Out-of-the-box vegetarian dishes by Shaun Kenworthy
Here we are over a year on from the first lockdown and back to where we started, locked up in our houses, with all the parks — walking, running and spaces for exercising, locked up. For me at least, I really have little problem with having to stay at home. There is always plenty to do but not spending that one hour every morning at Rabindra Sarobar, really is the thing that’s made me most miserable… building up a good sweat, soaking in the vitamin D and just generally setting yourself up for the day, mentally and physically, just has to be the biggest loss for me in the lockdown.
But we all have to evolve and find ways to take care of our health. It’s the biggest defence against Covid and there really is no excuse to not exercise at all. At the moment, we have given the cook and sweeper paid leave. The most important thing is that we all need to protect each other for the time being and if I am honest, after my early morning exercise, I have really enjoyed doing all the sweeping, mopping, hand-washing clothes, cooking and washing dishes. I can tell you honestly that washing those clothes by hand, sweeping and mopping has been just as much of a workout as the one I do early morning!
Another thing that we suddenly all have the time for is spending in the kitchen. I know I am a chef but cooking at home is such a beautiful thing that all of us can do every day. It’s my personal stress buster, where I can just walk into any kitchen and get lost in my own thoughts and ‘put the world to rights’, as I am sure many people will agree.
For this week’s column and after last week’s cake indulgence, I am going to do simple vegetarian dishes that I know anyone can do at home with little faffing around and the whole family can get involved and enjoy too.
This is a great way to use up all the vegetables that may have lying around in the fridge. There are little or no rules about the kind of vegetables, seasonings and spices that you use and you could also add a sprinkle of cheese if you like. Though it looks Greek or French Provencale, it tastes Indianesque. It will be great as an accompaniment to meat or fish. Great on its own with a rice or potato dish or a hot crusty, well buttered baguette. And even plain roti or, if there’s any leftovers, tossed with your favourite pasta the next day.
‣ First, make a tomato ragu by sauteeing garlic and onion in a good glug of olive oil, for a couple of minutes.
‣ Add quartered tomatoes, olives and basil leaves and if you want, chopped green chillies, chilli paste, toasted cumin seeds and toasted cracked coriander seeds.
‣ Season well with plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
‣ Bring it to a simmer and leave it to cook for 40 minutes. (At this point if you wanted to make a non-vegetarian version, it would be great with the addition of some anchovies, or chunks of pepperoni or chorizo).
‣ Pour it into a casserole dish, layered with sliced tomatoes, brinjal and zucchini over.
‣ Drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and black pepper and bake it in a preheated oven at 180°C for 45 minutes to an hour.
A friend of mine asked me to post a recipe for this pea guacamole a couple of weeks ago. I have had it on loads of different menus over the years, in many reincarnations and to cut to the chase, it came out of the frustration of many years and not being able to get good avocados in India. Those days are gone now, well almost, and we get good avocados for most of the year.
You could either use fresh peas straight out of the pod or frozen ones but I still think if you want something similar to the texture of delicious ripe avocado, then those dried cooked peas are an absolute winner, which I have used in the photo but the rest, I will leave it to you.
‣ Put the peas into a blender and make a puree.
‣ Spoon it into a bowl and stir in the green chillies, red onion, tomatoes, the juice of a lemon, some chopped coriander, a good drizzle of olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste. You could also add a little roasted ground cumin.
‣ Eat it just as you would a regular guacamole — as a dip with chips, in a wrap or with some toasted crispy bread. It’s delicious!
One more really easy recipe that anyone can make at home with the kids. Everyone is going to love them. They also take me back 13 or 14 years to a restaurant I had in Calcutta, The Blue Potato, and a vegetarian starter that was on the menu from day one.
There’s no real need for a recipe here as it’s really up to you how much or many you want to make but once they are in olive oil and in the fridge, they will last for months. I always have some in mine and they do mature a little over time.
‣ Strain the set curd through a sieve placed over a bowl, lined with a clean, large enough piece of cotton cloth to cover it fully.
‣ Then place a plate on top with some sort of weight, a kilo or so to press it, overnight at room temperature.
‣ By morning, the curd that was left, should be around 200 to 300g and firm to the touch with soft, cheese-like consistency.
‣ Put it into a bowl and add a good pinch of salt. You can either leave it as it is or add garlic, herbs, spices of your choice. I added chopped garlic and parsley and then rolled into 1inch balls.
‣ Chilli flakes, chopped parsley and cracked black pepper were added.
‣ Place into a container or jar, covered with olive oil and keep refrigerated to fish out and use whenever you fancy.
This is another one of those ‘empty out your fridge and use up all those way past their sell-by date veggies’, throw into a saucepan, cook and serve.
‣ Heat a large saucepan on medium heat with olive oil and fry the chopped onions, along with carrots, pumpkin and garlic.
‣ Cook for a couple of minutes and then stir in the chopped green chillies. Add the ground cumin and smoked paprika too.
‣ Next, pour in half a litre of fresh tomato puree or passata, water, a fistful of your favourite lentils, potatoes and finely grated zest of lemons.
‣ Season well, bring to a boil and leave to simmer for around 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables and lentils are tender.
‣ Finally, stir in the chickpeas or kidney beans and the peas.
‣ Squeeze in a lemon and check the seasoning. Sprinkle in some freshly chopped parsley or coriander and serve with some home-made sourdough bread.
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