Monday 27 June 2011

Denis Cotter's salad, muffins and vegetarian musings

Sylvia and I went to the zoo this weekend.  We had a great time.  I made muffins to take along.  Later that night we ate the muffins with a salad I found in a new cookbook by Denis Cotter.  However before I tell you about them I want to reflect (or rant, depending on your point of view) on a few things I have come across lately regarding being vegetarian.

Vegetarian Kids: I recently was browsing through Kaz Cooke's Kid Wrangling: the real guide to caring for babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  I was quite shocked to read the advice that "Many vegetarian parents allow their young children to eat meat ... because they see this as the best way for their kids to grow and develop in the early years."  She went on to say that if you were raising your kids as vegetarians you would have to have it approved by a nutritionist and that your kids would probably be smaller than average.

Unlike other chapters, there were no helpful quotes by vegetarian parents.  There was no breezy information about those who did successfully raise vegetarian children.  It didn't consider that parents who feel uncomfortable about eating meat might also feel uncomfortable about giving their children meat, or that they might let their child decide to eat meat rather than decide not to eat meat.  In fact it made me feel like I was being told that I was a bad parent to bring up a child as a vegetarian.

This attitude is not surprising, given the number of ill informed health professionals I have encountered.  It wasn't until I saw a dietician at our children's hospital, while Sylvia was being treated for other issues, that I finally felt I had some good advice on Sylvia's vegetarian diet.  Disappointing nevertheless from someone like Kaz Cooke who has produced so many incisive cartoons and always seemed to have her head screwed on the right way.

Vegetarians eat more than Vegetables: My next musing was prompted by an article in the Travel section of the weekend Australian newspaper about 3 weeks ago about vegetarian restaurants in New York (called something like "dining to a different beet" - it doesn't seem to be online).  It was an interesting article but seemed to talk about new ways of serving vegetables.  I love vegetables but the idea that this is all vegetarians need is silly.  People love to talk about vegetarianism as a negative.  You just take meat out of your diet.  Meatless Mondays.   

Yet being vegetarian just isn't so simple.  Why can't we have Tofu Thursdays or Soybean Sundays.  Yes, yes, I know that no one would be swayed by them but at least it would make the point that it isn't just about subtraction.  It is about transforming your diet.

Loosen the edges of yourself: Transformation brings me to my next point.  I heard an interview with film maker, Julia Leigh, where she talked about film loosening the edges of yourself.  I really liked the concept.   It got me thinking about how vegetarianism has loosened my own edges.  It changes the person that I am because it makes me an outsider to mainstream culture at times.  (That's why my salad dressing is smiling at me in the above photo.)  When I studied Nazi Germany as a history student at the tender age of 20, I used to wonder what I would have done had I lived through it.  Would I have blindly followed Hitler.  With hindsight, I can gladly say that I don't think so.  Though who knows.

Lest these thoughts on vegetarianism, seem too negative, let me introduce you to Denis Cotter's new cookbook, for the love of food.  My mum and dad recently visited my sister in Ireland and were lucky enough to eat at his restaurant in Cork.  They brought home a copy of his newest book.  I absolutely loved reading his previous book Wild Garlic, Gooseberries ... and Me but the recipes are quite time consuming.  This book is less about showcasing unusual ingredients and more about home cooked meals.

Before I became vegetarian, I was attracted to a vegetarian diet.  I love the way vegetarianism focuses getting nutrients through eating a variety of vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruit and grains.  Perhaps I could be so bold as to say it is a wholistic approach to diet.  What I love about reading Denis Cotter's recipes is that he gets it.  What joy it is to read a chapter on salads that are satisfyingly full of vegetables and proteins. 

After my mum brought the book (and a wedge of pumpkin) with her on a visit, I found myself reading it in bed and thinking I have every thing I need to make that salad of brussels sprout tops, pumpkin and borlotti beans with a maple sesame dressing.  Easy!  So the next day I made it after work.  As usual, it took a bit longer than I had hoped but it wasn't too onerous and it was very tasty.  (We had leftovers which didn't keep that well.)  I had leftover dressing and thought it would be an excellent dipping sauce for veg but haven't tried that.  Only after I made the salad did I re-read the recipe and wondered what brussels sprout tops were.  I just used regular sprouts.

