Here’s a little something I made up the other day for a quick lunch that was so good I had it again the next day. I say “quick”, because this “chaat masala salad” took advantage of a few leftovers, including cooked dal I’d stashed in the freezer, some chaat masala I made previously and tamarind chutney from Asma ‘s Darjeeling Express Supperclub. Were I to start from scratch, it would have taken lots longer, but all the more reason for keeping these Indo-staples readily available. Particularly the chaat masala, my new favourite salad condiment!
The whole idea was inspired by Urvashi Roe’s Gujerati Class at Demuths Vegetarian Cookery School, where she showed us how to make Indian “street food”, including “chaat“, basically a mish-mash of random tasty ingredients – a total whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation.
Technically my chaat masala salad wasn’t a “chaat” at all, lacking the yummy fried dough bits that are typical of dishes of this kind. But never mind, it was delicious, and I got my crunch factor from toasted cashews!
Here’s how it came together:
Heat up about 1/2 a cup of cooked lentils (chickpeas would be good here, and/or boiled potato). While this is happening…
Combine together some finely chopped or grated vegetables. Good contenders include: cabbage (white and red), carrots, tomato, and cucumber.
Finely slice 1/2 shallot. Chop a small handful of coriander. Add this stuff to the vegetables. Toss the whole thing with a squeeze of lemon juice and some salt.
Now, put the dish together, starting with some lentils at the bottom of a bowl.
Top with some of the salad mixture.
Sprinkle with chaat masala.
Drizzle on some tamarind chutney.
Sprinkle on some grated or desiccated coconut.
Sprinkle on some toasted cashews.
Serve with any extra salad on the side. And keep the chaat masala, tamarind chutney and coconut handy in case you want to add more as you go.
Here is the recipe for chaat masala that I used. And here’s a recipe for tamarind chutney (though I’m hoping Asma will share hers one day!). Both are worth keeping around, along with cooked beans and lentils, for thrown-together random salads like this one.
My mom and I recently took a trip to Marrakech. It was our first time in Morocco and one of the things we looked forward to the most was the food. We both thought we knew what Moroccan food was like, but in retrospect, we hadn’t a clue beyond couscous and vegetable tagine. However, we quickly learned…
Our education began at our riad, Riad Tizwa, in Marrakech’s Old City. A riad is a large traditional house built around a central courtyard; in Marrakech many of these riads operate as guest houses and provide a much more intimate experience of the city than a traditional hotel. Ours was hidden amongst the maze of the Medina’s winding passages and we wouldn’t have found it were it not for our taxi driver (word to the wise traveller: if your hotel or riad offers airport transport, take them up on it). But behind an unmarked door was a beautiful palatial home scented with local perfume and full of light, greenery, fruit trees and flowers.
Our host greeted us with Moroccan mint tea (which I only knew about thanks to Urvashi Roe’s excellent write-up on the Art of Moroccan Mint Tea) and some sound advice on where we should go for great Moroccan food. As a result, we had some amazing, epic meals – most notably at Ksar Essaoussan and Le Tobsil - that were real lessons in how to feast Moroccan style.
To our collective vegetarian delight, meals started with a selection of cooked and raw salads, but not salads as I’m used too. These were more like little tasting plates of vegetables in various chopped, grated or pureed form. As a result, you didn’t quite know what you were eating until you tried it, making each dish an exciting surprise. Memorable salads include a celery and tomato diced salad with herbs which reminded us of tabbouleh without bulgar. We also had some amazing cooked peppers and tomato seasoned with paprika, cumin and garlic. Spices. Spices were used across the dishes in all kinds of crazy unexpected ways (tomato and cinnamon, for example, and it works).
Main courses were less of a surprise, but I think this is largely due to the vegetarian thing. Everywhere we went we got couscous and vegetable tagine, all delicious and wonderful, but with surprisingly very little variation. Carrots and parsnip was par for the tagine course, with the occasional cauliflower or green pepper. Only once did we get chickpeas in our tagine. We kept talking about how good the tagines were, but how much we wished they had more of this or that, particularly cauliflower (my mother and I both are cauliflower fiends). But a glance at the city’s food markets made it pretty clear that these people were working with a pretty limited selection of ingredients, purely dictated by what was in season at the time. But isn’t that the way it should be?
In a way, this makes the tagine the ultimate seasonal stew, and one of the first things I did when I came home from Marrakech was to make a tagine.
