Vegetarian

Yaki udon

udon noodles

This dish is becoming a firm family favourite. It makes an excellent, quick, midweek dinner and can be easily adapted to please the fussy tastes of children. This was the dish that I always used to order at Wagamamas. I don’t bother now that I can make it so easily at home but the reduced portion sizes at Wagamamas have put me off going there in any case.

In this recipe everything revolves around the sauce and noodles. You can then freestyle the rest adding whatever vegetables are in your bottom drawer of your fridge. The original recipe (from Tim Anderson’s ‘Nanban – Japanese Soul Food’) adds beansprouts and mushrooms but I generally use cabbage and carrots because I always have those in and everyone in our household likes them. Tim also adds bacon and you could add chicken or prawns if you like, but I prefer to keep it vegetarian.

With regards to the noodles, I use ready made quick cook udon noodles which I buy from Tesco. Loyal followers of this blog may remember that I did once attempt to make my own but this was very hard work (you have to knead and walk on the dough multiple times and then hand roll the noodles!). I generally don’t mind putting in the effort if the end result is fabulous but in this case the final noodles were a bit rugged and rather stodgy.

My children don’t like onion and so I only put the crispy onion and spring onion on the adult plates. Likewise with the sesame seeds. Everyone likes the omelette topping though and the children squabble over who gets the biggest portion of this.

Yaki-udon

Serves 4

  • 4 x 200g cooked udon noodles
  • ½ a cabbage cut into very thin strips
  • 4 carrots sliced lengthways as thinly as possible and then cut into fine strips
  • 3 cloves of garlic finely sliced
  • A thumb sized piece of ginger finely chopped or grated

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • ½ a teaspoon of ground white pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of mirin
  • 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of dashi powder or MSG (optional – obviously don’t use dashi if you’re a vegetarian)

To garnish

  • Thin omelettes cooled and very finely sliced
  • Sesame seeds
  • Crispy fried onions (you can buy these ready made or make your own buy slicing an onion very, very thinly and then frying on a high heat in a lot of oil for 5-10 minutes until brown and crispy. Drain well on kitchen roll before using)
  • The green tops of spring onion

This makes a large amount. You will need a large wok, otherwise cook in two batches.

Heat a little oil in a large wok until hot. Stir fry the carrots for 1-2 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and cabbage and stir fry for another 3-4 minutes until wilted.

Mix up the ingredients for the sauce and add to the pan, then stir in the cooked or straight-to-wok udon noodles. Stir fry for another couple of minutes until heated through and then serve.

Garnish with the sesame seeds, egg, spring onion and crisp fried onion (or any combination of these that you like).

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Nigel Slater’s mushroom and spinach korma

mushroom and spinachh korma.jpg

Believe me this tastes better than it looks.

I’m rather enjoying being a temporary vegetarian and am not really missing meat and fish at all. I did waver slightly when my son was pushing the battered fish from his takeaway around his plate – my ‘just’ chips hadn’t really hit the spot and I was tempted to eat it all up for him. There was also a stab of jealousy over my husband’s sausages, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. I can just about put up with veggie sausages but vegetarian gravy just doesn’t compare with the meat version.

The hardest thing is eating out. Vegetarians get a rough deal here unless they dine at specifically vegetarian restaurants which is tricky to do when you are mainly friends with meat eaters.

All too often restaurants offer very limited options for vegetarians and the lack of originality is astounding. If you don’t like goats cheese (like me) then you’re pretty much stuffed – goat’s cheese tart being an almost permanent fixture on menus. You must like risotto or you’re in serious trouble. Soup is also popular as restaurants try to kill two birds with one stone by making the obligatory soup option also the vegetarian one. My sister (who lives in a family of vegetarians) jokes about the ubiquitous and bland ‘Mushroom Stroganoff’. She will not eat anywhere unless she can order a bowl of chips if the vegetarian option fails her.

I bought some mushrooms for dinner in the week without a plan. A google recipe search placed the before mentioned ‘Mushroom Stroganoff’ in pole position and I nearly made it for a laugh. But then my head was turned by this Nigel Slater korma from his fabulous ‘Real Food’ book.

