• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ
Jamie’s Ultimate Veg. Photo/Supplied

In Ultimate Veg, Jamie Oliver makes meatless meals easy-peasy

The irrepressible Jamie Oliver makes eschewing meat more palatable for the vege-wary in a new show. But pot-roasted cauli?

Recipes for people who’ve grown up with traditional fare but want to cut down on their meat consumption aren’t a new thing. Over the past 20 years, Alison and Simon Holst’s Meals Without Meat has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in New Zealand alone.

But it’s getting a bit serious these days, what with climate change and all. Perhaps the move to meatlessness needs a new champion. Ideally, one who doesn’t offer fiddly Yotam Ottolenghi-style recipes that are lovely to look at in photographs but a royal pain to assemble and a challenge to put in front of the kids. That champion just might be Jamie Oliver.

Oliver begins his new series, Jamie’s Ultimate Veg (TVNZ 1, Thursday, 8.30pm), by addressing head-on the hurdle faced by the vege-curious – the result sometimes just isn’t meaty enough. His first recipe is a belly-filling cottage pie with a vegetable gravy that he just whips up in a blender. The next (after a travel sequence where he wanders between Delhi street vendors oohing and aahing) is “an Indian-style chip buttie” and the third is a mac’n’cheese with a green vegetable sauce.

It’s not vegan, let alone keto or paleo, but it all looks healthy, comforting and easy enough to cook. And it’s coherent. Oliver explains why caramelising your leeks makes everything taste better and how cumin magically adds the savoury element you’re missing.

Sadly, he may not have backed off his unfortunate habit of sometimes offering dishes that simply don’t work in real life – episode five includes the infamous whole pot-roasted cauliflower from Jamie Cooks Italy, which really only exists because he needed to come up with new recipes to sell. I’d be inclined to follow the advice of people who have actually tried to make it (“the worst cauliflower dish I have ever eaten,” said Jesse Mulligan, “I don’t know why I thought it would work”) and steer clear.

But, mostly, this is the good Jamie and it’s timely. The travelogue elements are balanced with enough actual cooking and the whole thing benefits from having a clearer sense of purpose than some of his previous series. The chef who got young men to believe it’s cool to cook for your mates does a pretty convincing job of being the chef who helps families make more of their everyday meals without meat (you can find recipes from the series here).

This article was first published in the February 8, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

For more on the political, cultural and literary life of the country, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up to our weekly newsletter.