47 Years a Vegetarian (Plus Naveena’s Iraqi Kubbeh Soup Recipe)

Iraqi kubbeh (beetroot) soup with lentil-filled semolina dumplings

I gave up eating meat in 1975 at the age of twenty. Like many of my hippy generation (toying with yoga and Eastern philosophy) I’d been a practical vegetarian for years, but not averse to a chicken dinner when visiting my mum, or a comfort-food bacon sandwich when on the road.

It was overland to India that did it: the flies on the carcasses hanging in the Kabul bazaar, the sounds of slaughter coming from behind the shop fronts in Peshawar. I travelled back with hepatitis, starving and looking forward to that comfort-food bacon sandwich. One bite and I realized I couldn’t do it.

A lapse was forced on me in 1981 when travelling in Japan and staying with strangers on the Servas network (a pre-internet couchsurfing organisation). My partner and I (essentially macrobiotics) rolled up at a host who grandly announced that he was serving us Waygu beef, explaining how the young calves are cared for indoors with regular massage to make this expensive delicacy. Oops, we’d forgotten to inform him in advance! We dutifully chewed our way through a few bites until hour host noticed and laughed. “You should have told me before that you are vegetarians!”

I kept hold of an attachment to fish for many years (an unconscious recollection of the friars who allowed themselves fish on no-meat Fridays?) and would head off to the Blue Diamond outside the Ashram in Pune occasionally, or down to Mama’s Fish House in Maui. But from 1999 on while eating out with my new partner Naveena, a pure vegetarian, I started to realize that I was enjoying eating off her plate more than my own. The coup de grace came on Maui’s Baldwin Beach while watching a fisherman being dragged up and down the strand with some dark monster on the end of his line. After long struggle he finally brought in a large stingray. He was as shocked as we spectators and we helped him cut the line and return it to the ocean. I understood then the violence we have to do to haul creatures out of their element and their battle to resist us.

Since then, with a bit of help from an egg or two, and plenty of cheese (the final addiction) I manage without the slightest temptation to stay healthy on tahini, peanut butter, seeds (baked in home-made bread) and beans as my protein sources. I’m not proselytizing, it might not work for everyone, and it seems obvious that the ancient way of life of pastoralism is feeding many people on land that will support nothing else. So chacun à son goût!

Kubbeh Soup Recipe

A traditional Iraqi dish of lemony beetroot soup with stuffed semolina dumplings and seasonal fresh herbs.

Ingredients to make 10 dumplings, will serve four:

Beetroot 375g, Semolina Flour 250g, Tin of cooked Lentils ½ tin, Red Onions 250g, Celery 200g, Tomato paste, 1 Lemon, A bunch of fresh coriander, Sunflower Oil, Olive Oil, Coconut Sugar, Parsley, Fresh mint, Himalayan Rock Salt, Black Pepper, a teaspoon of Cumin powder.

You will need a wide pan.

Stage 1 making the kubbeh dough. Mix semolina with warm water, salt and olive oil in a bowl to make a flexible, stretchy dough. Set aside for ½ hour.

Stage 2 making the kubbeh stuffing. Fry half the onions and celery in sunflower oil until soft, add lentils, and mash gently. Turn down heat and add chopped parsley, half the chopped coriander, cumin, salt and pepper, blend in until soft. Leave to cool.

Stage 3 making the beetroot water. Grate one third of the beetroots and cut the rest into thin slices. Add cold water and leave for ½ hour. In a wide pan, fry the rest of the onions cut into rings and the rest of the celery until golden. On a medium heat add a tablespoon of tomato paste, a teaspoon of sugar, salt, pepper, the rest of the coriander, and half to three-quarters of a lemon. Boil gently for 35 minutes.

Stage 4 making the dumplings. Separate the dough into ten pieces and with olive oil on your fingers flatten them into thin disks. Stuff with the kubbeh stuffing and seal so that the stuffing cannot leak out.

Stage 5 add the dumplings to the beetroot water with chopped fresh mint and cook gently for 20 minutes.

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