Vegetable dishes


Tofu burger with Asian flavours

These light, nutritious and colourful tofu burgers are far removed from the mundane, ready-made supermarket variety in terms of taste and texture.

Serve them either in a bun with sliced onions, tomatoes, lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and a little chutney or ketchup or, alternatively, accompanied by brown rice and stir-fried green leafy vegetables. They also taste great with a deep-flavoured mushroom sauce, along a side helping of potatoes, grilled tomatoes and sautéed spinach. For a variation of flavour, add a pinch of curry powder to the tofu mixture.

If you don’t eat eggs, you may substitute the egg – which only acts as a binder in this recipe – with a tablespoon or two of cornflour (cornstarch), though to be honest I have not tried this myself.

Panko – which are available in Japanese grocers – can be replaced with ordinary dried breadcrumbs if you can’t find them. Remember to go easy on salt because it’s already added to soy sauce and panko, and you don’t want your burgers to become too salty. Makes 6 to 8 burgers/ Serves 3 – 4.

1 lb/ 450g firm plain tofu
5 tablespoons corn or groundnut (peanut) oil
3 spring onions, trimmed and very finely chopped
4 large shiitake mushrooms, stalks removed and finely diced
3 oz/ 75g carrot, trimmed, peeled and finely diced
2 tablespoons celery, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
1 or 2 green chillies, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 medium egg, beaten
Around 8 to 10 tablespoons panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1.    Place the tofu between several layers of kitchen paper, and weigh it down with a heavy kitchen utensil or a bag of sugar. Leave for about an hour to drain off excess water so that you get the dry texture that’s necessary for this recipe to work.
2.    In a large bowl, crumble and mash the tofu with your fingers until it resembles fine soy mince.
3.    Heat a large frying pan (or a small wok) on high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, and stir-fry the spring onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery and chillies for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through. Let them cool a little.
4.    Tip the vegetables into the crumbled tofu. Add the coriander, soy sauce, and a little salt and pepper. Mix well.
5.    Add the egg and about 5 tablespoons of the panko, or enough to make a mixture that can be formed into patties. Mix well, and adjust the seasoning.
6.    Shape the tofu and vegetable mixture into 8 round burger-shaped patties.
7.    Spread the remaining panko in a thin layer onto a large plate. Roll the burgers in the panko so as to cover them lightly on all sides, including the edge. (If you are not cooking the burgers immediately, you can refrigerate them for up to 3 to 4 hours).
8.    A few minutes before you are ready to eat, heat a large, non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in the pan and, when hot, put in the burgers 2 or 3 at a time. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until they are well browned.
9.    Drain on kitchen paper. Serve immediately.

Grilled vegetable and butterbean gazpacho

I first fell in love with gazpacho when I visited a small Andalusian village on the hills as a child with my parents. Some years ago, watching the hit Pedro Almodovar movie ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (in which gazpacho plays a significant part) cemented my passion for the chilled Spanish tomato and raw vegetable soup.

Over the years I have tasted several variations, including white gazpacho made from almonds and grapes, and the newly fashionable (at least in the UK) watermelon gazpacho, which is a little too sweet and insubstantial for my taste.

This recipe started life as simply grilled vegetable gazpacho, which I prepared one lunchtime from leftover barbecued vegetables, including roast potatoes. More recently, when I made the soup again, I substituted the carb-laden potatoes with protein-rich butterbeans. It worked perfectly well as the beans provided the creamy texture just as the potatoes had done. This soup is rather like salmorejo – the thick Andalusian tomato and bread soup – in texture. It is at once hearty, tangy, savoury, refreshing and redolent with tastes of the Mediterranean summer.

The butterbeans I use in this recipe are the large Mediterranean variety called ‘gigante’. They’re available in delis, health food stores and department stores’ food halls. (In the UK, you can often buy them in jars from Sainsbury’s ‘Special Selection’ section). You may use regular butterbeans, or even chickpeas (garbanzo beans) which are common in Spanish cuisine.

Use any combination of Mediterranean vegetables – adjusting the solids to liquids ratio accordingly – and hand around a good variety of toppings so that your guests can choose what they like. Just make sure that your summer tomatoes are very red, ripe, juicy and packed with flavour, otherwise the soup will be insipid.