In case you’re unaware, a tagine is a fragrant spicy stew named after the earthenware pot in which it is made (a normal pot, preferably cast iron, also works). With Marrakech in mind, I made my tagine using what was in season, but this time I was working with British ingredients: carrots, romanesco cauliflower and the last of the season’s courgettes and green beans. But this dish would work with almost anything and seems particularly adept to autumn and winter vegetables like swede, butternut squash, pumpkin, potato and cauliflower. I like to keep the vegetables in large chunks and serve it with sprinkled with toasted almonds. It’s the perfect thing on a cold, wet, dreary British day. And oddly, it also happens to be the perfect thing on a sweltering hot and sunny afternoon in Morocco: further proof that the tagine is one of the most miraculous dishes around, globe-spanning and eternally versatile.
1-3 tsp harissa (start with 1tsp and adjust to suit your spice tolerance)
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
1 lemon, juice and zest
a handful fresh cilantro
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 small cauliflower, broken into big florets
½ cup cooked chickpeas
a handful of raisins
toasted sliced almonds
couscous to serve
Heat olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onion for a few minutes until it softens.
Add garlic, ginger and the spices and stir around a bit.
Add the harissa, tomatoes, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil and then lower the heat.
Add the vegetables and stir around, make sure that all vegetables are somewhat covered in tomato sauce. Put the lid on and simmer for about an hour. Stir carefully once or twice, otherwise leave the lid on – and be patient!
Serve with couscous and a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds.
This week is National Vegetarian Week, 20-26 May, a week devoted to all things veggie. Loads of people are now singing the praises of a meat-free (or mostly meat-free) diet. Even notorious carnivore Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall now eats little meat or fish, declaring in the Guardian recently: “we need to eat more vegetables and less flesh because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm.” (Which I basically agree with.)
It just goes to show that you don’t need to be a vegetarian to appreciate that vegetables are a good thing and most of us should be eating more of them. National Vegetarian Week, and its subsequent outpouring of recipes and resources from all those involved, can be a good starting point for those who need a little vegetable inspiration.
Here are my suggestions for how to eat more vegetables, including easy vegetables to start with, and a rock solid vegetarian recipe that will please all palettes (provided they can handle a bit of spice).
Get Some Vegetables
Start with easy vegetables. By “easy”, I mean easy to clean, prepare and cook (a muddy beetroot is not a good place to start). A beautiful vegetable, raw or cooked can form the basis for any number of dishes, be it pasta, lentils, omelettes, pizzas…even a humble green salad can be perked up with a few grilled bell peppers.
Here are my go-to staple vegetables, organised by cooking technique, for easy-to-make and tasty-to-eat vegetarian and vegan meals:
Easy to cook greens (stir-fry with onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper – add chilli flakes if you want a kick): Kale, cabbage, spring greens, spinach, swiss chard
Good stir-fry vegetables (a great basis for tossing with pasta, rice, beans or lentils for a complete meal; garnish with crumbled feta or some toasted nuts and seeds and you’ll be glad you did): Carrots, peppers, mushrooms, greens, broccoli, asparagus, green beans
Good raw vegetables (simply slice / chop and eat, with hummus or salad dressing if you’d like): Carrots, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, radishes
Vegetables that are good on the BBQ (baste with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, throw it on the BBQ – this is a basic one-stop solution to making vegetables amazing): Asparagus, courgettes / zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers
A Good Vegetarian Meal Doesn’t Try to Fake it
Of course, a few vegetables alone don’t make a meal. So what are your options? My advice is to cook something that is inherently vegetarian and not some kind of mock-meat sausage in disguise (this will only leave you banging for bangers). If there’s one cuisine that I have had consistent success with in pleasing all food lovers, vegetarians and omnivores alike, it is Indian food. And if there’s one dish that has rocked all of their worlds, it’s my lentil dal.
Dal is awesome because it’s vegetarian (vegan, in fact) by nature, easy and quick to make, and very adaptable to all manners of vegetables. You can make it as is, as simple lentils, or you can add in whatever vegetables you have on hand (cauliflower and spinach work especially well, but I’ve also had good success with carrots, chard and purple sprouting broccoli).
Served with some basmati rice (and if you’re feeling adventures, a cucumber and coconut salad), then you’ve got yourself a meal that’s nutritious, flavoursome and won’t make you think about the meat you’re not eating. Seriously, I have meat-eating friends who ask for this dal specifically when they come to visit. And a recent Airbnb guest, a real dal aficionado declared it “better than the dal I usually make at home”. It’s pretty special.
