Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Gone Veggie

Vegetarian friends have come to stay for the week, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian. For the week. They’ve picked a good time to come. We’re into late spring and there’s plenty of nice stuff about. The asparagus has already peaked, but there’s been a trickle of broad beans for a fortnight now, and the peas are about to explode. Young and green and fresh and sweet is the thing. Some crisp radishes, kohlrabi, baby fennel – in a raw salad: sliced fine, except for the peppery radishes which are more juicy whole or in half, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and thyme flowers. People who are morally opposed to bread won’t enjoy this as much as me.

Last night we had a risotto with the broad beans and peas from the market. The veggie stock was given a bit more oomph from their pods and the result was lighter and fresher than it would have been had I used the ham broth that’s sulking in the fridge. Some parmesan or brebis might have been good, but we had neither. Butter added richness on its own instead. It’s more critical than cheese if you ask me.

I had been hoping to share a real favourite of mine: Moroccan eggs from the Casa Moro book – fried with tomatoes, garlic, cumin and corriander. They’re really a top treat which turns a sunny-side-up into a proper meal. I only didn’t because Rory beat me to it. His eggs were Tunisian, and almost identical to what I’d had in mind. Bloody know-it-all veggies... It was delicious.

Vegetarianism is a strange concept to the French. Bad animal husbandry seems more of a concern with regard to health risks that might be passed on to consumers than the welfare of the animals themselves. They certainly have some wonderful vegetable dishes, but they tend to cry out for a pork chop, a magret or a nice bit of cod to make sense of them... I have to admit this is my own default setting and it’s good to be forced to think differently. Turning veggie doesn’t tempt me either, but there is something very satisfying about a meal that doesn’t happen to involve meat.

Plenty of my prefered Indian and Arab dishes are meat-free; pulses and spices and tomatoes and meaty veg. Even from the carnivore’s perspective, greengrocer dishes have to be the backbone of cooking and eating well. They offer contrast to meat – either on the same plate, or on their own, providing relief from other days where the emphasis is on meat or fish. Rick Stein commented how the glorious variety of simple vegetable dishes was what he had most enjoyed while filming his tour of the Mediterranean. That boy knows his stuff. This time of year is the start of the glut of fresh young vegetables which so enhances this kind of eating. Down here we are deprived of our Liverpool allotment, but are fortunate to have a thriving local farmer’s market which is at least the next best thing – especially when you bear in mind our unglorious battle with the slugs...

I’ve raved about Manjula’s kitchen before. She provided me with the instructions to make Moong Dhal Dosa - pankakes made from ground mung beans stuffed with spicy potatoes. A winner. Particularly good with the crunchy salad described above.

Next, a happy memory from West African travels: Red-Red, a spicy pauper’s bean stew with plantains. It’s all about the garish red palm oil which provides a very distinctive taste as well as colour. Having been far too timid to ask for the recipe from one of the Ghanaian ladies who would sell it on street stalls and spot cafes, I eventually found it courtesy of a fellow blogger.I changed the recipe a bit so include it below. And of course I would never have dreamed of including the optional shrimp paste for our vegetarian guests!

Broad Bean and Pea Risotto (to serve 4) I forgot to take a photo. Soz.

This recipe is for a late-spring risotto. It is very easy to change it to suit whatever ingredients you have to hand. The most important element is a tasty stock.

A small onion or 2 – 3 shallots, finely diced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
A celery stick, finely chopped
4 fat handfuls of Arborio or Carnaroli rice
A glass of white wine (optional)
Vegetable stock (from a cube is fine) or some ham or chicken stock (ideally not from a cube)
A couple of good handfuls each of broad beans and peas in their pods
Lardons (bacon bits – optional)
Olive oil
A generous amount of herbs - parsley, mint, chives, celery leaves, 4 or 5 lovage leaves (use some or all – whatever you can get)
Parmesan or some hard sheep’s cheese (such as croglin, from Cumbria, or a Pyrenean Brebis – optional)

Pod the peas and broad beans. Reserve the pods as they will give a flavour boost to your stock.
With a good glug of oil and a blob of butter, gently sweat onions, garlic and celery in a heavy based pan that is broad enough to easily take all the ingredients in a fairly shallow layer. Add bacon now, if you like. (If it appeals, you can fry a little bacon separately and keep to use as a crispy garnish at the end. Whatever floats your boat.)

