Sadly, as Joan, I know what it is to feel persecution. I know the pain as the table turns against me. I feel the heat of my dining companions’ wrath when my faddy, time-consuming diet causes the chef to burn their steak.
I am of course talking about being a Vegetarian in France. Could there be a smaller, more hated minority? As Sarkozy steams ahead with reforms and cozying up to Bush, I fear that Vegetarians in France may soon feel the force of his tractor beam; how long until the deportations?
Talking through a menu with French waiters is like receiving a lesson in culinary Luddism. It is as though I am lost somewhere in the Fifteenth Century as these formidable men struggle to understand the concept of another way of life:
“ Yes, Good Evening, I’ve looked through the menu, and – err- I’m vegetarian and there’s nothing for me to eat”.
Big Gallic shrug, Neanderthal grunting and shaking of head as Early Man tries to understand,
“Hello, umm, I’m vegetarian and I’ve had a look through the menu, but there’s nothing I can eat”.
Suave and cocky, this one,
“Well, you can at least finish your wine before you go”,
looks around grinning, he is pleased with his sharp, incisive wit.
“Ha ha, yes, very good, well, would the chef do me an omelette?”
Serious now, this a grave and delicate subject,
“Ah non. Chef says that if you want an omelette, then you cook it at home”.
I do think of the French as equals, really I do. No matter that we won the Hundred Years War on aggregate, that’s all in the past. Or that if it weren’t for us they’d all be speaking German. We should put all of this to one side and rejoice in our EU one-ness.
Yet – given that this IS the 21st Century – I do confess to some puzzlement. How can the rest of the world have embraced new tastes, diets and ways of eating, yet alive and well here in the Hexagon, there are many many eaters of frogs thighs and snails, who snigger at the notion of being vegetarian? And I’m not talking country inbreds, I mean chic Parisians. It really is a conundrum.
My husband and I were once invited to dinner with his ex-French boss. His wife was determined to rise to the challenge posed by her strange guests. With great enthusiasm she described what she would be serving. I showed polite interest and asked pertinent questions.
“You see,” she said,
“Gazpacho is full of vitamins. (Clearly lacking in our restricted diet) Tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, olive oil, it’s all extremely good. There are only good things in my Gazpacho.
It’s especially good for people like you”.
She cocked her head on one side and gave me a pitying look, of the kind they used on wrongly accused Joan of Arc, as the flames started to lick around her feet.
Plus ça change…
Gazpacho (Serves 4-6 adults)
I struggled with the notion of cold soup for quite some time, until of course it was placed before me with a flourish chez Le Boss. But I am a convert, it's very yummy and great for hot summer days. You remember those, don't you?
10 big vine tomatoes
1 large cucumber
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 small green pepper
5 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper to serve (not white pepper if serving this to Coeliacs, some white peppers use a wheat starch as a 'filler')
Ice-cubes to serve
- Place the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water over the tomatoes until they are submerged. Leave them for about 10 minutes, then prick them with the point of a sharp knife. The skins should burst open. Pour off hot water, then, using a knife, spend a fiddly 10 minutes peeling off the skins. If you're like me and fussy about tomatoes, you might want to cut out their hearts too
- Put the skinned tomatoes into a liquidiser jug and set aside
- Roughly chop the green pepper and cucumber, skin the garlic cloves and add to the tomatoes along with the olive oil, vinegars and passata
- Whizz it all up until all the lumps are gone
- Taste, and if it's slightly acidic, add the sugar, you may prefer it without. Add salt and pepper to taste
- Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours (can easily be made the day before your chic summer dinner party)
- When ready to serve, dole out into bowls and drop in some ice-cubes
- Send up a little prayer for Joan. Enjoy your meal