Panch Phoran is a spice blend of fenugreek, mustard seeds, onion seed, fennel seeds and cumin seeds. You can buy the blend in Indian supermarkets, or make it yourself by combining equal parts of each of the above seeds. If you do make it yourself, make a lot of it, because you’ll be making this dal again and again. No joke.
250 grams red lentils (masoor dal)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon panch shoran (a seed blend of equal parts fenugreek, mustard seed, onion seed, fennel seed and cumin seed)
10-20 curry leaves
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger
400g tinned diced tomatoes
pinch of chili flakes (optional)
salt to taste
1 cup (or more) of spinach, cauliflower or any other vegetable you’d like to use in your dal
Combine the red lentils, water and turmeric in a pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer until the dal is tender, about 20-30 minutes.
While the lentils cook, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the panch phoran and curry leaves. As soon as the seeds start to pop, add the onion, garlic and ginger. Cook until the onion is soft (it should not brown).
Add the tomatoes, cooked lentils, chili and salt. Cook for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavours to bend. Add your desired vegetable and let them simmer in the dal until they are cooked. Note: if using spinach or any other quick-cooking green, add this at the very end just before serving.
Garnish with cilantro, if you’d like. Serve hot with basmati rice or warm naan bread.
The traditional way of making falafel involves soaking chickpeas, blending them up with onion, herbs and spices, then deep frying them into crispy balls of perfection. The key point here is that the chickpeas aren’t cooked – if they were, they falafel would fall apart and you’d need flour or breadcrumbs to hold the falafel together. To me, this defeats the purpose, especially if you’re serving the falafel in a pita. I want to fill my pita with beans, not bread (it’s the age-old veggie burger versus bread burger dilemma).
For lack of good falafel in the Cotswolds, I’ve tried making my own falafel the traditional way but it’s always been a disaster, primarily at the deep frying step. I don’t think I can get my oil hot enough on the electric hob (that, or I’m scared). So the falafel just ends up soaking up all the oil and then falling into greasy gross pieces.
I’ve experimented with several baked falafel recipes, all of which involve using cooked chickpeas, or in Leon’s case, chickpea flour. The baked falafel I made with my sister was decent, but not exactly ultimate.
I’ve made these twice now, and while they don’t have quite the same wow-factor as really good deep-fried falafel, they are still pretty damn good and, as it seems, worth making again and again. They also keep well in the freezer which makes them handy for lunches (I re-heat them in the toaster!).
I like to serve mine with a simple tahini sauce made with lemon juice, tahini and enough water to make a drizzle-able dressing. Chilli jam or harissa is nice, too.
The next thing to master are those great pickles you get with falafel in good falafel joints. The best I’ve ever had were the falafel and pickles from Arabica in Borough Market, though the last time I had them they weren’t quite as good as I remember. (I’ve since been told I must go to Mr. Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush.)
Is it pickled turnips I’m after? And I haven’t even touched on the falafel sauce. Tzatziki? Tahini? Hot sauce? All of the above?
I wrote about these veggie sausages for Great British Chefs this week, but thought they were so good I wanted to give them a wider audience. Make them and enjoy with a crispy salad of carrot, apple, celery, red onion and honey mustard dressing, plus a big blog of good dijon mustard on the side.
Yesterday, Monday, 5th November 2012 marged the beginning of British Sausage Week, a time intended for encased-pork devotion. I may not eat pork, but I do have a fondness for sausage-esque foods. This may have something to do with my Chicago-based upbringing, studded with Polish sausage at family gatherings and an ardent appreciation for the Chicago-style hot dog, served with yellow mustard, whtie onions, pickle relish, “sport peppers”, tomato and celery salt (never ketchup). (Mention must be said of Hot Doug’s, the “sausage superstore and encased meat emporium”, for doing the best Chicago-style veggie hot dog in the world – it’s wrong, but oh so right.)
Back to British Sausage Week, I thought it a fine excuse to seek out a worthy veggie sausage to honour the occasion. But let’s not misdirect our plaudits: I’m not referring to those “fake meat” varieties of veggie sausage you often find in the supermarket (or dare I say Hot Doug’s), filled with weird stuff that not only isn’t meat, but also isn’t food in my opinion (don’t get me started on Quorn). In fact, these supermarket varieties give “vegetarian sausage” a bad name. In fact, the veggie sausage can be a delight, with as much nuance and comfort factor as its porky counterparts.
