages. These can be used in bbq's or a wide range of other meals to replace meat equivalents. I have had delicious vegetarian toad in the hole, sausage casserole, veggie burgers in a bun (with mayo, fried onions and salad) and as an addition to lots of other dishes.

The main thing to keep in mind when cooking healthy for vegetarians is to make sure that they have enough protein in their meals. Protein rich vegetarian foods include all the meat alternatives above but also nuts, seeds and pulses. So if you want to just make a vegetarian stir fry you can add sesame seeds to get protein, or you can put cashew nuts into a vegetarian curry. Dairy products are good sources of protein as well. So you are making a pasta dish you can put cheese on the top or salads can contain cold boiled eggs.

Just be sure that when you are making food for a vegetarian that it doesn't contain unexpected meat. For example soups are often made with chicken stock even some 'vegetable' soups. Thai food can contain fish sauce and so will prawn crackers, but you can get vegetable crackers instead. It is easy to forget to use vegetarian gravy or vegetable oil instead of lard but once you get used to swapping a few ingredients feeding a vegetarian can be just as easy as making the meat dishes that you are used to cooking.