Going green (Part 1): meat-free diet

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Enjoying a meat-free diet can be effortless and delicious, with Aldo Zilli’s easy recipes

Whether for ethical, environmental or health reasons, more and more people are shunning meat. As it happens, health reasons were top of the list for chef Aldo Zilli when he decided to go meat-free. “Meat is not good for my cholesterol,” he says. Of course, being a chef. Zilli wanted to ensure a vegetarian diet would be creative and exciting, as well as nutritionally beneficial. This is the inspiration behind his new book Fresh & Green (Simon & Schuster, $31), which offers more than 100 exciting new vegetarian recipes.

Description: A high-protein, meat-free diet

While working with one of his chefs Enzo, who is vegan, Zilli realized there are many innovative and resourceful ways to cook vegetarian food that people don’t know about. Combining these new ideas with what he’s learned growing up in Italy, and what he picked up on his global travels, Zilli adapted and created innovative ideas for meat-free dishes.

His love of food endures from his childhood in Italy where mealtimes were a family affair. “Food brings you together,” says Zilli, but he sees a lot of couples, where one partner is vegetarian, who find it difficult to cook together. “Vegetarians shouldn’t be overlooked,” he says, and to help remedy the situation, he created Fresh & Green to bring inspiration and imagination to vegetarian home cooking.

Creativity is key; Zilli believes a lot of vegetarians overload on pasta and cheese, because they don’t know what to cook and rely on cheese for protein. This obviously has health implications. Cooking with green veg and a variety of grains such as quinoa, spelt and barley will give you all the protein you need. “They’re power foods,” he says.

Vegetarian eating as been a revelation for Zilli, after growing up on a farm and eating lots of what he refers to as “pig-meat” (salami, sausage, ham). He doesn’t miss it. “I love greens! I don’t miss meat. I get everything I need from my diet”, he says. We love the positive attitude and inspiration Zilli’s brought to vegetarian cooking, and with the mouth-watering recipes on offer in his book, you certainly won’t mind being told to “eat your greens!”

Quick Tip: “Beetroot is a wonderfully versatile, delicious vegetable, available all year. Use during winter for soups and roasted veg, or in summer for salads and chutneys”

Watercress soup with potato, onion and toasted pumpkin seeds

Makes: 4

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Per serving: 419 calories, 10g protein, 16g fat (of which 2.5g saturated fat), 44g carbs (of which 3g sugar), 6.5g fibre, 0.8g salt

2tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped

11 hot vegetable stock

150g watercress

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted

Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle

1.    Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion, garlic and potatoes, and fry for five minutes. Pour in the stock and cook for a further 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Add the watercress and remove from the heat.

2.    Put the soup mixture into a blender and blitz until smooth. Season, reheat and serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds for a crunchy texture, and a drizzle of oil.

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