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Eating the Past: From meat to veggie: British cooking

Pie with a puffy crust
pattyjansen, Photographer

This is Tammy Proctor, and this season on Eating the Past, we have
spent some time discussing vegan and vegetarian history. Today, I want
to talk about how to turn much-loved food traditions into vegan or
vegetarian friendly offerings.

This a two-part episode, with the first focusing on British cooking, often
seen primarily as a meat-and-potatoes and-gravy kind of cuisine. It’s hard
to imagine a traditional Sunday roast in a pub that doesn’t have lard, beef,
fish, or drippings at its center.

Yet British pubs have become leaders in creating delicious vegetarian
and vegan offerings that complement the foods that people love and
remember from their childhoods. These include vegan and vegetarian
sausages, often made from grains, that are delicately spiced and filling.

Halloumi, a squeaky and chewy Greek cheese, is now routinely offered as
a salad topping or a sandwich filler for vegetarians.

I want to spend a little time on one particular British food – the meat pie
which has long been a stable of pubs and street vendors and specialty
bakeries. What would it look like to transform a meaty offering into a
vegetable one?

Here it is useful to take a page from Anglo-Indian cooking
and to think about the samosa, which is served both as a lamb dish and as
a potato dish. Why couldn't one take a lamb meat pie and transform it
into a samosa pie (with potatoes and peas)?

So what follows is a description of my own experiment making a
traditional British pie crust filled with a potato samosa interior.

First, if you want to make an authentic British pie that stands alone
outside of a pan, then you need to make a hot water pie crust. That’s the

You can find recipes for this online, but the basic recipe is flour (I
make mine with part white and part whole wheat flour), salt, water, and
vegetable shortening (Crisco).

This makes a vegan crust that is delicious. Take the water and Crisco and
bring to a boil in a pot on the stove, then stir the hot mixture into the dry
ingredients. let it cook slightly, then knead it until you can make a ball.

You can add a little more water if necessary. I usually roll this out between
two layers of waxed paper, then I put it in a spring form pan – the sides
should come up at least three inches.

Reserve 1/3 of the dough (and wrap) until you are ready to roll it
out for the top. Then the magic of the filling is next – this is really a yummy

Peel and cut into cubes some Yukon gold potatoes. In a skillet, cook a small
diced onion in olive or coconut oil, add ground ginger, minced garlic,
cumin, red pepper flakes, and let it cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the diced
potatoes and cover – cook on low-medium until the potatoes are soft.

Stir occasionally. When potatoes are soft, stir in a cup of frozen peas
and heat just for a couple of minutes. Make a cornstarch slurry, then
add it to the pan. Take off heat. At this point you can spice it as you like – I
add mustard seeds and cilantro and salt.

Cool the filling, then pile it into the prepared crust. Be sure to level it
off and leave space at the top – I aim for ½ inch or more. Roll out the
remaining dough and cover the filling.

Press to seal the edges well and then you can crimp it with a fork if you
want. Be sure to cut a hole in center or a couple of slits to allow steam to

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake at least an hour (I usually leave it a bit
longer). Remove and –this is key—cool for 2 hours before unmolding it. It
has to set up. Then voila – samosa pie that is delicious and can be kept for
several days in the fridge.

I encourage you to think about fun ways to adapt meat dishes to vegan
or vegetarian treatments. It’s an entertaining way to enliven your old

Tammy Proctor is a specialist in European history, gender, war, and youth. Dr. Proctor has written about Scouting, women spies and the way war affects the lives of ordinary people. Currently she is writing a book on American food relief to Europe during and after World War I. She has worked at Utah State University since 2013 and is a native of Kansas City, Missouri.