It doesn’t sound very exciting (probably the fault of the word ‘korma’) and I wasn’t expecting much (except a disappointed, meat deprived husband). But  it was actually very delicious. The addition of roasted hazelnuts and sultanas is genius  (so do not be tempted to leave these out). Ben ate it very, very happily.

This is not a difficult dish to make once you have prepped and lined up all the ingredients (there are quite a few and they are all important, I’m learning this about vegetarian cookery – vegetables need a lot more help to make them taste ‘special’).

Unfortunately my permanently(?) vegetarian daughter does not like mushrooms. Eating out with her is going to be a nightmare!

Nigel Slater’s mushroom and spinach korma

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite and how much rice you serve with it)

  • 50g of butter (I used ghee)
  • 2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half and finely sliced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • A thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 15 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds crushed
  • ½ a teaspoon of turmeric
  • ½ a teaspoon of chilli powder (I used flakes)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 650g of assorted mushrooms, roughly chopped (I only had 500g which were a mixture of chestnut and some dried Chinese mushrooms which I found in the back of the cupboard and rehydrated in water first)
  • 50g of hazelnuts, toasted and shelled (I toasted mine in a 180oC oven for 10 minutes and then removed the shells by rolling between some kitchen roll)
  • 350g of leaf spinach (I used 6 cubes of frozen spinach as this was all I had)
  • 50g of sultanas (Nigel uses ‘golden’ ones but then he would)
  • 150g of thick natural yoghurt
  • 150g of crème fraiche
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh coriander leaves
  • Salt

Melt the butter (or ghee) in a deep pan (over a medium heat) and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Fry for about 5 minutes until golden (turn the heat down if the butter starts to burn).

Then add the spices and bay leaves and cooked for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Add the mushrooms to the pot and cook for a few minutes until they soften.

Then add 225ml of water and the hazelnuts (I also added my frozen spinach here which I hadn’t bothered to defrost first and used slightly less water – because of the excess in the frozen spinach). Bring the water to a boil turn the heat down low and cook for 15 minutes with a lid on.

If you are using fresh spinach, wash the leaves and cook them (still wet) in a saucepan over a medium heat for a couple of minutes with a lid on (they will cook in their own steam). Drain, squeeze out the water and add to the mushrooms after they have finished simmering for 15 minutes.

Then add the sultanas and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and add in the yoghurt and crème fraiche. Heat gently but don’t boil or the mixture will curdle.

Finally stir in the chopped coriander and season well with salt (I needed two large pinches).

I served the curry with rice but it would be amazing with homemade naan.

 

Cauliflower with saffron, raisins and pinenuts

cauliflowerpinenutssaffron

As a family we have given up TV for Lent. This is very hard but has resulted in us being slightly more productive in the evenings and doing wholesome family things like playing board games.

I have also become a vegetarian for Lent. This is not really a trial for me but it may be hard for my husband. I do the lion’s share of the cooking and so he is now forced to eat less meat too. I’ve suggested that he cooks up a load of sausages on a Monday and eats all my vegetarian creations with ‘a sausage on the side’.

My 8 year old daughter, who is already a vegetarian, and who wanted to take things one step further, has renounced her bed for Lent and is currently sleeping on the floor!

I’m not sure what all this says about a family who are not even religious. Perhaps it shows that we like a challenge. Or maybe it’s a sign of guilt and a cathartic need for self punishment!

Anyway, the upshot is that I’ve been experimenting more with vegetables. I had been hoping to bring you an exciting Ottolenghi recipe from his vegetarian bible ‘Plenty’, but the one I tried this week irritatingly didn’t work even though I followed the steps with precision.

So instead here’s a very nice recipe from a comical (and not very good) book – Gregg Wallace’s ‘veg – the greengrocer’s cookbook’. It remains on my book shelf only because it’s signed by the man himself who wishes me ‘Good Kitchen Times’.

veg

This isn’t even his own recipe but one nicked from the ‘Moro cookbook’.

‘Cauli from the Sam Clarks’

Serves 2 as a main course (with leftovers for lunch)

  • 1 small cauliflower broken into tiny florets
  • 50 strands of saffron (life is too short to count saffron strands so I estimate that this is a good pinch)
  • 75g of raisins
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 5 tablespoons of pinenuts, lightly toasted (this is a lot so use less if you wish – pinenuts are very expensive)
  • Salt and white pepper to season

Pour 4 tablespoons of boiling water over the saffron in a bowl.

