Protea Hotel Victoria Junction goes Meatless on Mondays

Executive Chef Mynhardt de Jong knows exactly what a meal is without meat

It's no secret that South Africans love meat whether they're braaiing it or adding it to just about anything. On National Braai Day we even dedicate 24 hours to cooking the stuff. But Cape Town recently became the first African city to endorse one meat-free day a week. 'Has our city gone bonkers?' I hear you drop your tongs in protest. Executive mayor of Cape Town Alderman Dan Plato, who is partial to 'braaivleis', certainly thought so but even he's jumped on the meatless bandwagon enjoying two meat-free days a week with his family and claiming to be healthier for it. Sacrilege!

What if I was to dare to tell you that vegetables don't have to be bland, unappetizing and complex to cook? Protea Hotel Victoria Junction's executive chef Mynhardt de Jong made a conscious decision to exclude all red meat from his diet and when general manager Pieter Buitendag proposed joining the Meatless Mondays movement he welcomed the opportunity with an open apron. The result is a surprisingly sumptuous menu featuring a Zucchini and peanut burger and poached quail eggs and Kalahari truffle topped asparagus.

What's on the menu?

"My aim is to show people how simply vegetarian food can be made using limited amounts of vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs with added Cape Malay spices, Asian and traditional South African cooking methods.

"I envisage my signature baked tomato and goat's milk cheese galette served with olive tapenade will be the most popular dish on the menu because of its easily recognizable ingredients but the Zucchini and peanut burger may be more of a challenge because people usually associate burgers with meat. I will challenge diners with roasted ingredients and nuts to substitute proteins."

Sounds delicious but why refrain from eating meat on a Monday?

"If you give up meat for just one day a week you'll be making a huge impact on the environment," says Mynhardt, "Educating people on the damages caused by meat production will make people feel that they want to help."

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that the meat industry is responsible for 18 % of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming and the water needs of livestock are greater than those of vegetables. Every day one billion people go to bed hungry because the Western world diverts one third of grain harvest to feed livestock.

"Capetonians are proud of their city –our buildings are "green" and companies are upgrading their status to environmentally friendly ideas and produce," adds Mydnhardt, "Protea Hotel Victoria Junction already recycle, use cabs with less harmful emissions and serve organic wine. Meatless Mondays are simply an extension of us making small differences in extending the sustainability of our planet."

Eating more vegetables will also promote a better absorption rate of nutrients and proteins which will lead to a huge amount of health benefits. It will reduce your risk of chronic and preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. If you reduce your intake of meat you will live longer and lower intakes of saturated fat found in meat will improve your diet.

How can we make vegetables exciting at home?

"Our promenade is packed with joggers and cyclists, health food shops are on the rise and Capetonians focus on healthy eating habits but most people eat vegetables because they have to and less so because they want to.

"The key is to choose vegetables that are in season to reduce carbon footprint and cost as well as roasting and baking vegetables in their natural form. Notice that I never mention the word boiling which is a complete waste of the vegetables unless you plan to reduce and use the liquid in the same dish. To enhance flavor season vegetables as close to what they should taste like and use vegetables that will complement each other."

How are Meatless Mondays going down at Protea Hotel Victoria Junction?

"We have a few vegetarian dishes on our main menu but they were never best sellers. I'm positive that our creative Meatless Mondays menu will get diners excited about vegetables if they can see that love, passion and thought were put into each dish. Hopefully they'll see the dishes not merely to fill a gap but as a satisfying main meal.

"We've hosted three Meatless Mondays and every single week the numbers of 'willing clientele' have increased. The feedback has been positive though it has been challenging to convince more ardent meat-eaters to cast meat aside. We can only make interesting vegetarian food and get our patrons to rave about it. This is still, by far, the most trusted way of converting people."

Take hassle out of Monday nights with Protea Hotel Victoria Junction's new three course vegetarian set menu (R150 per person). Contact central reservations on +27 (0)861 11 9000.

By Lisa Nevitt

For more places that serve gourmet carrots be sure to read our Vegetarian Section, or try Mynhardt's simple and delicious Zucchini and Peanut Burger.

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