Rachel de Thample's secret for a healthy diet

Want to eat less meat and more veg but not sure where to start? Celebrity chef Rachel de Thample has the answers!

How often do you enjoy a meal and then, afterwards, feel guilty about what you’ve eaten?

If the answer is ‘too often’, then you don’t need me to tell you that it’s hard to just eat what you like without worrying about it – especially when it comes to meat. We’re constantly being told to cut back on red meat for health reasons – recently, it has even been linked to cancer.

And it’s not just for health reasons that many of us are feeling guilty about eating meat. Nowadays, we’re far more aware of the ethics of meat-eating and the need to consider how much we are eating on these grounds as well.

Seeking the right balance

Of course, you may think the right approach is just to rail at meat-eaters and tell them to convert to vegetarianism. But if you enjoy eating meat, this will seem like quite an extreme choice.

Is there a middle-ground? And if there is, is how exactly do you achieve the right balance in your diet? Just how much meat should you actually eat?

Less meat, more veg

Celebrity chef Rachel de Thample, has recently attempted to answer some of these questions in her new book, Less Meat, More Veg: The eco-friendly way to eat, with 150 inspiring recipes.

In the book, hailed as ‘the cookbook of our time’ by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, de Thample promises she can put us on the right track - without pushing us out of our depth.

Sounds too good to be true? I decided to take a look, try out some of the recipes and see whether it worked for me.

A not too terrifying system

I must admit that the book lays down a well thought-out - and not too terrifying -system for eating well. Well for our health, well for our lifestyle, well for our bank accounts and well for the environment.

The book is split up into Lamb, Beef, Pork, Poultry, Fish, Eggs and sweet things alongside an intuitive list of fruit and vegetables that constitute 1 of our 5-a-day, giving us an idea of how much we are really getting through each day.

Her main point is that we only need 50g of protein a day – and most of us eat double that.

So she promotes cutting down on meat (not cutting it out) and boosting our intake of veg. And she gives practical advice on how to do this. For example, the book gives thrifty tips on how to strip down and eat through a week of Sunday roast, and every dish outlines a 50g allowance of protein, while working up to our 5-a-day.

You can eat

De Thample constantly emphasises that we can eat red meat... it’s just that we need to know how to moderate it, or at least make it last.

So that’s her argument – but she knows that to get us listening to it, we need recipes that are doable. We won’t settle for anything less than delicious and, if we’re going to make a difference, what she lays on the plate needs to seem as near to normal as possible.

It’s a challenge which, in theory, she should be more than up to taking on – de Thample has, after all, worked with Marco Pierre White, Heston Blumenthal and Peter Gordon over the years. So I decided to put some of her recipes to the test (you could do the same). Here’s how I got on:

Recipe 1: No-meat salad

Egyptian carrot salad with watercress salad, poached egg and crispy leeks

There were so many wonderful flavours moving through this dish! Toasting crunchy sesame seeds, spicy cumin and chilli and mixing with sweet carrots and mint worked fantastically.

Rachel’s timings for the poached egg ticked the runny-in-the-middle box, which gave a great contrast to the chewy fried sourdough and crispy leeks. It looked just like the picture.

Lovely for breakfast, a starter, or a Sunday night supper. 5 star.

Get the recipe

Recipe 2: Chicken giblets pasta

Tagliatelli, with creamy white wine, chicken giblets and mushroom sauce

As Rachel says in the book, giblets aren’t the prettiest of things. I completely agree. Demeating them was a teeth-gritting process.

The recipe made a delicious dish however, and not once did it feel like I was using the odds-and-ends just for the sake of it. Rachel suggests saving the livers for the pate but I threw them in. They almost melt in with the creamy wine sauce, coating the rich, dark meat shredded from the neck.

If you’re buying a chicken whole from a good butcher the giblets will often come inside, so make sure they are as this made lovely pasta. It tasted almost like a ragu, irony in flavour and perfectly paired with the garlic, aniseed tarragon, aromatic thyme and nutty Portobello mushrooms – meaty enough for beastly lions, but still thoughtfully frugal.

Recipe 3: Fish cakes

Thai-spiced fish cakes with Som-tam salad

This was served as a starter for four lovely ladies and all of them loved it, one asking for the recipe before they left. It was so quick to prepare, leaving more time for table natter and less time slogging in the kitchen. Like that.

The fish cakes were easy to make – chop, blend, and mould - and had a soft, delicious texture. 200g of dab fillets (£2 for 6 fillets) were blended with green Thai curry paste and dusted with flour and left in the fridge to bind it into a soft but firm patty. Simple.

The salad was the best bit though. The flavour of the fish cakes was almost hidden by the crisp and spicy carrot, mango and courgette salad, the fresh lime and chilli dressing zinging through the whole plate. There were second helpings of salad for all after the fish had been gobbled. It made us all wanting More Veg and, dare I say it, Less Meat…

Get the recipe

So, perhaps we’re getting somewhere? I’m happy to say the recipes I tested worked. I’m not craving more meat so it sounds like she’s got it nailed… But will it really change how much we put on our plates? Let me know your thoughts using the comments box below!

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