My shopping begins with the fruit and vegetables. It always has done. Thoughts about what is in season, what is at its best at this moment, have always come before anything else. Rummaging through market stalls or surveying the long table at the greengrocer’s is the part of food shopping I enjoy most. It always seems like a good place to start. But often that is where it finishes too.
This month’s recipes are suitable for vegetarians and three of them are – with a tweak here and there – good for vegans too. I have roasted cauliflower and made a chickpea sauce to go with it; baked slices of golden-fleshed pumpkin to eat with a bean and winter tomato sauce, and marinated and grilled aubergines. There is a crisp pancake of grated root vegetables to eat with a winter salad or stuff into a soft roll, and dessert too, a refreshing take on a traditional rice pudding.
None of this is unusual. Meals without meat or fish have long been the mainstay of my eating and that seems set to continue. What matters most to this cook, is whether or not it is delicious.
Cauliflower, chickpeas and tahini
A creamy, vegan treatment for cauliflower. The sauce is made from chickpeas and tahini, then used as an accompaniment to the roast cauliflower and whole chickpeas. I use bottled or tinned chickpeas, but if you cook yours from scratch keep a little of the cooking water for the puree.
garlic 1 head
cauliflower 1 large (1kg)
chickpeas roughly 400g, cooked and drained (2 tins)
mint leaves a handful
parsley leaves a large handful
For the sauce
chickpeas 2 x 400g tins
tahini 2 tbsp
olive oil 100ml
lemon juice 2 tbsp
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Loosely wrap the whole head of garlic in a piece of tin foil, place in a roasting tin and bake for 25-30 minutes till the insides are soft enough to squash between finger and thumb.
While the garlic is roasting, trim the cauliflower and break into large florets, keeping as much of the stalk intact as you can. Bring a pan of water to the boil, place the cauliflower in a colander or steamer basket and place over the boiling water, cover with a lid and steam for 10 minutes. This will ensure lovely tender florets.
Remove the garlic and transfer the cauliflower to the roasting tin, add a good splash of olive oil and bake for 20-25 minutes.
While the cauliflower roasts, make the sauce: put the 2 tins of chickpeas and their liquid into a saucepan and warm gently, remove from the heat, drain and transfer to a food processor. Remove the roast garlic from its foil, then pop the cloves from their skins. Add 6 of the cloves of garlic to the processor and retain the others. Process the chickpeas, tahini and garlic to a smooth cream, pouring in the olive oil and 100ml of hot water as you go. You want a soft puree. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt.
Drain the 400g of chickpeas and add to the roasting cauliflower, then return to the oven for 5 minutes till the beans are warm. Spoon the creamed chickpeas on to a serving plate then add the roast cauliflower and whole chickpeas. Scatter with the roughly chopped mint and parsley leaves.
Baked squash, haricot beans, winter tomatoes
The fudgy sweetness of roast pumpkin or squash is to be celebrated, but I always like to introduce a seasoning that will help balance the overly honeyed notes – chilli perhaps, or mustard. This time I used miso – the dark, deeply savoury version – to bring harmony to the accompanying bean sauce. Another vegan recipe.
small pumpkin or squash 1kg
olive oil 2 tbsp
garlic 4 cloves
For the sauce
onions 2 medium
olive oil 5 tbsp
garlic 3 cloves
brown miso paste 2 tbsp
haricot beans 2 x 400g tins
For the breadcrumbs
olive oil 3 tbsp
fresh breadcrumbs 40g
basil leaves and stems 20g
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Cut the pumpkin or squash in half and scoop out the seeds and fibres from within. Slice into 8 segments and place on a baking sheet or roasting tin. Sprinkle with the oil, salt and black pepper, then tuck in the garlic cloves. No need to peel them. Bake for 45 minutes or until the squash is tender to the point of a knife.
While the squash is baking, make the sauce. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Warm the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onions till soft and pale gold. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and add. Roughly chop the tomatoes and stir into the onions, season with salt, then partially cover with a lid and leave to simmer for 20 minutes until all is soft and squashy. Stir in the miso, add a grinding of black pepper and check for salt.
Drain the haricot beans and stir into the tomato sauce, then continue to simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes. Make the breadcrumbs: warm the oil in a non-stick frying pan, add the crumbs and let them cook, regularly moving them around the pan, until they are pale gold. Chop and stir in the basil leaves and check the seasoning.
Place the slices of roasted squash on a serving dish, spoon over the tomato and bean sauce and scatter with the basil breadcrumbs.
Carrot, potato and cheese pancake
A good way of using up any spare carrots and potatoes you may have. A non-stick pan is essential, and a palette knife for easing the slices from the pan. I like to eat this with a leafy green salad, something crisp and fresh such as watercress and fennel or cos, cucumber and radish. I should also add that it makes a sumptuous filling for a roll.
potatoes 200g, maris piper or similar
spring onions 4
rosemary 3 large sprigs
egg 1, beaten
cheddar or vegetarian alternative 300g, coarsely grated
groundnut or vegetable oil 3 tbsp
basil leaves 2 handfuls
You will need a 24-25cm ovenproof frying pan that doesn’t stick. Set the oven at 160C fan/gas mark 4.
Coarsely grate the potatoes using a matchstick size setting, as if you are making celeriac remoulade. Then do the same with the carrots. Put the grated vegetables into a mixing bowl.
