Jamie’s Meat-Free Meals Review

Jamie Oliver
I am hopeful about Jamie’s new series – Meat Free Meals. I like his recipes and he has done so much for the nation’s relationship with food. He got the lads of the 90’s cooking, transformed school dinners and campaigned for the sugary drinks tax. He’s gearing up to fight obesity & food inequality but for now he wants to get us eating more veg. While 30 Minute Meals was bordering on fraudulent with very generous editing, I did enjoy some of the recipes. I like his Friday Night Feast where he makes a variety of interesting, innovative dishes, not remotely phased by any dietary requirements, unlike many restaurant chefs! I was especially impressed when he made masala dosa for Romesh Ranganathan who is vegan.
I am underwhelmed that he starts this series with a veggie shepherd’s pie. For a start, there is no cheese on top. Jamie says ‘just like meat’ too many times for my liking. I roll my eyes. I’m disappointed that he takes the basic bitch approach of swapping meat for lentils. There is no way I would offer this to cynical omnivores. This is the sort of thing you’d make for a friend, probably a woman, who is happy to eat a variety of things and doesn’t view food through a dichotomous key of ‘Meat – good’ or ‘Not meat – bad’. I used to make lots of veggie shepherd’s pie as a teenager. It’s warm and comforting; a week night supper. I feel tempted to make it and keep it in the freezer for when I am tired and want comfort food. I like the idea of adding rosemary to the potatoes. But I still expect something more exciting for the show’s first recipe.
I am however taken by the dreadful sounding ‘Indian-inspired chip butty’. The name alone makes me shudder but it looks really good. Jamie gives us a peep of Delhi’s bustling Chandni Chowk street food district and tells us how India has more vegetarians than any other country in the world. He shows us giant veg-stuffed naan being made and tries some chana masala. Then all of a sudden he’s back in his studio making an Indian-inspired chip butty. It seems to be something between vada pav and pav bhaji, given the chaat treatment. He fries up some spices and adds a mixture of potatoes and sweet potatoes, allowing them to cook before mashing and rolling into balls. He makes mint yoghurt and adds pomegranate seeds to mango chutney, a nod to Ottolenghi’s influence, before sandwiching the potato between warm bread rolls. He adds ‘Bombay mix’ and I start yelling at the television – ‘They’re called sev noodles, you Cockney pervert!’. It does look really good once it’s assembled. I think I’ll borrow his tricks next time I make pav bhaji. (I tried it at Dishoom and really liked it.)
There are lots of colourful close ups of very photogenic vegetables which lead into Jamie visiting a vegetarian primary school. Here the school dinners bear much more resemblance to the food I ate growing up than what I remember being served at school and there seems to be no evidence of staff requiring support to provide something other than pizza. There is a spinach and cheese filo pie served with rainbow coloured salad, dressed with orange&passion fruit followed by fruit for dessert. We see a pineapple being chopped. This is real food rather than the bland, processed food we feed to children. Like me, they were able to name a variety of vegetables (ok, fine, I didn’t know what a kohlrabi was when I was seven) and they are actually happy to eat veg. No turkey twizzlers, smiley faces or fish fingers to be seen. This segment pleases me and gives me hope.
His final dish is a green macaroni cheese. Not the most inspired choice but I suppose this show is about getting people to feel more confident about veg-rich cooking. Macaroni cheese was one of the few vegetarian dishes my grandmother would make. We had it every single time we visited her and when she got too old to cook, the family insisted that I make it. Jamie’s version is full of leeks, topped with cheese and flaked almonds. I’m not sure I’d bother with the almonds.
I am curious to see what he makes next week. And not a risotto in sight…