Casseroles


East European summer vegetable casserole

I must confess that I don’t normally associate the words ‘East European’ with the word ‘summer’. This cool part of the world is more renowned for its long-cooked meat stews, hearty potato dumplings and rich cabbage dishes than a sprightly summer vegetable casserole that wouldn’t look out of place on a Mediterranean table.

You could call this dish ‘East European ratatouille’ if you wish. However, the origins of this famous stew – called ‘gyuvech’ – lie in Turkey. (“Gyuvech’ is the Turkish word for a special earthenware pot in which the vegetables are cooked). From Turkey, the dish travelled to the Balkan states, and is now popular in Romania, Hungary, Croatia, and Bulgaria. Just like goulash, there are many national and regional variations, with each family adding its own signature. This is a broadly Bulgarian version of the dish – though serving it with sour cream rather than yoghurt would make it more Hungarian.

However you serve or eat it, the casserole is very simple to prepare and tasty. The key is in using the best, plumpest, freshest vegetables. Choose okra which are very tender to touch and not fibrous. Green beans, mushrooms, various types of pumpkins and squashes are also good – experiment with vegetables of your choice, varying them according to the seasons. You may omit the optional garnishes, but the yoghurt or sour cream is a must. Serves 6.

1 medium aubergine (eggplant), chunkily diced
6 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 medium green or yellow courgettes (zucchini), thickly sliced
2 medium red onions, trimmed, peeled and cut into 8 wedges each
6 oz/ 150g okra, trimmed on both ends and left whole
1 lb/ 450g fresh tomatoes, chunkily diced (no need to skin)
2 small red and yellow peppers (capsicum), trimmed, seeded and cut into squares
1 heaped tablespoon sweet or hot paprika
Salt and pepper
A large bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Optional garnishes (use one or more of the following):
Several sprigs of fresh savoury, dill, tarragon, or celery leaves
Fried eggs, or hard-boiled eggs – shelled and cut into wedges
Feta, or other feta-like white cheese, cubed
Green or black olives, pitted

To serve:
Plain yoghurt or sour cream
Rye bread or caraway seed bread

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/ 375F/ gas mark 5.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Sauté the aubergines and courgettes for around 5 minutes until they are starting to soften and become lightly browned.
3. Pour the remaining oil in a large oven-proof dish (earthenware if you have it), and place the empty dish in the pre-heated oven for 5 minutes.
4. When the oil is heated through, take the dish out and put in the aubergines, courgettes, onions, okra, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. Sprinkle with paprika and salt and pepper.
5. Stir the vegetables gently so that they are evenly coated with hot oil, paprika and seasoning. Place the dish back in the oven without a lid, and bake for 1 hour. The aubergines and okra should be tender and thoroughly cooked, whereas all the other vegetables should retain some bite.
6. Remove the stew from the oven, check for doneness, and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle with parsley and stir gently. Top with any of the optional garnishes you are using.
7. Serve hot, accompanying each portion with yoghurt or sour cream, mixing up the hot vegetables with cool yoghurt/ cream as you eat.

Rustic Roman spring vegetable stew

This light, simple stew – traditionally known as Bazzoffia in Rome – sings the song of springtime, but I won’t pretend that it’s not a little time-consuming to make.

For a start, I recommend you steam the broad beans and remove the skins for best results. As you’re peeling each individual bean, you will, no doubt, come up with your own version of Shirley Conran’s famous quote – “life is too short to stuff a mushroom” – perhaps something along the lines of: “life is too short to peel a broad bean”. You could be watching a movie, surfing, lying on a beach, shopping for new shoes or doing any number of interesting things, right? But a serious cook chooses to do all these mundane tasks – peeling beans, par-boiling and peeling tomatoes and so on – because he or she wants their guests only to have the best possible taste sensation. If you don’t have the time, buy the smallest, most tender-looking beans you can find and hope for the best.

Secondly, I suggest you use only fresh artichokes for this dish – it’s not really a recipe where you can get away with using ones from a can or a jar. If you have access to them, buy a bunch of tiny, ultra-fresh baby artichokes with violet tinge – they taste amazing, and don’t need much preparation.

Do not be intimidated by artichokes – for vegetarians, they are on a par with asparagus, truffles, saffron, dark chocolate or champagne when it comes to ‘posh treats’. There are many ways of trimming and preparing artichokes, depending on size and a country’s food culture. I have written up a separate section below on how to do it – though you may have your own method.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can prepare all the vegetables in advance, and cook the stew less than half an hour before you are ready to eat. Serves 4.