Heat up the stock in a separate pan. If the broad beans are large blanch them in the stock for a few minutes, fish them out and refresh in cold water. Add the pea and bean pods to the stock.
After a little while, turn up the heat a notch and add the rice. Fry briefly, coating the rice in the oil. Add a little salt.

Pour in a glug or two of wine. Not too much. Feel free to start drinking. It’s not a big deal if you have no wine to cook with.
When the alcohol has burnt off, add a ladle of hot pod stock. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Stir regularly.

Continue adding the stock as it is absorbed by the rice. But don’t feel you have to let it dry out completely.

If you want, take a few of your peas and sweat separately in a little butter (or bacon fat) and a drop of water. Roughly mash when tender.

The rice will swell and the starch will come into the stock and make the whole affair creamy and pleasant and relaxing to stir with a wooden spoon. Have you poured yourself a glass of wine?
When it starts to look done, taste some rice. Is it done? It should have a bit of bite. Is the seasoning ok? Sort it out if not. Plenty of pepper.

When happy with your rice add the broad beans and peas (and mashed peas if you’ve gone for that option). One final ladle of stock, a generous blob or three of butter and some grated cheese if you have it. Remove from the heat, chuck in the chopped herbs, and cover. Leave for 5 minutes to rest. This stage is very important.
After the rice has rested, give it a gentle stir. It should be a little soupy, not claggy stodge. Spoon onto warm plates, drizzle with some fancy olive oil. Chuck on the crispy bacon, if you have it, and/or some grated or shaved cheese.

Eat with bread that has character.


So called because of the Red oil, and also the ‘Red’ fried ripe plantains. Well, that’s what the internet said...
Thanks to the very entertaining for the original recipe, which I have adapted slightly.
The palm oil makes all the difference. I’m sure it’d be nice with normal oil, but it wouldn’t taste the same...

Dried Black eyed beans, soaked overnight
A few cloves of garlic
Bay leaf, sprig of thyme

2 – 4 tbsp red palm oil (not too hard to find – go to an international or african grocer’s)
A couple of onions, chopped
Half a head of fennel, chopped - optional
4 – 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
A scotch bonnet pepper or two, diced. (one is likely to be plenty, but here in france they seem to be particularly mild...)
A piece of root ginger, the size of a fat man’s thumb, grated
A tin of tomatoes
A vegetable stock cube
A healthy blob of tomato purée
A sprinkle of dried shrimp powder/paste or, more likely, a subliminal shake of nam pla or nuoc mam (thai/viatnamese fish sauce) – optional
Fresh coriander leaves – optional

Ripe plantains – 1 per person
Vegetable oil for deep or shallow frying.

Boil the beans in plenty of water with the garlic and woody herbs until tender but not mushy. Add a little salt when cooked. Drain, but keep the liquor.
Fry the onions, garlic, and fennel in the palm oil over a medium heat for 10 minutes or so. Add the chilli and ginger, stir, then add the tomoatoes, crushing them between your fingers. Leave the tomato to simmer and sweeten a bit.

Crush around ¼ of the beans with a potato masher. Add this and the whole beans, the stock cube and some of the bean liquor – enough to keep it all fairly moist. Add fishy stuff now if you want to. Let it bubble happily for 15-20 minutes, until the flavours have got to know each other and the beans are soft, but with some bite. You may need to add a drop more bean juice or water if it starts to look a bit dry. Taste for seasoning. It should be lively. Add some more chilli if you are feeling double rugged!

Serve with some chopped coriander leaves and chunks of plantain, fried in hot oil (≈160°c if deep frying) till golden. And perhaps a crispy salad. Yum! It really is very good...

...and not a pig's stomach in sight! More on that next week maybe...