So what makes a great veggie sausage? I feel the same way about veggie sausage as I do about veggie burgers: they shouldn’t try to imitate meat – people who want a meaty sausage should just eat a meaty sausage. But if you love vegetables and want to experience them in tubular form, then veggie sausages are the way to go and are a novel form factor in which to showcase delicious ingredients. Options abound, from Rachel Demuth’s Glamorgan Sausages, made with cheddar, spring onions, breadcrumbs and loads of herbs to the Gluttonous Vegan’s Beany Snausages, a sort of rice-and-beans in sausage form.
I like my vegetarian sausages to be about the vegetables, and since we’re in the depths of autumn and beetroot season, I am sharing with you my recipe for beetroot and walnut veggie sausages inspired by Susan Voison. These sausages combine ingredients that work exceptionally well together – beetroot, walnuts, fennel and chilli – to create a sausage reminiscent of American-style “Italian sausage”. It’s great in a bun with sauteed onions and peppers, or on its own with tomato sauce or dijon mustard. The sky’s the limit: these babies are versatile, not to mention vegan and gluten free. You can even crumble them up and put them on a pizza.
Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Prepare a roasting tin or baking pan by oiling it generously with olive or sunflower oil.
Place the mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let them sit for at least 10 minutes, then drain and squeeze out the excess liquid.
Put the walnuts into a food processor and pulse to chop finely (but not too finely, we want chopped nuts, not nut powder), then remove and put into a large mixing bowl.
Peel the beetroot and cut it into small cubes. Add it to the food processor along with the mushrooms, garlic, and onion and pulse to chop coarsely. Add the chickpeas and all remaining ingredients and pulse several times to chop the chickpeas. Don’t over-do it: you want to maintain some texture, while still processing enough to form a mixture that you can shape into veggie sausages.
Add the processor contents to the nuts and stir well to combine.
Using a tablespoon, scoop out pieces of the mixture and, using damp hands, form the pieces into sausage-shapes (of whatever size you fancy!), squeezing lightly to compact it (you can also shape them into balls or patties if you wish). Place the sausages on the roasting tin or baking sheet.
Bake for about 35 minutes, turning the sausages once mid-bake, until lightly browned on all sides.
This evening, I attempted to recreate this marvelous chickpea dish I had at Kate Hill’s Kitchen-at-Camont in Gascony earlier this summer. It was the eve before the Natural Light Natural Food photography workshop, and upon my arrival, Tim Clinch greeted me with a glass of rosé and, a short while later, these beautiful chickpeas. I love a man who knows how to handle his beans, and these were a marvel of simplicity - I just loved the combo of chickpeas and carrots. How is it done?
Tim spilled the beans (pun intended) on Twitter: “chickpeas, cumin (lots-toasted), smoked paprika, parsley, coriander, olive oil, garlic(lots) zest&juice of a lemon-bon apetit!!! oh…and a couple of carrots! … grill the garlic unpeeled till blackened on a dry griddle, then mash up… I probably grilled shallots and chopped them into it as well.”
The results of my attempt? Not bad, but I didn’t have parsley or coriander. I also added grilled onions, and did the carrots on the grill, too. My chickpeas weren’t as good as Tim’s, but they satisfied my craving. Plus, they’re super wholesome and vegan and all that good hippy stuff. Feel-good food for a feel-good summer moment.
I should also point out that (I think?) this was the only time Tim cooked while I was at Camont – the rest of the time he was busy doing his photographer thing with Mardi and I while Kate rocked the kitchen. So I feel quite lucky to have experienced first hand that Tim, in addition to being a great photographer and teacher, also has a few culinary tricks up his sleeve, tricks that totally appeal to my bean-eating, spice-loving, vegan-esque sensibilities. I totally approve! Rad food for rad peeps!
I went through a long phase where I was cooking and eating a lot of Indian food, so much so that I’m pretty sure I was one of those people who perpetually smelled like a curry house. Indian is one of my favourite cuisines and I feel like I’m at a point where I have a good repertoire of techniques and go-to recipes that work every time (red lentil dal with panch phoran, besan cheelas, cucumber and coconut salad to name a few).
But then suddenly the phase stopped. The recipes got old. I got bored. Then, a few weeks ago, my recent weekend with Urvashi Roe rejuvenated my appetite for Indian with a slew of new flavour sensations gained largely at her breakfast table and at the buffet at Sakonis. I’ve been heavily experimenting with new Indian recipes ever since.
