Dinner With The Omnivore

Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian

OK maybe a bit less rudimentary these days

OK maybe a bit less rudimentary these days

There’s nothing quite like being deprived of the basics to make you appreciate how splendid your life actually is despite all its little irritations, and after five months spent living in one room with no access to cooking facilities (don’t ask), my frankly rather rudimentary kitchen arrangements look positively professional.

The other side effect of living on a diet of chalet scraps plus whatever you can get together using only a fridge, a kettle and a penknife is that you never want to see an instant noodle, a piece of meat or a croissant ever again. By the end of the winter I was drooling over allrecipes and the BBC’s Good Food website the way 50-year-old men who live with their mothers surf porn sites An excess of meat and sugar has left me with an insatiable craving for fish and vegetables, to the extent where I may shortly need to be treated for the effects of asparagus overdose. (But what a way to go.)

A trawl through new and existing recipes in search of suitable veggie/fishy dishes turned up something cut out ages ago from a copy of The Week (must get round to renewing the subscription one of these days) and contributed by no less a person than Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese dissident, political figure and general all-round bolshi person. Presumably the best part of 15 years spent under house arrest gave her plenty of time for cooking.

.... and accomplished curry chef, apparently.

…. and accomplished curry chef, apparently.

Contributing to cookbooks might seem a

bit of a frivolous pastime for someone involved in changing the world and receiving Nobel peace prizes for her efforts, but it seems she managed to fit it into her busy schedule, possibly because the book in question is ‘Share’, published under the auspices of charity Women for Women International, which fundraises for and offers training to women who have survived appalling experiences during wars in the likes of Bosnia, Afghanistan and Sudan.

I confess to not having bought the book as yet, though I probably will do so, because 1) it looks like a beautiful book, full of spiffy pictures and uplifting stories of survival against the odds; 2) it’s a very worthwhile and high-minded sort of charity which will give you a feeling of virtuous smugness as you click ‘add to basket’ on Amazon; and 3) Aung San Suu Kyi’s Burmese fish curry is bloody lovely. It’s also quite low calorie, should you be feeding anyone for whom that’s a consideration.

You will need: 300g white fish, cut into cubes; 2 tsp grounf turmeric; 2-3 red chilis; 100ml fish or veg stock; 2 tblsp fish sauce; ½ tsp paprika; 30g fresh coriander; 300g tiger prawns; 5 shallots; 5 garlic cloves; 2cm root ginger; 800g fresh tomatoes; lime or lime juice

Mix together turmeric, fish sauce and a splash of water to make a paste. Coat the fish and prawns with it and set aside to marinate for a bit. Meanwhile blend together the shallots, garlic, chillies and ginger.

Faffy onions - don't bother.

Faffy onions – don’t bother.

Fry the blitzed paste for a few minutes, add the paprika and cook for a bit, then put in the tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil. Add the prawns and cook for a couple of minutes, and then add the fish and carry on simmering until the prawns are pink and the fish just cooked. Stir in the coriander and season with lime juice and a bit more fish sauce to taste.

I admit to having tweaked this slightly, having forgotten what the prawns were for and used them in some fish cakes earlier on. Furthermore, I couldn’t be bothered with shallots, which seem to me to be nothng more than faffy onions, so I used a red onion intead. I also substituted a few dried chili flakes for actual chilis. However, none of this seemed to matter much, as the final result was such that this is now officially my favourite curry recipe, surpassing even Madhur Jaffrey’s rogan josh. Which is saying a lot.

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Mediterranean weather ....

Lulled into a false sense of security by a week on the Med in 30°C sunshine we stocked up on the old healthy salad options on the last shopping trip and looked forward to vitamin-packed summer-style nosh. Bad move. Our estival eating plans were promptly disrupted by rainfall, plummeting temperatures and snow above 1800m. Not that there’s any real reason why you can’t eat salad under those conditions, but it rather loses its appeal when the rain is hammering down outside and you’re seriously thinking of breaking out the heating again.

Still, having purchased the stuff we dutifully carried on eating it up until yesterday, when it got so parky I was reduced to lurking in a hot bath before hiding in the fleece I’ve been wearing all winter. It’s June, for God’s sake, what’s going on?