In another bowl soak the raisins in warm water (with the water just covering the raisins).

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the cauliflower florets for 1 minute. Drain and rinse the florets in cold water, then drain again.

Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onions for 15 minutes until soft and golden. Remove them from the pan leaving a little oil behind.

Turn the heat in the frying pan up to hot and add the cauliflower. Fry until there is some colour on the florets (about 3 minutes). Then add the onion, saffron water, pine nuts.

Drain the raisins and add those too. Stir fry for 3 minutes until the water has evaporated and season well with white pepper and salt.

Best served warm (rather than piping hot) which seems to enhance the flavours).

Any leftovers taste fantastic mixed with a little cous cous and eaten cold for lunch.

Sweet and sour chicken

sweetandsourchicken

I hardly ever eat takeaway but occasionally I have a craving for sweet and sour chicken. Luckily our local Chinese is closed on a Sunday which is when I most hanker after one (as a salve for a hangover along with a polystyrene cup of chicken and sweetcorn soup and a greasy spring roll).

But occasionally we (should probably read Ben) will make one at home from scratch. This is much nicer anyway and although it does take a little more effort it tastes fresher and doesn’t fill you with regret and self-hatred the moment you’ve finished it.

In other news:

Keeping on the Chinese food theme I have been experimenting with homemade baked spring rolls which are a lot less oily than deep fat frying. They have been quite successful but the filling needs some work before I am happy with the recipe.

My eight year old daughter has declared herself a vegetarian. At first I vowed not to cook special vegetarian meals just for her but I am now being more supportive and have decided to give up meat for Lent in solidarity . So look out for more veggie dishes on this blog. I’ve been stalking the vegetarian aisle in Tesco and have already made a pretty tasty Quorn Bolognese but I would like to get a bit more adventurous (Ottolenghi here I come!).

I recently make some impromptu veggie sausage rolls by wrapping a frozen Linda McCartney sausage in a spring roll wrapper and baking in the oven for 30 minutes. Elizabeth loved them.

I’ve been drinking Ayurvedic detox tea, for no other reason than it tastes delicious (and makes a good caffeine free drink to have in the evening). To make it put ¼ of a teaspoon each of fennel, coriander and cumin seeds into a small tea pot. Pour over ½ a pint of boiling water and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. You can pour in extra hot water afterwards but the tea will obviously be milder.

Sweet and sour chicken

Serves 2-4 (depending on appetite)

For the chicken

  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 large chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons of cornflour
  • Oil for deep frying

For the sauce

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 2 slices of chopped pineapple (tinned is fine)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree (or for a sweeter taste use ketchup)
  • 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons of cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
  • If you want that authentic take-away taste then add a good pinch of MSG too

Season the chicken well with salt then dip each piece into the egg and roll in cornflour. Place on a plate in a single layer.

Fill a wok half full with oil and heat over a medium heat until nearly smoking. Drop in a third of the chicken pieces and cook for about 3 minutes until cooked through and a light golden colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken in two more batches.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok, reheat and stir fry all the vegetables (except the pineapple) for about 2 minutes. You can vary the vegetables depending on what you like. I like to keep the vegetables nice and crisp but cook for longer if you prefer.

Combine the vinegar, soy sauce, tomato puree, sugar and orange juice (and MSG if you like) in a small bowl. Stir in the cornflour mixture and mix well. Pour the sauce into the wok with the vegetables and add the pineapple.  Stir until the sauce boils and thickens slightly. Add the chicken to the pan and stir until well coated with the sauce. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt if necessary.

Serve with rice.

detoxtea

Detox tea for after the mock takeaway.

Cauliflower ‘rice’

cauliflowerx

I get rather annoyed when beautiful, skinny women (Hemsleys, Gwyneth, Ella D) eulogise low carb diets and spiralizing as the only way to be perfect and healthy (just like them). So I was secretly pleased when the courgette shortage was declared. Nobody should be eating courgettes in February anyway – they’re a summer vegetable.

In my view a good diet is a balanced one which involves all the food groups (unless you have a genuine allergy), and periods of eating sensibly interspersed with the occasional indulgence. But I say all this as someone of average weight who wants to remain so.

