At the start of January, I decided to give up meat for the rest of the month. I didn’t do it for health reasons, though there are several legitimate health-related arguments for cutting meat out of one’s diet. And I didn’t do it for any environmental reasons, though I do believe that anyone who eats meat should be concerned about how the animals they consume are raised, slaughtered and sold.
For me, it was a personal challenge more than anything. I love meat and I don’t think I’ve ever gone an entire week without eating it, so pledging to go meat-free for a month was going to be tough—and it has been. Truthfully, I haven’t completely eliminated animals from my diet. I decided early on that I would eat fish a couple of times during the month, and I have. And three weeks into this experiment, I’ve eaten meat exactly three times: on the day I decided to go meat-free, my dinner was a pork katsudon bowl at a Japanese restaurant; on one of our regular Friday night dinners with my in-laws, I ate half a chicken thigh; and last weekend I enjoyed an amazing taco smackdown lunch cooked by six different chefs, all of whom used meat as a taco filling. But the fact that I can still remember—and if I close my eyes, still taste—each of these meals proves to me that limiting my intake of meat is giving me an even stronger appreciation of it as more than just a protein to cook with.
And of course, giving up something when you love it means that, inevitably, you’re going to crave it—which brings me to the recipe alluded to in this post’s title. Mushrooms, especially the meatier varieties, can be a perfect substitute for meat if they’re cooked in a dish that brings out their texture and flavour and makes them the star of the show. This recipe was loosely inspired by a mushroom ragout featured in chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Plenty. It came out great, filled me up and definitely didn’t make me miss the lack of meat.
Mushroom and Lentil Ragout
1 shallot, diced
1 small carrot, diced
A small amount of fennel (or 1 celery stick), diced
A mix of fresh mushrooms (I used cremini, oyster and shitake), roughly chopped
A handful of dried porcini mushrooms, steeped in a cup or so of boiling water for 20 minutes
1 bay leaf
1 can of lentils, drained
1/2 C white wine (NOTE: I didn’t have white wine, so I added 1/3 C of vin santo, an Italian dessert wine)
Remove porcini mushrooms from steeping liquid, and chop them into small pieces. Reserve the steeping liquid.
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add shallot, carrot and fennel and sauté about 5 minutes.
Add mixed fresh mushrooms and some salt and pepper. Saute for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, then add wine and let it cook off for a couple more minutes.
Add chopped porcini mushrooms, as well as the steeping liquid.
Stir in lentils, and throw in a bay leaf. Turn heat to low and let the ragout simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced by at least half.
Serve in a bowl, topped with a small spoonful of ricotta and a few drops of truffle oil.