I refused to go out and spend more cash on extra food, so we were stuck with whatever was lying around the house, which as usual meant pasta and …….. something. Bit of a challenge, as there’s not much potential for pasta sauce in a load of lettuce and radishes. Apparently other people in this position generally just heat up a tin of tomatoes and stick them all over some spaghetti, but frankly I think salad would still sound more appealing even in the middle of January with a raging blizzard outside.

But fortunately my trusty Sainsbury pocket pasta book came to the rescue. I’ve recommended this tome before and I do so again. (Actually, looking at that post I discover that the weather played exactly the same trick on us last year. Doh.)

....... and spring in the Alps.

Basic tomato sauce

You will need: a can of chopped tomatoes; a carrot; an onion; a clove of garlic.

Chop the onion and garlic, and fry until soft. add the grated carrot, tinned tomatoes and a bit of water. Simmer until the onions and carrot are cooked through, then blitz with a hand blender.

And that’s it, tomato sauce. You can liven it up by using red wine rather than water, adding shredded fresh basil at the last minute, throwing in a handful of lardons or chopped mozzarella ……………. etc. Whatever sounds tasty. It also freezes very well, so you can have a supply of it hanging around for emergencies, and it’s even better with fresh tomatoes so it’s a good way of getting rid of a glut of those, should you find yourself with such a thing.

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Well, the sun finally put in an appearance and provided us with an unexpectedly scorching bank holiday weekend. I’m sure this must be some kind of administrative error, but no-one was complaining. Beers were drunk, barbecues lit, new flipflops bought and cotton hippie-trousers fished out of the back of the wardrobe. It didn’t last, obviously, and we are now back to torrential rain and October temperatures, but it was a pleasant interlude.

During the sunny window, I thought I might as well test drive a new salad or two, just in case summer showed any sign of sticking around for a while. As if. I found this one in a BBC book which is awash with good ideas, though you get the impression that some of them haven’t progressed past the idea stage because the final result either doesn’t quite work or needs a further tweaking. It also has an annoying habit of telling you to buy stuff which you could just as easily make for yourself. But despite these niggles it remains a terrific little book which has contributed quite a few dishes to the regular menu – red onion tart to name but one.

English garden salad

You will need: new potatoes; runner beans; broad beans; spring onion; sun dried tomatoes; cheshire or Lancashire cheese; fresh mint leaves; yoghurt; mayonnaise; grain mustard; honey

Cook the potatoes and beans in boiling water until tender, then drain and rinse with cold water. Chop the onion, tomatoes, mint leaves and cheese then mix everything together in a bowl. Mix together the yoghurt, mayo, mustard and honey in proportions to suit yourself, pour the resulting dressing over the salad and toss thoroughly.

English garden salad, complete with sundried tomatoes

See the original recipe here – you’ll notice I’ve added the broad beans, which is because I love them and I happened to see some on the market last week.

Pernickety readers will no doubt point out that sun dried tomatoes are hardly known for being the traditional produce of an English garden. This is entirely true, and I suggest that you take it up with the BBC.

Being in France, I didn’t even bother looking for Cheshire or Lancashire cheese, but substituted Cantal, which was perfectly acceptable. I imagine it could work well with feta, though that’s possibly even less English garden than the tomatoes.

If the dressing recipe is a little haphazard that’s because it was one of the things the book advised me to buy (like I’m going to buy salad dressing, ridiculous idea) and I just made it up as I went along.

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It’s a frequent grumble amongst misplaced Brits that they can’t get their hands on a decent curry. Indian restaurants do exist in France (several in Grenoble, for example) but in general the food is frankly rubbish, having been dumbed down beyond all recognition in order to suit the French, who are paranoidly suspicious of anything which could be described as even slightly spicy.

Frenchman

A Frenchman - not keen on spicy food

But it rarely occurs to anyone that it’s perfectly possible to make curry (what do you think the whole population of India is doing – sending out for takeaway?). And when I suggest that it could be feasible to construct a decent curry at home, I’m usually met with the objection that you can’t get curry paste/curry sauce here. (Actually you can, if you look in the right places, but since it all tastes like sauce-in-a-jar, why would you bother?)

fresh chili

A chili. Not likely to taste of sauce-in-a-jar

The answer is that Indians, who eat curry all the time, are neither lining up round the block for carry out nor buying jars of Sharwood’s sauces. They are using spices and chili. I know this sounds bafflingly simple, but it’s true. What’s more, the spices concerned aren’t particularly exotic or unobtainable – even in France I manage to construct authentic curries using spices bought from mass-market supermarket chains. The only things I’ve had to go elsewhere for were garam masala, fenugreek and asafoetida (all right, I haven’t found that at all, but I don’t care because I only have one recipe which uses it and even there it’s listed as optional).

