Hold the meat: Top 8 high-protein vegetarian meals

I’m suspicious about diets that take the balance out of nutrition, yet we have some learning to do about what constitutes balance. Eating beans, meat, fish, eggs three times a day is unhealthy, eating processed food frequently delivers poor nutritional value, and achieving a balanced diet when excluding food groups is even harder work.

Excluding eggs — a perfect form of protein, essential for muscle and bone building and maintenance — from the diet rules out a convenient, inexpensive, locally produced food.

Nutritionally, an egg is far better than an imported chunk of soy bean curd. If we import meat and dairy substitutes we clock up miles. Increased demand for foreign indigenous foods can put prices up and out of the reach of natives.

Sending food long distances leads to losses in nutrients the longer it’s consumed after harvesting.

I have yet to be convinced children should replace milk and cheese with imported substitutes made from nuts and seeds, especially by those coping with low budgets.

I am more in favour of including dairy but less meat, cutting out processed forms, watching for local and chemical-free (or organic), and including sustainable omega-rich fish a few times a week, making sure it comes from Irish seas and is unprocessed to retain maximum nutrients (and flavour).

This week testers tried vegetarian options with attention to taste and protein content.

Quay Co-op vegetable and lentil lasagne 410g €4.50

Lasagne sheets, peppers, tomatoes, tomato purée and red wine support chunks of aubergines, Puy lentils, courgettes and onions, seasoned with garlic, dried basil and oregano and topped with a béchamel sauce flavoured with cheese. A satisfying meal, tasters would buy it for an easy, tasty supper. Plenty of protein (though not stated) from the sauce and lentils. Satisfying and nourishing and made in Cork.

Score: 8

Marks & Spencer roasted mushroom risotto 380g €6.20

Italian carnaroli rice has deep flavoured Portobello mushrooms on top with truffle and mascarpone cheese sauce underneath in a cleverly designed presentation which keeps the sauce separate. It can be microwaved or heated in a saucepan. Protein is a low enough 3.4%, but the flavour is so rich it is satisfying. Made in Britain, not as local as we would ideally like, but tasters thought this well worth the journey.

Score: 9

Aldi wild porcini mushroom & truffle triangoli filled pasta 250g €1.99

Mushrooms, ricotta and unspecified cheese, breadcrumbs, truffle, fill free-range egg pasta, for a decent 7% protein. The truffle flavour and aromas were strong, as if they had been spritzed before packaging. Tasters liked these as well as the low spiced red pepper and butternut squash vegan sausages (4.8%, €2.49). Imported from Italy – airmiles, protein and price taken in to consideration when scoring.

Score: 7

[h2]Dunnes organic cheese girasoli 250g €3.29/h2]The short list of ingredients was commendable in this sunflower shaped pasta produced in Italy where a lot of the ingredients originate. Tasters were happy the ingredients are organic and liked the fresh pasta texture and creamy filling of ricotta, an unnamed hard cheese with additional mozzarella for a simple, genuine taste. Protein is a satisfyingly high 13%, and there are no additives. Serve with vegetables/salad for vitamin balance.Score: 7.75

Eden spinach and feta burger 240g €3

This vegan-friendly burger, made in Co Offaly, has unappetising ingredients such as textured soya and maltodextrin, but also 29% spinach, peas and 16% feta cheese supported by oatflakes, maize and rice semolinas, flavoured with tomato purée, spice and herb extracts. The result is a pleasant flavour of nothing in particular, and the texture is less dry like other vegetarian burgers we tried. Protein is above average at 5.4%.

Score: 6.75

Tortilla Espagnola 500g €3.50

A commendably short list of ingredients in this potato omelette — 55% potatoes, eggs, fried onion, salt and oils — gives us a moderate 4% protein. We heated in a frying pan (it can be microwaved) and it was delicious for breakfast. Tasters found the flavour genuine, though would have liked a little more onion richness. Add more protein in the form of cheese and serve it with a tomato salad and a crisp green salad for a satisfying meal. Made in Spain.

Score: 7.5

Happy Pear chickpea curry 400g €5

Suitable for vegans, brown rice, tomatoes, broccoli and chickpeas provide the substance for this mildly spiced curry, the spices softened with coconut milk. However, a very low 1.8% protein may result in hunger soon afterwards. The taste seems filling though, with onions, red peppers, garlic, ginger, curry powder, lime purée, cumin, chilli flakes, paprika, coriander, black pepper — no additives. Tasters liked the flavour. Made in Ireland

Score: 7

[h2Dee’s quinoa pot spicy Thai curry meal 400g €4.50[/h2]

Quinoa, potatoes, butternut squash and green lentils provide substantial bite with spices softened by creamy coconut milk, and flavoured

further with tomato, onions, carrots and coriander, and onion, garlic and pepper purées. Lemongrass and galangal provide Thai accents. Protein at 3.1% is lowish. Suitable for vegans. Good to see a Cork company adding to its range.

Score: 8.75

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