Once such recipe is this Yellow Pea Dahl from the Green Seasons cookbook by Rachel Demuth. Though not Indian herself, Rachel’s traveled the globe, learned from the best and has been passing on her knowledge of Indian cookery (amongst other cusines) at her Vegetarian Cookery School for years.
This dahl caught my eye for its lack of tomatoes and inclusion of tamarind, a tart, sour fruit. The only substitution I made was to use channa dal rather than yellow split peas. This was such a refreshing change from my usual dal, with the lemony tang of the tamarind giving this a fresh edge. It’s also a cinch to throw together and does really well with a bit of spinach added to the mix. Give me this and with some raita, spicy pickles and warm chapatti, and I’m a happy camper.
I think this may even become my new breakfast “porridge”, but I’ll save my current savoury breakfast phase for another post.
With a bit of tang from the tamarind, this dahl is a total surprise. It’s a fresh, light dahl, that works as well for breakfast as it does for lunch or dinner. Channa dal works a charm in place of the yellow split peas, and I suspect red lentils would be pretty good too. Reprinted with permission from Green Seasons cookbook by Rachel Demuth.
150g yellow split peas
6 shallots, peeled and sliced
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
2 tbsps sunflower oil or ghee
½ tsp mustard seeds
6 curry leaves
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp tamarind paste, diluted with 2 tsps water
1 tsp jaggery or brown sugar
small handful fresh coriander, chopped
Soak the yellow split peas in water for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse.
Simmer the yellow split peas and shallots in the water until cooked, approximately 25 minutes, adding more water if needed.
Add the salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Mix well, take off the heat and set aside.
Heat the sunflower oil or ghee in a small frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the curry leaves, cumin and asafoetida, stir and remove from the heat.
Add the tamarind and jaggery to the seasoned oil, return to the heat and cook until thick and bubbly.
Heat the split pea mixture. Pour the seasoned oil over the split peas and stir in.
Sometimes a dish comes along that reminds me how wonderfully flavoursome, satisfying and comforting good vegetarian food can be.
Fagioli all’ Uccelletto, or “beans made in the manner of little birds”, is a Tuscan dish classically made with cannellini beans served in a rich tomato sauce. The name is derived from the herbs (particularly sage) used to season small game birds so dear to the Tuscany culinary tradition.
I came across this dish at Silvana de Soissons’ Foodie Bugle lunch party earlier this month. She prepared her fagioli all’ uccelleto with a mix of borlotti, haricot and butter beans, along with cavalo nero (my favourite type of kale). This was by far my favourite dish of the meal.
When Silvana came ’round to serve the beans, she said, “to me, this is lunch”, and I couldn’t agree with her more. This is precisely the kind of food I love and live on, and this dish reminded me that some of the most deliciously wholesome food in life comes from the combination of just a few simple, quality ingredients.
This is also the type of dish that might inspire people who are usually mystified by vegetables like kale to use more of these ingredients. The beans and tomato sauce really bring the cavalo nero into its own. Forget River Cottage Veg, THIS is what everyday vegetarian cooking is all about.
Thank you to Silvana for sharing the recipe with me and allowing me to reprint it here. I’ve already made a batch once, and suspect I’ll be making it many times again.
400g cooked beans (butter, haricot, borlotti all work well or a mixture of all)
250g cavolo nero
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 chilli, deseeded, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper
1 tbsp. of finely chopped sage or rosemary needles
Zest and juice of an unwaxed lemon
250g fresh, ripe tomatoes, chopped into small pieces (can be tinned tomatoes if that’s all you’ve got)
If you are cooking dried beans, soak overnight in water and then drain them. Boil in fresh water for an hour or more, until they are cooked and soft. If using jars of cooked beans then just drain and rinse.
Wash the cavolo nero and tear off the leaves in small pieces. Discard the tough stalks. Blanch the cavolo nero in boiling, salted water for about 2-3 minutes, then drain.
In a large sauté pan heat quite a generous amount of olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic and chilli for about 5 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Add the cavolo nero, the tomatoes, the beans, lemon zest and the rosemary or sage. Mix well and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve hot with a drizzle of more olive oil and lemon juice, hot bread or crostini.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook time:15 minutes
Per serving:272 Calories | 11.2 grams Fat | 34.6 grams Carbohydrates | 11.7 grams Protein | 9.9 grams Fiber