This blog post is about my love for British vegetarian fry-ups, aka a ‘cooked breakfast’, but which is also suitable for a dinner.
There are not enough greasy spoons around these days, or as most non-British people would call them ‘cafés’. However using the word café doesn’t mean you will be able to buy a cooked breakfast / fry-up there, but by me using the term ‘greasy spoon’, you should think of frying pans, grills, toast and squeezy bottles of tomato or brown sauce on the table.
My current favourite greasy spoon is a short train ride away, where the food is served quickly and you get a free refill of tea or coffee. In my youth a greasy spoon was a great cure for a hangover, but now for me a greasy spoon means a filling breakfast, setting me up for the day.
When I had just turned vegetarian, people used to tell me that a cooked breakfast without meat, wasn’t a cooked breakfast. I don’t listen to such nonsense. I must admit I rarely use the term ‘cooked breakfast’, but prefer the term ‘fry-up’, even though I rarely fry anything!
Back in my childhood you could expect a grandparent to use lard and to fry items such as sausages, bacon, eggs, black pudding, tomatoes and bread (fried bread) in a frying pan. Often scrambled egg (made in a saucepan) was also part of a breakfast. Now times have changed, healthier options are chosen, I’ve been a vegetarian all my adult life, but a fry-up is still part of my life.
So being vegetarian doesn’t stop me from enjoying a fry-up, and whether you are vegetarian or not, a fry-up ‘for me’ often will include plum tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, toast, tea or coffee. Sometimes enjoyed with a small glass of fruit juice, such as fresh orange. I often enjoy additional items such as fried onions, hash browns and potato pancakes.
I won’t eat a fry-up during a weekday unless I’m not working, but often I will either make a small one at the weekend, else a larger one if a busy day ahead or guests are visiting.
So let’s look at how you can put together a simple vegetarian fry-up:
Step 1 – The mushrooms.
I will cook mushrooms in two ways for a fry-up. The first and simplest is to buy large mushrooms, such as portobello mushrooms, which I wash and leaving wet I ‘grill’ on both sides until cooked. My grilling the large mushrooms they don’t shrink down as much as frying.
The second method of cooking mushrooms, is when I buy smaller mushrooms which I again wash and then chop into quarters, but this time will cook in a saucepan on the hob. I will cook in a small amount of margarine, but place the lid ‘almost’ fully onto the small saucepan, allowing the extra condensation generated to help with the cooking and reducing the require margarine.
Sometimes I will also cook chopped onions with the mushrooms. Onions are cheaper than mushrooms, so they not only taste great, but can help serve a bigger breakfast, but spending less money. In the photo above, I’ve cooked red onions with small mushrooms.
Step 2 – The tomatoes.
Again there are two methods I use for cooking tomatoes for breakfast. The first is to use any tomatoes I’ve got left over in the fridge, and to wash, then chop into half and grill the tomato halves on both sides under a grill.
The second and my favourite method is to buy a can of plum tomatoes, and then microwave them for two and a half minutes in the tomato juice they come with. I then serve these sweet tomatoes without the juice. Don’t get confused with ‘chopped plum tomatoes’, but instead use a non-chopped can of plum tomatoes. If I had brought fresh plum tomatoes, I would cut them in half and grill, but I microwave ‘canned’ plum tomatoes.
Step 3 – The beans.
I will cook beans (beans in tomato sauce) in a microwave, but in the old days people would cook beans on a hob in a small saucepan on a low heat, until they boil. If feeding four people, a whole can of beans in tomato sauce is required. I don’t make the ‘tomato sauce’ etc, but in Britain we buy beans in tomato sauce in cans / containers, which are quite cheap.
Step 4 – The toast.
I love British white bread toasted, and a couple of slices is probably enough per person. Often there will be jams on a table, so a person can choose to eat their toast with a bit of jam after finishing their fry-up. I never do this, but I know others who do. The posh way is to place the toast in a ‘toast rack’, often sliced into triangles upon the table, but we got rid of ours and just use a plate!
The optional extras.
For many having items such as vegetarian sausages or vegetarian bacon is a must. Personally I find them quite expensive and I actually prefer vegetarian bacon as part of a bacon sandwich, rather than with a fry-up. I don’t need ‘replacement’ meat to have a great cooked breakfast.
If you do use vegetarian sausages, you will have to start cooking them before most other items, as they usually take twenty minutes or so. I do quite like ‘hash browns’ with a breakfast, which is actually sometime I picked up whilst in America over twenty years ago.
I love having white pepper and brown sauce with this breakfast, but others might prefer black pepper, salt and / or tomato sauce.
People tend to have tea or coffee with this type of British breakfast, especially when eating out. Not a light delicate tea, but something strong with milk, and sugar if desired (I don’t have sugar in my tea anymore).
I love filtered coffee if not having tea. If eating this breakfast in a hotel or at home, then you might want to have fresh fruit juice as well. A B&B or hotel will often have fresh orange juice available in small glasses.
Having a fry-up / grill for dinner.
If eating the fry-up for dinner, often people will have burgers, in my case vegetarian burgers. Also chips are also cooked (in the oven), to accompany the dinner version of this meal. Though when I was in London last year, I was given chips with my mushrooms on toast (which was lovely), without asking for breakfast.