1 lb/ 500g broad beans (fava beans) in the pod
½ head cos (romaine) lettuce
8 tablespoons virgin Italian olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium white onion, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thin wedges
4 medium or 8 baby artichokes, prepared and cut into thin wedges
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced vertically
3 oz/ 75g fresh or frozen tender peas (podded weight)
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, to serve
Vegetarian pecorino romano cheese, finely shaved

HOW TO PREPARE ARTICHOKES FOR COOKING:

Snap back any tough leaves from an artichoke and pull them down, working your way around the layers. Stop when you get to tender, pale yellow leaves. Cut off the tops of the remaining leaves, leaving only about an inch of leaf. Use a potato peeler to trim away the dark green areas along the base. Trim off the base of the stem end, and cut off the rough fibres around the stem, leaving only the light-coloured, tender centre portion. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Carefully cut away the fuzzy choke using a small knife, trying to cut just at the point where choke and heart meet. Baby artichokes do not generally have developed chokes, but they do have a layer or two of tough leaves that must be removed, and the base needs to be trimmed just as with larger artichokes. Keep all trimmed artichokes in acidulated water (water with plenty of fresh lemon juice added) to prevent discolouration until needed.

1.    Shell the broad beans. Steam them for 3 to 5 minutes until they’re nearly soft, but still al dente. If you have time, peel each individual bean. (If you don’t have time, omit this step and leave the beans in their grey-green skins).
2.    Trim the lettuce, remove any tough ribs and blemished leaves, and shred into ribbons.
3.    Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onion on low heat until tender.
4.    Add the prepared artichokes, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5.    Add the cooked broad beans and uncooked peas, and give the vegetables a stir. Add the shredded lettuce, and sauté for a few seconds until the lettuce wilts slightly.
6.    Add just enough water to cover the vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the stew gently for 10 to 15 minutes until all the vegetables are tender, stirring from time to time. If the stew begins to dry out, add water a little at a time until you have the desired consistency. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
7.    To serve, ladle the stew into individual pasta bowls. Drizzle each portion with a little olive oil, and top with a few slices of shaved pecorino cheese. Hand around extra cheese at the table, along with lemon wedges and good, chunky rustic Italian country bread.

lentil-and-root-veg-stew-with-topping2

This recipe isn’t authentically Middle Eastern – but it’s authentically credit crunch-friendly. And, let’s face it, we could all do with a few of those right now!

Normally, when I go out for food shopping, I automatically reach for green leaves and brassicas (which I simply can’t get enough of), or buy glamorous veggies like aubergines, artichokes, asparagus or wild mushrooms. So my rather idiosyncratic new year resolution is to try and incorporate more root vegetables in my diet. After all, they are tasty, healthy, filling, and economical.

The tempering technique used here is found in Middle Eastern as well as Asian cuisines. So if you want this stew to have, say, Indian flavour, omit the thyme and parsley, and replace them with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro). Then cook in water rather than vegetable stock, and add a little red chilli powder and garam masala to the onion-garlic mixture. Again, not totally authentic, but delicious nonetheless.

In fact, that’s what I like about this recipe – that you can change its identity completely by changing the flavour profile. Which just goes to show how connected cuisines from different parts of the world are, and how historically they have influenced each other.

Eat the stew with warm pita bread, and some green salad if you like. Serves 3 to 4.

1.5 lb/ 750g mixed root vegetables: choose any combination of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, swedes (rutabaga), kohlrabi, and celeriac (celery root)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sticks celery, peeled and sliced
150g/ 6 oz dried split red lentils, rinsed and drained
1.5 pints/ 750 ml vegetable stock (instant is fine)
2 dried bay leaves
8 oz/ 200g tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned ones are fine)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon

For the tempering:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 level tablespoon ground cumin
1 level tablespoon ground coriander

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Lemon wedges, to serve

1. Trim, peel and dice the vegetables in even-sized pieces, so that they all cook together consistently. (You can boil the discarded peel and trimmings with water to make vegetable stock – or not, as you prefer).
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onions until they are slightly golden. Add the garlic and celery, and sauté for a few minutes, taking care not to burn.
3. Add the prepared vegetables and lentils, and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
4. Add the stock, bay leaves, tomatoes, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils cooked.
5. Meanwhile, for the tempering, heat the oil in a small frying pan on medium heat. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5 – 10 minutes until it’s golden brown.
6. Add the garlic until it’s tinged with light brown colour. Add the spices, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are cooked and they perfume your kitchen. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside.
7. Add the seasoning and lemon juice to the stew, and mix well. Then pour in the spice tempering (or, alternatively, the tempering could be poured onto individual servings). Garnish the stew with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

veggie-oden

This is a vegetarian version of the classic Japanese stew that’s normally made from meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu. It is ubiquitous in Japan during winter months and sold everywhere from street stalls to smart shops, where there might be a pot bubbling away behind the counter. I’m surprised it’s not better known in the West – or, at least, it is virtually unknown in the UK.

Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients, as the stew itself is simple to cook. Admittedly, it is time-consuming and involves several components, so a leisurely weekend would be the best time to prepare it. To cut down on the cooking time, you can use prepared mustard paste (available in little tins or tubes in Japanese shops); and, instead of making your own dashi, use mildly flavoured vegetable stock or instant vegetarian dashi powder (though the latter is not easy to find – you’ll have to make sure it doesn’t contain bonito fish flakes).

A very simple version of dashi can be made from soaking dried shiitake and kombu, and using the strained soaking water as stock. However, if you make Japanese food – or even only miso soup – regularly, it is a good idea to make your own dashi in large quantities and freeze it in ice cube trays for future use. Which is why I am giving a recipe here.

Konnyaku is speckled grey, gelatinous root of the ‘devils tongue’ plant. It is believed to be extremely low in calories, and regularly used by the Japanese for detoxing. Numerous health benefits are associated with it.

All the specialist ingredients can be bought from Japanese shops, but if you can’t find them, substitute vegetables such as baby turnips, baby pak choi, sweet potatoes, Japanese kabocha squash, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, etc. Stick to oriental roots, starches, greens or mushrooms as much as you can (rather than using, say, bell peppers, courgettes, etc). Indeed, aburage, fu, and konnyaku are used more for texture than flavour. You can make a simplified version of this dish using only two or three ingredients, and it will still taste good.

Oden is a unique combination of hearty and filling, yet light at the same time. It can be eaten on its own, or with plain white rice and pale pink Japanese ginger pickle. It should always be eaten with hot mustard, which is essential for this dish (it just won’t taste the same without it).

Here in the UK, the weather continues to be absolutely freezing – with snowfall and sub-zero temperatures all around – so the combination of ginger and mustard would certainly help clear the sinuses! Serves 4.

For the mustard condiment:
4 tablespoons Japanese (or English) mustard powder
Approx 12 tablespoons cold water

For the vegetarian dashi:
Approx 10-inch piece kombu (kelp) seaweed
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 pints/ 2 litres cold water
1 oz/ 25g tororo-kombu seaweed (or use nori if you can’t find it)
4 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine)
½ teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce

For the stew:
6 sheets aburage (flat sheets of fried tofu), or fu (small pieces of dried gluten)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 oz/ 250g firm tofu, drained on kitchen paper and cut into triangles
3 pints/ 1.5 litres vegetarian dashi (as above)
4 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
4 tablespoons mirin
½ teaspoon sugar
2-inch piece kombu
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g daikon radish, peeled and sliced chunkily
8oz/ 200g konnyaku, cut into triangles (similar to the tofu)
6 oz/ 150g fresh or prepared lotus root, sliced horizontally
4 large hardboiled eggs, shelled and left whole
Salt

1.    Prepare the mustard condiment first. Combine the mustard powder with water, making sure that the consistency is thinner than you would like (as it will gradually thicken). Set aside.
2.    Next make the dashi. Clean the kombu with dry kitchen paper to remove any grit, but do not wash otherwise it will lose its flavour. Snip into large pieces with scissors.
3.    Steep the kombu and dried mushrooms in a saucepan of water, and set aside for 3 or 4 hours.
4.    Gently heat the saucepan until the liquid reaches just below the boiling point. Remove the kombu and discard.
5.    Add tororo-kombu to the pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
6.    Add the remaining dashi ingredients. Again bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
7.    Drain through a sieve, and discard the seaweed and mushrooms. Set the dashi aside. It should have a pure, clean taste.
8.    Now make the stew. If using the aburage sheets, steep them briefly in boiling water to remove excess liquid. Rinse in cold water, squeeze between the palm of your hands, drain, and cut into 1-inch squares.
9.    Heat the oil in a small wok, and fry the tofu triangles until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
10.    Heat the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and kombu in a large saucepan, and bring to the boil. Add potatoes and carrots, and bring to the boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes until almost tender.
11.    Add the daikon radish, konnyaku, and lotus root, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
12.    Add tofu, aburage (or around 16 pieces of fu), hardboiled eggs and salt, and simmer for 5 minutes. Check each vegetable for doneness, and adjust the seasoning.
13.    Remove the piece of kombu and discard. Carefully lift out each egg, cut it in half, and place the halved eggs back into the stew.
14.    Ladle the oden into individual bowls, and serve with small quantities of hot mustard.

black-bean-chili-in-colourful-bowls

This is vegetarian chilli verde – a version of chilli con carne using green vegetables and black beans. I don’t claim that it is authentic – but it is as healthy and hearty as it is tasty. Serve alongside cumin-flecked sweetcorn and tomato rice. Serves 4 to 6.

2 green peppers
2 to 4 green chillies
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
6 green or red tomatoes, peeled and quartered
225g/ 8 oz fresh spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons corn oil
2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
100g/ 4 oz chestnut mushrooms, sliced
400g/ 1 lb can black turtle beans, rinsed and drained
1 pint/ ½ litre vegetable stock
100g/ 4 oz broccoli florets, steamed for just 2 minutes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon red chilli powder (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano

To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander
Sour cream
Lime wedges
Diced avocadoes
Tortilla chips
Pickled sliced jalepeno peppers
Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

1.    Grill the green peppers and chillies until their skins are charred. Remove their skin. Halve the peppers and chillies, remove the seeds, and coarsely chop.
2.    Place the peppers and chillies in a food processor, along with spring onions, tomatoes, spinach and seasoning. Blend to a puree, with a couple of tablespoons of water if necessary.
3.    Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan, and fry the onions and garlic until soft but not brown.
4.    Add the mushrooms, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the beans, stock, and the green vegetable puree, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
5.    Add the broccoli and dried spices and herbs, cover and cook for a further 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
6.    Ladle into individual bowls, and serve with as many of the suggested accompaniments as desired.

sausage-mushroom-casserole-too

This richly-flavoured, hearty casserole is quintessentially British. It makes a filling meal on a frosty or foggy night. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons sunflower or rapeseed oil
12 vegetarian sausages, such as Lincolnshire or Cumberland style
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced
2 celery sticks, peeled and sliced
1 medium carrot, trimmed, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons plain white flour
2 tablespoons tomato puree
330ml bottle Guinness, or another dark ale or beer
300 ml/ 11 fl oz vegetable or lightly-flavoured mushroom stock
10 oz/ 250g chestnut mushrooms, halved
1 level tablespoon Marmite
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1.    Heat the oil in a heavy casserole over medium heat. Fry the veggie sausages evenly on all sides until brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Alternatively, you can grill the sausages while you are getting on with the rest of the dish.
2.    In the same oil, fry the onions, celery and carrots. Cook for around 7 minutes until the vegetables are soft but not browned.
3.    Add the flour and tomato puree, and cook for a minute.
4.    Pour in the Guinness, bring to the boil, and cook for 2 minutes until the liquid is reduced slightly.
5.    Add the stock, and bring back to the boil. Add the cooked sausages, mushrooms, Marmite, thyme and seasoning.
6.    Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are cooked and the sauce has thickened.
7.    Garnish with parsley, and serve with mashed potatoes and steamed winter vegetables, such as savoy cabbage, swedes, brussels sprouts, kale or broccoli.

kenyan-vegetable-lentil-stew

This fiery dish is not for the faint-hearted! You can substitute black-eye beans for the lentils. Serve with plain steamed rice or bread, accompanied by creamed yams, fried plantains, or cornmeal pudding. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons groundnut or corn oil
25g/ 1 oz butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 red birdseye chillies, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot red chilli powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
8 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 oz brown or green lentils, washed
2 litres unsalted vegetable stock
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
125g/ 5 oz spring greens or other greens, shredded
Salt and pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered lengthways
2 unwaxed lemons, quartered lengthways

1. Heat the oil and butter together in a large, heavy saucepan, and cook the onions and garlic until soft but not browned.
2. Add the chillies and the dry spices, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the spices give off their aroma. Take care not to burn the spices, or they will taste bitter.
3. Add the tomatoes, lentils and vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Make sure the stock is unsalted, or the lentils won’t cook easily.
4. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils have cooked.
5. Add the potatoes and carrots, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the greens and the seasoning, and cook with the lid on for a further 10 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.
6. Garnish with egg and lemon wedges, and hand around extra chillies for those who are feeling brave.