Our forays into curry-from-scratch so far have mainly been courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey, the Delia of Indian cooking (click on the ‘books’ tab above), whose recipes are clear, practical, and do exactly what they say on the tin.

This one, for curried eggs, was one of Ms Jaffrey’s to start with, but I’ve messed with it because I didn’t fancy using cream in the sauce. The result is a very tasty but quite light curry dish, which promises to become a summer evening staple. Assuming we ever have a summer, that is. I blame that bloody volcano.

eggs

Some eggs. A change from chickpeas.

Curried Eggs

You will need: 1 onion; about 2cm fresh ginger; 1 chili; 1 large tomato; 3-4 tblsp yogurt; 150ml chicken stock; 1 tblsp lemon juice; 1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds; 1/2 tsp garam masala; 4 hard boiled eggs.

Chop the onions and fry until soft. Grate and finely chop the ginger and add to the pan along with the chopped chili and continue frying for a couple of minutes. Dice the tomato then add it and everything else except the yogurt and bring it all to a simmer. Add the yogurt a spoonful at a time and mix thoroughly. Leave the sauce to simmer until everything is cooked and it has become fairly thick. Halve the eggs and put them cut side up into the pan. Spoon the sauce over them and leave to cook gently for a further five minutes or so. Serves two, with rice or flat bread.

The vegetarians in your life will thank you for this, as they are bound to be bored witless with chickpea/lentil/potato concoctions – I like a chickpea as much as the next person, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

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As the so-called spring marches on, we stick doggedly to our summer eating habits of lots of salad and veggie dishes, plenty of fresh fruit, minimal pig & cheese meals and so on. But if the weather fails to get its act together soon I’m going to be forced back into beef bourguignon and Tartiflette. It’s hard to rustle up enthusiasm for cold food when it’s trying to snow outside.

Meanwhile, we compromise on sort of warm things – salads with poached egg and lardons, asparagus with new potatoes, and various tarts and quiches. Like this one, which makes a change from what Nanny Ogg described as ‘them eggy pies’.

Red onion, feta and olive tart

Red onion tart

You will need: 25g butter: 2 red onions: 2 tblsp light brown sugar; 2 tblsp balsamic vinegar: 100g feta cheese: 175g black olives: olive oil: basil leaves: pastry

You can either buy your pastry or make it yourself, as you please. Either way, you want about 30x22cm of it.

Slice the onions and fry them in butter until soft, then add the sugar and vinegar, and cook until the mixture is syrupy. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then spread the mixture over the pastry and scatter with the cheese and olives. Season and drizzle with olive oil, then bake for 20 minutes at 180°C. Garnish with shredded basil leaves and serve with salad.

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Pigs .....

It’s a big point in favour of the end of the winter season that we can stop living on the traditional montagnard diet of pigs, potatoes and lard. Much as I like all the possible permutations of cheese and bacon with a side order of starch, it’s possible to get nostalgic for a vitamin or two after a while. When asked what we should eat this week,  JC (a man whose culinary speciality is high-calorie stodge) growled: “Salad. FEED ME SALAD!!” Whatever you say dear, salad it is. Now, put the axe down quietly.

.... and lard. That's enough of that.

Indian chickpea salad

You will need: 2 garlic cloves; 1 red chilli; 2 tsp cumin seeds; 400g can chickpeas; large tomato; zest and juice of a lemon; things for salad.

Slice the garlic and fry it along with the cumin seeds and chilli until soft. Add the chickpeas, chopped tomato and lemon, cook gently until the whole lot is warmed through. Serve on a bed of whatever you like by way of salad – I usually go for mixed leaves, cucumber, and spring onion, with a bit of fresh coriander if I can ever get hold of the stuff.

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Food for thought

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” ― Orson Welles

Food by e-mail - takeaway for the modern age.

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