I served the salad on the first night with boiled potatoes which was surprisingly good.  When I served up some leftovers I made some veg sausages to go with it and also the carrot muffins based on my smoky parsnip muffins.  The sausages tasted excellent but looked so odd that I might try them again before posting.  The muffins were light and tasty.  I was particularly pleased that they worked because halfway through throwing them I found we were out of milk so I substituted soda water.  It seemed fine.  Sylvia wouldn't eat the muffins but she is picky.  I was glad of them as an alternative to any of the food at the zoo.  I like alternatives.

Previously on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
This time last year: The Comforts of Rice Pudding
This time two years ago: Club Penguin Birthday Cake
This time three years ago: Winter Solstice Galettes (another Denis Cotter recipe)
This time four years ago: Crown Cake for Princess Madeline

Brussels Sprouts, Pumpkin and Bean Salad with Maple Sesame Dressing

Adapted from for the love of food by Denis Cotter
serves 4

900g pumpkin, peeled and trimmed
drizzle of olive oil for roasting
1 tsp + 1 tbsp olive oil for frying
1 onion
600g brussels sprouts, shredded
400g tin borlotti beans, rinsed and drained

3 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp tahini
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp tamari
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli paste

Roast pumpkin for 30 - 50 minutes in a hot oven (I think I did 50 minutes at 220 C) until pumpkin is soft and starting to char on the edges.  Cook onion for about 10 minutes in 1 tsp oil in a large frypan.

While pumpkin and onion are cooking, make dressing by stirring all ingredients together until smooth.  Preferably use a bigger bowl than mine!

When pumpkin and onions cooked, add brussels sprouts and a tablespoon of oil to the frypan and cook over high heat for 5-10 minutes until leaves soften but keep their brilliant green.  Add borlotti beans and stir them a minute or two to warm them.  Scatter with pumpkin and dollop some dressing on them.  Serve warm. 

Carrot and Cheese Muffins
Adapted from here
Makes 12 muffins

1 largish carrot, grated
1 tsp thyme
100g cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup self raising flour
½ cup wholemeal flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch each of salt and smoked paprika
¾ cup soda water
½ cup canola oil
1 egg

Mix carrot, thyme, cheese and flours in a large mixing bowl. Mix soda water, oil and egg in a small bowl with a fork until mixed. Spoon into greased or lined 12 hole muffin tin. Bake at 180 C for 20-25 minutes (I baked mine for 25 minutes). Cool on a wire rack. Best eaten when room temperature.

On the Stereo:
Son of Evil Reindeer: the Reindeer Selection


  1. Hello! I love your blog & have been reading it fo ages but I don't think I've commented before.I'm in the UK but my sister has lived in Queensland for 11 years - we are both vegetarian and she has brough up her 3 absolutely beautiful, healthy & not-small kids (now 9, 7 & 4) as veggies too. She has had many comments like those you mentioned, especially with her first baby (a time when you're naturally anxious anyway) She just ploughed on with her principles, making sure that the children ate a well-balanced & nutritional, varied diet and they are a wonderful testament to what rubbish those views are! Any diet can be lacking &'s all a question of common sense & balance. I also love the Denis Cotter books...have made so much put of 'For the love of food' already, some of the aubergine recipes are amazing! Anyway, keep on keeping on...your blog is great & Sylvia is a lucky girl xx Rachel

  2. I definitely share many of these frustrations as well! So many people think that it's impossible to maintain a balanced diet when you're a vegetarian, which is just untrue! And so many people focus on the foods you CAN'T eat, rather than those you can. I love being able to experiment with beans, grains, AND veggies and find that I feel so much better eating these than I ever did eating meat!

    I love the sound of this salad. It's filled with so many delicious components!

  3. These sorts of musings are exactly why I love your blog Johanna, and why I find it inspiring. I have no experience of feeding children, but am sure that Sylvia's diet is far superior to what a lot of children are given, meat eating or not.

    I haven't read any of Denis Cotter's books, but I've seen a few recipes of his in magazines I subscribe to, and I think I know what you mean by he 'gets it'. I buy a few of the mainstream food magazines here in the UK and I also get Vegetarian Living. The former mags do a few veggie recipes, largely carb+veg. The latter embraces vegetarianism as a positive lifestyle choice (and gives vegan alternatives where appropriate), making full use of all the different beans, nuts, tofu, and other 'alternative' (for want of a better word) protein sources out there. The structure of the dishes seems different too - there's more emphasis on health and wellbeing than just fat or calories.

