Substitutes for meat: Pulses

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve looked at some dishes that make for very easy and familiar meat-free meals so far. These are a great place to start as there’s no sense of compromise. However, there are loads of great meat recipes out there which can become vegetarian and equally delicious if a little different.

Interestingly, according to a YouGov data tool I discovered recently, people who are actively looking to reduce their meat consumption are also more likely to be open to meat alternatives, which would make a great deal of sense. If you are in this bracket, you are also more likely to be young, female and to live in the South West, but I’m bucking one or two of those trends!

The next couple of recipes will be all about substitutes for meat (and then a substitute for egg also), but one of the most straightforward and least weird swaps is pulses. I’ve seen articles about eating less meat that suggest adding a can of, for example, cannellini beans to a cottage pie in order to use less meat to make your meal. I can’t help but wonder whether that was part of the motivation for including beans in chili con carne in times past.

This recipe from Green Southwell member Sally replaces the meat entirely with lentils. She says it’s “a favourite filling winter comfort food in our house. For variety, sprinkle a few sesame seeds or chilli flakes on the kale.”

Lentil and Mushroom Cottage Pie with Crispy Kale

Serves 4

  • 200g brown lentils
  • Sunflower oil
  • 600g potatoes, scrubbed and chopped
  • 2 large cooking onions, peeled and diced
  • 200g mushrooms, washed and chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • Soy sauce
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of cornflour
  • 100ml dairy/soy milk
  • Butter/vegan margarine
  • Nutmeg
  • 100g Kale


  1. Gently simmer the lentils in 400ml (approx.) of water. Boil the potatoes until soft.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large pan, sauté the onions and mushrooms in a tablespoon of oil until the onion is golden. Add the thyme, season with 1 dessertspoon soy sauce and plenty of ground black pepper.
  3. When the lentils are soft add them to the mushrooms and onions with enough of their cooking water, or potato stock, for the “gravy”. Mix the cornflour with a little cold water into a paste. Add this to the lentil and mushroom mixture. Stir well and simmer on a low heat to thicken the gravy. Transfer to a roasting dish (~20cm x 25cm). Heat the oven to 180°C.
  4. Drain and mash the potatoes with butter/marg and enough milk to make a soft mash. Season with a little salt and grated nutmeg. Spread the mash on top of the lentils and mushrooms. Bake in the oven for 20mins, or until the top is slightly browned.
  5. Meanwhile, wash the kale and tear leaves away from the stalk. In a roasting dish, toss the kale with a splash of a soy sauce and oil. Roast until crispy, approx. 10mins, turning occasionally.

Food Waste Tip:

If you have root veg nearing the end of its useful life, try adding to the pan with potatoes and creating a mixed veg mash. It’s delicious and also more nutritious to combine veg in this way.

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