IT'S not always easy being a vegetarian.

Tell people you don't eat meat and you will be greeted with a look of puzzlement or even disgust. "Why would you want to do that?" they will say, as if they have never heard of anything so ridiculous.

My answers are probably similar to those supplied by most of the estimated three million vegetarians in the UK: I don't want animals to be killed on my behalf. Also, eating the remains of a dead animal is something that, gastronomically speaking, just holds no appeal.

Although there are still those who look askance at us, the number of vegetarians has almost doubled in the past decade, and we now account for up to six per cent of the UK adult population.

It is said to be the fastest-growing food trend in the country. The reasons are varied, but include environmental awareness and health concerns.

This is Veggie Month, supported by the campaign group Animal Aid, during which people are encouraged to Go Veggie' for a week.

So go on, why not give it a try? It's not as difficult or dull as you might think.

Many people still dismiss vegetarian food as "odd" or "rabbit food". Yet when done properly, the absence of meat is not the point.

Vegetarian cooking does not involve taking the meat away from a meal. Instead, it is all about creating exciting, tasty, balanced dishes using the stunning range and variety of plants and vegetables that the world has seen fit to provide.

Yes, these meals all have a shared lack of meat; but the range and variety will be astonishing to those who expect nothing more than cheese salad or nut cutlets.

Vegetarian diners in York are spoilt for choice for places to eat out: restaurants such as Vanilla Black, in Swinegate, the Blakehead Bookstore in Micklegate and El Piano in Grape Lane.

A visit to El Piano, which celebrated its ninth birthday yesterday, soon dispels the myth that vegetarian food is dull.

It may cater for vegetarians and even more restricted eaters, such as vegans and those on a gluten-free diet. But dull is the last word you'd use about El Piano.

From the outside it looks like a Spanish-influenced eatery, and certainly there are Spanish dishes on the menu.

But there is so much more, too: Thai and far eastern; Indian, Mexican, even Moroccan.

"People come in expecting that style of food Spanish, and then find what we do and often stay to try something a bit different," says chef Shonet Hockley, aged 20.

The menu is wonderfully varied. Thai tofu, anybody? Or how about Moroccan grain - a dish made with millet and dried fruit? You can have chickpea and potato curry, buckwheat noodles, dhal (lentils) with coconut, tortilla Espanola, hummus, sweet potato mousse or falafels.

There are a range of breakfast platters and a Cheap Chow' section early in the week.

"We make a lot of food that people can't get elsewhere," says Richard Higgin-Botham, who has been the manager of the restaurant for two years. "We want people to go out and have the opportunity to have really nice food even if they are limited in what they can eat.

"People are drawn to the novelty. They come in not knowing what to expect and are surprised".

Restaurants like El Piano and Vanilla Black challenge the perception that vegetarian cooking is dull.

But you don't have to eat out to enjoy delicious veggie food. There are oodles of great recipes you can whistle up at home.

Above are three, taken from El Piano's own Hand In Hand cookbook. But there are plenty more once you catch the bug...


  • Veggie Month is organised by Animal Aid, which campaigns against animal abuse. It promotes vegetarianism in the hope that the killing of animals for food will be reduced.
  • Animal Aid claims that around 1,000 million animals are slaughtered for food annually in the UK. That's 2.7 million a day, 112,500 an hour, 1,875 a minute, 31 per second.

For more information about Veggie Month, visit


These recipes provided by El Piano are taken from Hand In Hand - An Extraordinary Cookbook, which is on sale in the restaurant priced £9.95.

Chunky tomato soup

  • Put olive oil in a wide deep pan; make sure the oil is about cm deep. Cut 1 medium sized onion into cubes.
  • Fry the onion on a medium heat while cutting ten fresh tomatoes into cubes; add to the pan.
  • Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar.
  • Put a lid on, turn the heat down and wait for 15 minutes. The soup will be thick; add a little water if it looks like it could do with being thinner.

Tandoori mushrooms

  • Cover the bottom of a big pan or wok with sunflower oil and heat it gently.
  • Rinse six mushrooms for each person and add to the hot oil.
  • Turn up the heat. Add one teaspoon of tandoori spice and a pinch of salt for every 12 mushrooms; keep moving them around in the pan.
  • The salt and spice will draw out the juices of the mushrooms, resulting in a thick, mud like sauce as they cook.

Vanilla vanilla

  • Put some sugar in a clean, covered jam jar with a vanilla pod for about a week
  • Mix 1 cup of oats and 1 cup of grated breadcrumbs with 1 cup of pecans or walnuts and cup of sugar.
  • Add one teaspoon of vanilla essence and toss the mixture around in the bowl.
  • Spread on to a baking sheet and roast in a medium oven for about ten minutes until crunchy.
  • In a separate bowl, beat two cups of cream until stiff. Add cup of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and a pinch of salt.

Fold in the bread and oats and refrigerate for an hour. Serve with some of the vanilla sugar.