    I'm not vegetarian, but certainly lean that way. I could do to take a leaf out of your book and cook more adventurously and healthily - keep up the inspiring posts!

  4. I think there are so many myths and misunderstandings about vegetarian diets out there! And whilst I tried it and it wasn't for me I have in laws that happily and healthily live as vegetarians.

  5. Hmm, I'm sorry to hear that Kaz Cooke came across like that. Her book on body image (Real Gorgeous, I think?) was amazing when I was a teenager. Thank heavens for tasty muffins :)

  6. I can totally relate to your thoughts on raising children vegetarian. I have a little girl (called Sylvia too! she is 15 months) and we are raising her vegan, so I understand the attitudes you are facing! It is quite disturbing, especially when medical and others professionals don't seem to bother to inform themselves of the facts but rather let themselves be swept up by the mainstream view that meat is essential to an adequate diet. Anyway, I love your blog and thanks for sharing! Kate

  7. I'm not a vegetarian and nor am I a lover of brussels sprouts, but I could see that nice salad working with them - the dressing looks fantastic, thanks for sharing.

  8. Yesterday an English friend who lives near us (in Tartu, Estonia) told me she liked some muffins with feta cheese in them that she'd tried. So experiment with different types of cheese (blue, smoked, etc). I've found if veges are diced & mixed together nobody makes a fuss about the veges they don't like.
    And follow your own intuiton or gut feelings regarding your daughter's eating habits. You know her better than anyone. But if E likes to eat meat & she wants what he's eating, I'd let her try it. When she's older she'll understand your reasons for being vegetarian & she'll make her own choice.

  9. Forgot to say that I liked the smiley in the soup.

  10. I enjoyed this rant! It's always bothered me, the whole "carefully planned vegetarian diets are healthy" thing. As though a healthy diet following any other philosophy or criteria is just automatically healthy. It makes it seem like so much work. Some people may just read Cooke's comments and think, 'Why would you 'risk' feeding your kids vegetarian, when you can just give them meat to give them the best start in life?' And that's not on - at all. I started asking my parents if I could become a vegetarian at age 8 and my mother wouldn't let me until I was 12 because she was told I needed to stop growing first. So wrong!

    I often think about what I would have done in horrific historic circumstances, or even current circumstances elsewhere in the world. My gut instinct is always to be very certain about how I would react, but whenever I reflect on it I wonder more and more if I would react the same way under pressure. I am a stubborn person, so I believe I would have fought Hitler's changes every step of the way, but social experiments like Milgram make me wonder if I can be so sure of myself!

  11. I totally see your point, and I'm sorry that many health "professionals" still have these negative stereotypes towards vegetarians. I believe you can be very healthy on a vegetarian diet if it suits you and you account for getting all important nutrients. On the other, hand, people can be very unhealthy on an omnivore diet. It depends on whether they're educated about nutrition or not, and sadly the ones who should often don't give advice that can be trusted easily. :(

    You know I'm not a vegetarian, although I'm very inclined towards vegetarianism naturally, and have spent a couple of years as a vegetarian, and a couple of more years as an almost vegetarian (flexetarian you could say, because I wouldn't eat meat or fish when I cooked for myself, but would when I was invited and was offered it), but it didn't agree with my body because I have food intolerances towards most kinds of vegetarian protein sources (soy, casein), so I could basically just eat eggs, legumes (but not too many because they're a little hard on my stomach), and protein powder for protein as a vegetarian. Overall, I feel better since I've started to eat meat or fish again. However, I just ordered "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer, a book that has been said to be the entry into vegetarianism for many people because they just can't eat meat anymore after reading it. I think I'll still eat meat and fish after reading it, for health reasons (note: this applies to my invidiual body condition, I know many people who are vegetarian and are healthy and feel fine), but I don't want to be a thoughtless meat eater.

    Overall, though, I've observed that more and more people tend towards vegetarianism, so at least over here (in the social environment I live in, which would be young academics) being a vegetarian is pretty normal. We just had a big conference in Heidelberg, and when the professor invited his whole department (PhD students and student assistants) to an Italian restaurant, it turned out that about half of us was vegetarians.

  12. Oh, and of course I loved the smiley! You know I have a heart for smileys. :)

  13. your blog is so inspirational, even for me who is not a vego. I appreciate your thoughts, and the salad looks delicious.

