Most English people, for most of our history have only eaten meat on special occasions such as feast days. The norm was bread, cheese, fruit and ale. Although increasingly popular, traditional English cuisine cannot be said to have a particularly extensive or exciting vegetarian menu. Whilst some of the more traditional dishes can be made veggie simply by omitting the meat and adding beans or pulses, or by using a vegetarian substitute, such as vegetarian sausages, traditional cuisine remains quite meat based. This said, there a number of good traditional English vegetarian dishes in their own right.
Bread and Cheese
Bread and cheese, as a sandwich, a ploughman’s lunch or just on its own with an apple is one of the most basic elements of English cuisine.
Cheesy potato pie
Made with a mix of potatoes, cheese, leeks, courgettes and mushrooms.
There is a wide range of vegetarian pies made with various pureed or whole vegetables – eaten hot or cold.
Vegetarian Cornish Pasty
Pease pudding is basically slowly cooked, dried peas. Although usually eaten with gammon, this traditional dish can be eaten on its own or with an egg on top. The Indians make a sort of dhal out of it, so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to develop similar ‘English’ dishes that use a slightly runnier version. It could also form the basis of a ‘humous’ style dip. I also wonder what a pease pudding pie or pasty would be like – perhaps lightly spiced. I do think we could do far more with this essentially very traditional English dish.
Broad bean dip
I once had a book on medieval England that referred to ‘tick’ or ‘field’ beans being dried for winter and then ground and made into some form of paste. My dad had heard of them, but I’ve never really found a good reference to them. However, I think that the result would have been some form of ‘mush’ that could be eaten with bread. Certainly, broad beans are classed as ‘field beans’. I’m keen to establish some ‘English’ vegetarian dips that could be used for group meals and this looks like a prime candidate to me. I’ve certainly eaten this sort of thing abroad and it is very good.
Broad bean bake
Broad beans have long been a part of our cuisine, but I’m not sure just how commonly they were eaten as a pie or flan. Nevertheless, this would seem to be a logical way of cooking an ingredient long in our diet in a manner consistent with other cooking styles.
Kidney bean dip
Another type of ‘field bean’ that has long been eaten in England is the kidney or string bean. Whilst we normally eat these young and with their shell, they probably were dried and ground into a paste in medieval times. This is pretty similar to ‘refried beans’! My guess is that it is an old Europe wide dish that we somehow lost on the way.
There are many excellent vegetarian pates, ranging from mixed veg, to mushroom to those wonderful multi-layered pates.
Parsnip and lentil pots
Boil the parsnip and green lentils (with pearl barley) separately. Fry some chopped or sliced onion in butter and then add flour and milk until thickened. Layer the mashed parsnip, lentil/barley and onion mixes into a greased tin and bake for about an hour. Sorry, I couldn’t find a picture.
Spinach and cheese pie
Spinach with cheese is a winning combination, whether cheddar, lancashire or cottage cheese. This can be made into a pie, sometimes with mushroom added. I see no reason not to develop this into small pastries for family gatherings – but would have to admit that the middle eastern version made with feta cheese and filo pastry would be hard to beat, although a tangy Lancashire cheese might just do it!
Cabbage and hazelnut rolls
An interesting dish from the south east. Mashed potatoes and hazelnuts are added into a white sauce with pureed blanched cabbage. The mix is left to cool, shaped into rolls and then coated with beaten eggs and breadcrumbs and fried.
A traditional dish from the Black Country made from soaked groats (whole cereal grain), beef, leek and onion. Leave out the beef for the veggie version! I think it would work if the beef were to be substituted with lentils.
The classic vegetarian meal for a Sunday. These can be made from a variety of nuts, grains and mushrooms.