I acknowledge that it’s rather different if you need to lose a significant amount of weight and if this is the case then it seems that there is evidence that low carb diets do work (but admittedly  this view is based on watching one episode of ‘How to diet well’ and knowing one person who has recently lost weight on the Ketogenic diet!).

I’ve always been a outwardly sniffy but secretly intrigued by the idea of cauliflower ‘rice’ as an alternative to real (carbohydrate loaded) rice. So in an experimental frame of mind I bought a cauliflower and decided to attempt the ‘rice’ idea following a guide on the BBC Good Food website.

I was sure I would hate it but it was actually perfectly fine (Ben even ate and quite liked it).  The term ‘rice’ though is rather misleading. The size of the grains you get is more like couscous and the texture has a real bite to it – not at all like the soft texture of rice.

The other thing to note is that the resulting ‘rice’ does taste (unsurprisingly) very cauliflowery. It does not have the bland and neutral flavour that goes with anything like real rice. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean that you do need to be quite careful about what you pair it with. My idea to serve it with a Thai pork, cashew and lime stir fry did not work. However, a dhal or Indian style chicken or lamb curry would go brilliantly.

The other thing would be to add spices and herbs to the cooked cauliflower (as you might flavour couscous) and then serve with a simply cooked piece of meat or fish. And I’m wondering about a cheat’s risotto whereby you stir through some grated cheese and butter after roasting (not good on a low fat diet but fine on a Ketogenic one). I will continue experimenting.

Think what you like about ‘faux carbs’ it’s nice to have something to do with a cauliflower other than ‘cauliflower cheese’. And unlike courgettes, cauliflowers grow in this country all the year around so there should never be a shortage.

Cauliflower ‘rice’

Serves 2 – 4

Take one small cauliflower, remove the leaves and hard core and cut into quarters. Then cut each quarter into four again and blitz in a food processor/mini chopper until it resembles couscous (I had to do this in several, small batches but it didn’t take too long). You can store it in the fridge now until you are ready to use it (it will save for up to 2-3 days). If you don’t have a food processor then you can battle with a regular grater but you will get bigger chunks.

I then followed the Good Food website advice and roasted it in the oven for 12 minutes at 200oC. I spread the cauliflower in a thin layer on a baking tray with a little coconut oil and mixed it in the tin half way through the cooking time.

Apparently you should always season after cooking or the salt turn the cauliflower to mush.

Alternatively, you can stir fry it quickly in a wok, or cook it in the microwave, covered, on full power for 3 minutes.

A giant cabbage pasty

cabbagepasty

Trust me this is much nicer than it sounds.

I love cabbage. I’m thrilled that we currently have a glut that needs eating quickly before it bolts and goes to seed. I will quite happily eat a whole bowl full on its own (just stir fried with a little garlic or simply raw with a Japanese style dressing) but I’ve been trying to find recipes that  make this humble vegetable a meal in itself – not just a side dish. I’m also after recipes that will win over my husband and children.

This recipe (by Melissa Clarke for NYT food online) is brilliant and seemed to go down well. The real winner is the pastry which is very sturdy and easy to make. I can’t wait to try using it with other fillings. Potato and wild garlic perhaps, or maybe sausage and onion.

If you prefer learning by watching then there’s a helpful video here (by Melissa, not me).

Melissa Clarke’s Cabbage and Onion Torta

(in my own words – with some amendments – and converted from US cup measurements)

Serves 6-8

For the pastry

  • 475g of plain flour
  • 60g wholemeal flour
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 170g of butter
  • Cold water (no more than 350 ml)

For the filling

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 680g of cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar (or more to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 70g of dry bread crumbs
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of dried or fresh thyme
  • 225g of cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and red Leicester but Melissa uses fontina)
  • 1 large egg yolk, to glaze

Measure the butter and place in the freezer for 1 hour to harden up a bit. In a large bowl measure out the flour and the salt. Remove the butter from the freezer and grate it into the bowl. Mix with a knife until well incorporated. Add enough cold water (a couple of tablespoons at a time) until the mixture comes together – you may not need the whole 350ml. Use your hands to bring everything together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in heavy based pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (around 10 minutes).