Finely chop and add the spring onions. Finely chop the rosemary and add to the bowl. Grind in a little black pepper, then add the grated potatoes and carrots and gently turn them over. Add the beaten egg and grated cheddar and mix gently.
Place the pan over a moderate heat, pour in the oil, then tip the mixture into the pan, pressing it gently out to the edges but without compacting it. Let the potato mixture cook until the bottom is starting to colour, then transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes until golden. (Please note that the handle is very hot. I only mention this because it is easy to forget.) You can, should you wish, crisp the top a little by placing the pancake under a heated grill for a few minutes.
Pull the herb leaves from their stalks and pile them on top of the potato and carrot cake. Cut into wedges and serve.
Grilled aubergines with steamed basmati and mint yoghurt
The marinade I make for these aubergines, with tiny, super-hot bird’s-eye chillies, is on the spicy side. Tame the heat, should you wish, by bringing down the number of chillies or using one of the larger, milder red varieties in place of the punchy little ones I suggest. Steaming the aubergine before grilling adds only 15 minutes to the recipe but produces a sublimely tender result. To veganise this recipe, use your favourite non-dairy substitute in place of the yoghurt.
aubergines 2, medium to large
For the marinade
ginger 40g piece
small hot chillies 4
garlic 3 cloves
ground chilli 1 tsp
ground turmeric 1 tsp
salt 1 tsp
sugar 2 tsp
white wine vinegar 2 tbsp
groundnut oil 3 tbsp
basmati rice 200g
whole black peppercorns 6
green cardamom pods 6
For the yoghurt sauce
dairy or vegan yoghurt 200ml
mint leaves 2 tbsp, chopped
white wine vinegar 2 tsp
Peel and roughly chop the ginger, then put it in a food processor or blender. Remove the stems from the chillies and add them to the ginger. Peel the garlic and put that in too. Now add the ground chilli and turmeric, the salt, sugar and white wine vinegar. Pour in the groundnut oil, then process briefly and pour into a bowl.
Put a pan of water on to boil covered with a steamer basket or colander and a lid. Remove the stems from the aubergines, cut them in half lengthways and then in half again. Cut each into short fat chunks about 3cm in length. There is no need to be too meticulous about this. Put the aubergine in the steamer basket, cover and leave to steam for 15-20 minutes. You want them to be soft but not soggy. Remove them and place carefully on kitchen paper for 15 minutes or so till all the steam has gone.
Tip the aubergines into the marinade, toss gently to cover, taking care not to break them up, and set aside for a couple of hours. The occasional careful stir is a thoroughly good thing.
Wash the rice three times in warm water, then put it in a saucepan and cover with enough water to cover the rice by about 3cm. Add salt, the peppercorns and the cardamom pods and bring to the boil. Cover tightly with a lid, and lower the heat so the rice putters away gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, leaving the lid in place and set aside. Chop the mint and stir it into the yoghurt with the vinegar.
You can cook the aubergines in two ways, either on a hot griddle (which will produce much smoke but delicious, crisp, charred edges) or under the grill in the oven, which will lack the smoky notes of the griddle, but will still be very good. To griddle them, place the aubergines on a hot griddle and cook until the underside is dark and toasted, then slide a palette knife underneath each piece and turn them over. Let the other side brown, then remove from the griddle. To cook them under a grill, place the pieces on a grill pan or baking sheet lined with foil, place under a hot oven-grill and cook for 5-10 minutes till golden.
Serve the aubergine with the rice and yoghurt sauce.
Creamy rice with berries and citrus
A baked rice pudding with its cushion of glowing golden skin is a thing of joy, but I don’t always have the necessary couple of hours required. Bringing rice to a satisfyingly creamy consistency can be done on the hob, the rice being boiled first, then simmered with cream, vanilla and sugar. Partly because I like to have some left over for breakfast – a thoroughly good thing – I stir in a few spoons of thick yoghurt as it cools. Once you have the rice cooked you can serve it in all its purity or jolly it up with blueberry sauce, slices of grapefruit and pistachios or flaked almonds.
pudding rice 150g
water 500ml, plus 3 tbsp for the berry sauce
full fat milk 500ml
golden caster sugar 2 tbsp
caster sugar 3 tbsp
thick natural yoghurt 100g
pink grapefruit 1 small
chopped pistachios 2 tbsp
Put the pudding rice in a medium-sized, heavy-based pan with the 500ml of water. Let it boil until the water has almost evaporated. Keep an eye on it and stir it occasionally.
Add the milk, bring back to the boil, then lower the heat so it simmers gently. Partially cover with a lid and leave for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly and keeping a close watch on the liquid level.
Make the blueberry sauce: put the blueberries in a medium-sized saucepan, add the 2 tablespoons of golden caster sugar and the 3 tablespoons of water, then simmer for 5-6 minutes, until the berries start to burst and the juice is deep purple. Set aside.
When the grains of rice are soft and swollen, stir in the 3 tablespoons of caster sugar and let it dissolve. Stir in the yoghurt.
Peel the grapefruit with a kitchen knife, then cut into thin slices, catching as much of the juice as you can.
Spoon into dishes, place the grapefruit slices on the rice, trickle over any juice, then spoon the blueberry sauce over the top.
You can also add chopped pistachio nuts or pumpkin seeds, dried barberries or cherries. I also recommend toasted flaked almonds.