The challenge of vegetarian cooking
PUBLISHED: 11:58 18 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:58 18 April 2017
Make room for vegetarian food on the family menu. Charlotte Smith-Jarvis transforms vegetables into interesting, flavoursome snacks and supper dishes. Photos: Sarah Lucy Brown
The older I get, the more I fall in love with vegetarian cooking. As a child I wasn’t one for veggies. My mum does like to cook them until they’re ‘done’ or ‘very done’ (sorry Mum). When I became a mum 11 years ago, I wanted to ensure my daughter had the very best diet. So I began to experiment with vegetables. Initially the late Linda McCartney’s books provided inspiration, but they were based more on meat replacements than proper veg. Today my book shelf is stacked with more inspirational voices, including the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi.
Today I eat vegetarian food at least three times a week by choice. It’s widened my culinary horizons. But it’s also challenging. I have vegetarian friends who’ll settle for a cheese sandwich for dinner rather than going through the faff of peeling and chopping. I’m hoping they’ll try out one of these recipes instead.
Adventurous: Mushroom ceviche with refried beans and pico de gallo
Raw mushrooms. Can you really eat them? The answer is yes, however, they’re not easily digested. But cooked South American style in citrus juice and spice, the cell walls break down much like meat or fish. If you don’t fancy raw, saute them in their juices in a pan. The result will still be delicious. When making the beans I recommend including the listed yeast extract, which gives them superb savoury flavour.
For the mushrooms: 3 large Portobello mushrooms sliced thinly, 6tbsps fresh lime juice, drizzle of olive oil, 1 small red onion minced, 1 deseeded finely sliced red chilli, salt
For the refried beans: 1 tin black beans, 1 onion finely minced, 1tsp garlic powder, 1tsp ground cumin, 1tsp Meridian yeast extract, fresh ground black pepper, 2tbsps oil for frying
For the pico de gallo: 4 large tomatoes deseeded and finely chopped, 1 onion finely chopped, handful finely chopped fresh coriander, 1 red chilli deseeded and finely chopped, squeeze of lime juice, salt to taste. Soft tortillas to serve
Mix all the mushroom ingredients together and place in a tub in the fridge for at least two hours. Mix together all the ingredients for the pico de gallo and place in a tub. For the refried beans, fry the onion in the oil on a low heat until very soft.
Add the spices and yeast extract and cook on a high heat for one minute. Drain the beans and add to the pan. Turn the heat down and saute for 15 minutes. Add some black pepper. Mash in the pan with the back of a fork until smooth.
When ready to serve, warm through the beans and spread over your tortillas. Top with some of the mushroom mix and then with a little pico de gallo. You might want to add sour cream or cheddar cheese too.
Assembly job: Bhel puri
(serves two to four as a snack)
Indian cooking is filled with gorgeous snacks and nibbly bits. This rather inauthentic recipe for bhel puri is made without puffed rice as it’s hard to get hold of.
If you can find it in your local supermarket in the Indian cooking section, add about 150g to the mix. This is the type of thing you can chuck together to go alongside beers in the evening with a group of friends. Spicy, crunchy, sweet and salty – it gets all the senses going.
200g Indian style gathia noodles (like the ones in Bombay mix – or use a plain Bombay mix), 8 crushed poppadoms, 1 onion finely chopped, 1 medium potato peeled, chopped into 1cm pieces, 150g cooked tinned chickpeas, 1tsp ground cumin, 1tsp fennel seeds
For the green chutney: 1 handful each fresh coriander and mint, 1 small onion chopped, juice half a lemon, 1 hot green chilli, ½ cup cold water, salt, sugar and salt to taste
For the date chutney: 20 pitted dates soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes then drained, 4tbsps dark sugar, ¼ cup water, squeeze lemon juice, ¼ to ½ red chilli, pinch salt
Make the chutneys first. Put the ingredients for the date chutney in a food processor and blitz to a puree. Set aside. Wash out the food processor and do the same with the green chutney ingredients.
Place the diced potato in a small pan filled with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain and set aside. Fry the chickpeas in a little oil for five minutes. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and a pinch of salt. Drain onto kitchen paper. Only put everything together when you’re ready to serve.
Mix together the noodles or Bombay mix, potatoes, poppadoms, onion and chickpeas in a dish. Drizzle over a little of each chutney and dive in!
Comfort food: Smoked mac and cheese with roasted pepper and tomato sauce
This is lovely, a soft, garlicky roasted vegetable base, topped with creamy smoked cheese-infused macaroni. I used mature smoked cheddar from the Suffolk Smokehouse and Deli.
For the base: 4 large tomatoes chopped in six pieces each, 2 red peppers deseeded and roughly chopped, 200ml tomato passata, 2 cloves garlic sliced, fresh black pepper, sea salt, pinch sugar
For the cheese sauce: 25g each plain flour and butter, 250ml milk, 1tsp English mustard, large pinch paprika, 100g smoked cheese grated, fresh ground black pepper, sea salt, 1 bunch spring onions finely sliced.
400g macaroni pasta, 50g strong cheddar grated, olive oil for frying
Place the peppers and tomatoes in a medium sized deep casserole dish. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Bake in the oven at 200C for 20 minutes then 220C for 35 to 40 minutes until soft and collapsed. Stir in the passata and sliced garlic.
Now make the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and cook for one minute. Whisk in the milk, bit by bit, to remove any lumps. Cook on a low heat until thick like double cream. Beat in the mustard, cayenne, smoked cheese, pepper and a little salt.
Cook the macaroni in boiling water according to packet instructions. Drain and mix with the cheese sauce. Spoon over the tomato base. Sprinkle over the strong cheese. Bake at 200C for 15 to 20 minutes until golden.
A new classic: Broad bean burger with grilled halloumi and sticky aubergine jam
Tasty, full bodied burgers made with the season’s finest broad beans. The salty halloumi and sweet spicy ‘jam’ make this a rival for any meat burger.
For the aubergine jam: 2 aubergines finely chopped, 6 cloves garlic finely sliced, 4tbsps brown sugar, 4tbsps vinegar, ¼ to ½ red chilli, oil for frying
For the burger: 500g shelled broad beans, 2tsps baking powder, 1 slice white bread, 1 egg, 1 clove garlic, handful each fresh parsley and coriander, 1tbsp chopped fresh mint, 3tsp toasted cumin seeds, 1/2tsp sea salt
To serve: Halloumi, spinach
Fry the garlic for the chilli jam in a little oil until soft but not coloured. Add the rest of the aubergine jam ingredients and cook on a high heat for five minutes. Then turn down to a low heat, cover and cook for about one hour, stirring regularly.
For the burgers place all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Shape into four burgers. Drizzle a baking tray with oil and put the burgers on top. Drizzle the top with more oil and grill until golden on top.
Then turn and cook on the other side. Slice the halloumi and grill it until golden. Serve the burgers in buns with salad, halloumi and aubergine jam.
The East of England Co-op provided the ingredients for this feature. Throughout the summer you’ll find lots of local vegetables in store. These include asparagus and organic salad.
5 places to eat veggie in Suffolk
1. Museum Street Café, Ipswich
2. Cradle, Sudbury
3. The Vegetarian Red Lion, Great Bricett
4. The Walnut Tree, Thwaite
5. Kind Cuisine, Sudbury