Add another tablespoon of oil and stir in the cabbage, a handful at a time, waiting for each addition to wilt before adding more. Cook until the cabbage is tender (about 7-10 minutes). Stir in the vinegar and salt and cook for a few minutes scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add more salt and vinegar to taste if you think it’s needed.

Add the final tablespoon oil into the pan and stir in the breadcrumbs, garlic and thyme. Cook until the breadcrumbs turn golden (about 1 minute). Set aside.

Heat your oven to 220oC and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

On a floured surface, roll out your dough into a 17-by-12-inch rectangle. With the long side facing you, spread half the bread crumbs evenly over half of the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border. Top with half the cheese, then half the cabbage, then the remaining cheese, followed by cabbage and finally breadcrumbs.

Dab the edges of the dough with water. Fold half the dough over the filling and use the prongs of a fork to seal edges. Brush the crust with a beaten egg yolk.

Using a knife, cut several slits in the centre of the crust. Transfer the pie to your prepared baking sheet and bake until golden brown (about 45 minutes).

Cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

cabbagepasty3

Vegetarian sausage rolls

Vegetarian sausage rolls

Whilst I enjoy cooking and eating meat free dishes, I’m not a huge fan of vegetarian food masquerading as meat. Having said this, these sausage rolls are a rare exception and they’re an absolute godsend when catering for my own family which includes both die-hard vegetarians and die-hard meat eaters. Even my staunchly carnivorous father can’t believe how tasty they are. They are also great for children’s parties (which is what the ones pictured above were made for).

I have made the original meat version but these are better in my opinion. Vegetarian sausages have a lower fat content which means the pastry stays crisp and dry (rather than swimming in a small pool of grease).

First you need to make a batch of Delia Smith’s quick flaky pastry which is pretty foolproof and can also be used for topping sweet and savoury pies.

Delia Smith’s quick flaky pastry (from her ‘Complete Cookery Course’)

  • 170g of Stork block margarine (this is apparently dairy free and so also suitable for vegans or those on a diary free diet)
  • 225g plain flour
  • Cold water

Weigh out the margarine, wrap it in a piece of tin foil and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to harden up.

In a large bowl measure out the flour, then take the margarine out of the freezer and grate it using a coarse grater into the flour. Dip the end of the margarine into the flour from time to time to stop it from sticking. Be quick here as it’s much easier to do this part while the margarine is still very cold.

Next, take a palette knife and start to cut the margarine into the flour without using your hands. Once the mixture is crumbly add just enough water to form a dough that leaves the bowl clean. It is best to add the water slowly until you have the right consistency – if you pour in too much water the dough will be too sticky to roll out.

Use your hands to form the dough into a ball and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour, although you can make this up to 24 hours in advance.

For the vegetarian sausage rolls

Makes about 18

  • 1 portion of quick flaky pastry (as above)
  • 450g of Quorn sausages (or other vegetarian sausages, Quorn sausages do contain milk but if you are cooking these for someone with a dairy allergy, then Holland and Barrett’s own brand vegetarian sausages are suitable for vegans)
  • 1/2 an onion, grated
  • A little milk or beaten egg for glazing

Take the sausages out of their casings, add the onion and mush up with your hands until well incorporated (vegetarian sausages have a very firm texture so this can be quite hard work but when you add the onion the whole mixture will start to soften up). Divide the mixture into two balls and roll each ball out into a long sausage shape about 1 1/2 – 2cm in diameter. Set aside.

Take the pastry out of the fridge. Divide into two portions and roll each out into an oblong shape as long as the sausages you’ve just rolled out and deep enough to wrap around the sausages with a small overlap. You will probably need to trim  with a knife to make a nice neat edge.

Place one roll of sausage meat onto one strip of pastry. Brush a little milk or egg along one edge, then wrap the pastry around the sausage and seal. Roll over so that the seal is on the bottom and then cut into individual rolls about 2 1/2 cm long with a sharp knife. Repeat the process with the other portion of pastry and sausage.

Place the rolls on a flat baking tray lined with baking parchment, then make two light slices with a sharp knife on the top of each roll and brush with a little milk.

Bake in an oven pre-heated to 220oC for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Store the cooled sausage rolls in a tin. They can be eaten cold or warmed slightly in the oven before serving.

Some other vegetarian recipes on this blog: