The world of meat replacements is getting ever more sophisticated, with proteins that taste convincingly like meat, tear like meat, sizzle in the pan like meat and even bleed like meat. Many of these are pretty tasty, and fit the bill pretty effectively. But there seems to be a loose rule that the more convincing these kind of proteins taste, the more that has been ‘done’ to them to get them there.
As someone who is not vegetarian but avoids meat for most of the week, my feeling would be that while some of these proteins replace meat quite convincingly from a taste perspective, they don’t feel like a full replacement for the ‘food’ part of meat. They don’t feel all that nourishing or comforting, and wouldn’t be something I’d want to eat too regularly. Generally I’d rather have something that isn’t quite replacing meat but is filling the same ‘focal point of the meal’ role, eg halloumi slices, eggs, a hunk of feta, blobs of creamy mozzarella.
This kind of lightweight, not very meaty vegetarian replacement was what I had been aiming at when I started making this smoked mozzarella & nectarine salad for lunch last weekend. I started by slicing the smoked mozzarella into neat circles to dot over the top. There was such a lot of it (one ball feeds a surprising amount of people) so I started tearing the remainders up roughly to put in a bowl and keep for adding to that night’s dinner.
But as I tore it, I realised that the roughly torn smoked mozzarella pieces were very similar in taste and texture to smoked chicken, like Ummera Smokehouse’s gorgeous product (often seen in fancy salads in upmarket Irish restaurants and cafés – Bibi’s, Avoca etc) so I went with that instead and put the neat discs aside instead (actually, I lie, I ate most of those while I was cooking the broccoli but who’s counting).
The cheese made for a really enticing centrepiece to this bright-tasting, late summer salad, and I feel like it could do the same trick in lots of other salads. One note though – it will only do this proteiny-chickeny thing if it’s not heated. Once it’s heated, its character changes completely and it becomes incredibly melty and almost too stringy (tasty but antisocial), because it’s so much drier than regular mozzarella, owing to the smoking.
The smoked mozzarella is usually sold as ‘scamorza‘ and can be found in specialist food retailers, delis and well-stocked supermarkets. It lasts ages so is a good standby option for keeping in the fridge.
SMOKED MOZZARELLA & NECTARINE SALAD
Serves 3-4, depending on whether it’s served by itself or with other additions
200g Tenderstem broccoli
1 just-ripe nectarine
1 ball (ball is the wrong word, it’s more like a snowman shape) of scamorza (smoked mozzarella)
Handful of fresh basil and any other fresh herbs you want to add
2 tbsps of balsamic vinegar (& more to taste)
200g butternut squash cubes
1 cup of cooked, drained, cooled bulgur
1 tbsp of chipotle hot sauce OR (not both!) a few shakes of Tabasco, whichever you have
Good quality olive oil for drizzling
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Roast (or microwave and then pan-fry) the butternut squash cubes till golden, crisp and charring lightly at the edges. Place the Tenderstem in a large dry frying pan (no oil) so that each stem is in contact with the pan, and cook over a high heat till charred, turning every now again to cook evenly. Transfer the cooked bulgur to a large serving dish and top with the warm broccoli and butternut squash. Mix the balsamic vinegar with 1tbsp olive oil, the hot sauce or Tabasco and drizzle over the veg and bulgur.
Slice the nectarine (I got these quite cool looking full circle slices by cutting a tight spiral from the top to the bottom of the fruit then pulling the stone out with my fingers at the opening near the top) then add to the veg. Tear the smoked mozzarella into rough chunks and arrange over the salad. Tear over the herbs, season with chilli flakes, salt and pepper and then drizzle with a little more oil (and more balsamic and hot sauce if desired). Serve at room temperature.