  14. Thanks Rachel - thanks for your kind words - glad to hear of other veggie kids - when I spoke to the dietician she had no problem with sylvia being a vegetarian so I get surprised that people with less knowledge do - who do they get the advice from?

    Thanks Joanne - I don't feel I am missing out either but you would think so to hear some people speak

    Thanks C - had a similar conversation with a friend about his nephew today who is omnivore but just wants to eat carbs - interesting to hear your views on different food magazines because I feel the same but wonder if it is just because I don't eat meat

    Thanks Lorraine - it makes a difference to your attitude when you have people around you who are vegetarian - and I think that people among us who have been vegetarian have changed their way of eating just through learning to understand not to just focus on meat!

    Thanks Hannah - I expected more of Kaz Cookie because I loved real gorgeous and even more I loved her keep yourself nice column in the Age - I would have understand other baby book authors saying this but not Kaz! What would Hermoine think!

    Thanks Kate - I think bringing up vegan children must be even harder because the only thing that comforts health professionals about sylvia's diet is that she eats eggs and dairy. Wouldn't it be nice if health professionals actually admitted they didn't know much about a vegetarian or vegan diet rather than just giving out ill informed advice!

    Thanks Amanda - I find that shredding the sprouts very fine and adding them to a stir fry (or warm salad like this one) like cabbage with a tasty sauce is a great way to eat them - and they don't taste like the soggy sprouts so many of us grew up on

    Thanks Pene - I wish sylvia ate the sort of foods where I could hide food but she loves plain - I do find that if I eat stuff in front of her sometimes she will try it - and I am quite happy for her to make her own choice re vegetarianism when she is old enough

    Thanks Sarah - you are so right about people expecting vegetarians to keep a really watchful eye on their diet but others should only do it when they need to lose weight (as if vegetarians are always unhealthy and need a diet to amend their health problems). And your thoughts on the Nazi issue are interesting - the milgram experiments are scary in showing just how easy it is to turn a blind eye if you can justify it - I guess it also shows that where you are in the food chain will alter how you react to history's challenges!

    Thanks Kath - I know people who have tried and tried to amend their diet and finally found the only way they could get enough nutrients was to eat meat (supplements wouldn't even help) so I understand that it is not as simple as everyone eating the same diet - but it is a matter of being a thoughtful eater - have you read barbara kingsolver's animal vegetable miracle - she talks about her reasons for stopping being a vegetarian which were interesting to read about

    Thanks Anh - I am happy to know you are inspired by vego food even if you aren't vegetarian - I think that makes life for vegetarians easier!

  15. A wonderful rant. ;) And I agree completely--why is vegetarianism always considered "losing" something--why not about a healthy diet in general with loads and loads of things to eat? It isn't about subtraction--love it! I also love the idea that this diet/lifestyle moves one out of the mainstream, which is often very enlightening.

    On another note, your photos of Sylvia make it very clear that she's a healthy, vibrant child. One does not need meat to be healthy!

  16. Johanna, I haven't heard of that book before, but it sounds very interesting, especially when the recommendation comes from a vegetarian! ;) I'll check it out!

  17. I really enjoyed reading this. I find the different reactions to vegetarianism as quite amazing...some people get it, even if they aren't vegetarian themselves, whilst others just don't. Veganism stirs up even more odd reactions!

    The topic of vegetarian children is also one I've been pondering of late, because as I learn more about the health benefits of cutting our meat products I start to realise that I wouldn't want to raise any children I might have as meat eaters. My Mum always cooked meat for us children sometimes, so her own (mostly) vegetarian views weren't imposed on us, and until recently I thought that was sensible...let children choose for themselves when they're old enough, etc. But she didn't give us soft drinks or artificial colours, and now I think that reducing or eliminating meat could go into the same category. An interesting topic!

  18. I totally know what you mean about how great it is to find salads that are full of lots of vegetables and protein, like this salad. You're brilliant and adventurous for substituting milk for soda water! I never would have thought of that. I don't have kids but I think no matter how you raise them and the choices you make, it seems like someone will tell you that you're doing something wrong. Syvlia seems like an amazing child so you are doing many things right. :)

  19. Love the look of this salad and you've made me want Dennis Cotter's book (we were also lucky enough to eat & stay at his restaurant earlier this year - gorgeous).
    Brussel Sprout Tops are loose-leaved cabbagey looking things that grow on the top of a sprout stalk (description courtesy of Abel & Cole, my organic veg box supplier here in the UK)


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