I often serve regular red gazpacho at the start of a barbecue, but this recipe is substantial enough to be almost a meal by itself. Serves 4.

8 medium tomatoes, halved
1 medium red bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and halved
1 medium green bell pepper, trimmed, seeded and halved
1 medium courgette (zucchini), trimmed and thickly sliced
1 small baby aubergine (eggplant), trimmed and cut into chunks
6 spring onions, trimmed
Approx 4 tablespoons cooked gigante butterbeans (large lima beans), drained
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 fl oz/ 125 ml tomato juice, chilled
12 fl oz/ 350 ml vegetable stock, chilled or at room temperature
3 tablespoons olive oil (Spanish, if you have it)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, or more to taste
A pinch of paprika
A pinch of ground cumin
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Fine grain sea salt
Ice cubes

Optional toppings (Prepare a few of the suggested garnishes for your guests to choose. Don’t use them all though, otherwise the flavours will clash or dominate!):

Very finely chopped red onion
Very finely chopped yellow bell pepper
Very finely diced cucumber
Diced avocado, drizzled with lime juice
Finely sliced celery
Finely sliced pickled gherkins
A few pickled green peppercorns in brine, drained
Smoked paprika
Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
Whole almonds, blanched, skinned and lightly toasted
Hard-boiled egg, shelled and finely diced
Croutons

1.    From tomatoes to spring onions listed above, barbecue, roast or grill all the vegetables until tender.
2.    Once cooked, peel and core the tomatoes and peel the peppers. Roughly chop all the vegetables and allow them to come to room temperature.
3.    In a liquidizer or food processor, combine the chopped grilled vegetables with the cooked beans, garlic and tomato juice and blitz for a few seconds.
4.    Add the stock, oil, vinegar, spices and seasoning and blitz the mixture until it is smooth but still retains plenty of texture. Add a little cold water if the texture is too thick.
5.    Refrigerate the soup for 1 or 2 hours. Serve chilled with ice cubes, and hand around optional garnishes of your choice.

Italian tomato tart

This Italian tomato tart – crostata di pomodoro – is so amazingly easy that even my 11-year old niece, Ellie, can make it. In fact, she just did! It’s simply made from puff pastry topped with fresh tomatoes, garlicky olive oil, basil and toasted pine nuts. It’s very light as there is no cheese – though you may add some if you want a pizza-like flavour.

Because the recipe is so simple, it is more than usually important to use only the best-quality ingredients. Buy puff pastry from a good bakery. (Although when I’m in the UK, I always keep Jus-Rol brand’s ready-rolled puff pastry in the fridge. With tomatoes from my garden in the summer, I’m able to whip up this tart in no time at all).

I have suggested Italian plum tomatoes to be authentic – they are fleshy with fewer seeds and ideal for this recipe – but you can use multi-coloured tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, or any variety of top-quality tomatoes. Use only the finest, sunniest, plumpest specimen you can find – it really will make a difference to the taste.

You can, of course, add other ingredients like olives, onions and so on. But I think less is definitely more in this recipe, and I like allowing the uncluttered tangy, grassy, herby, fruity taste of summer tomatoes to shine through.

This tart is perfect for picnics and light lunches, served with a salad, or wonderful cut into small squares and served with wine as an appetiser. Serves 4 – 6.

4 tablespoons Italian extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
7 medium Italian plum tomatoes
1 sheet uncooked puff-pastry, rolled to approx 12 by 12 inches
1 medium egg yolk, beaten
Small bunch basil leaves, torn
2 oz/ 50g pine nuts, lightly toasted in a small saucepan

1.    Combine the olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper and set aside.
2.    Thinly slice the tomatoes, removing as many brown cores and seeds as you can. Leave to drain on paper towels.
3.    Place the puff pastry square on a lightly floured surface. Cut ½-inch strips of pastry from all four sides.
4.    Brush the egg on the edges of the pastry square and arrange the strips along the top edges. Press down gently with a light hand – you should be left with a square puff pastry case.
5.    Lightly prick the bottom of the pastry case with a fork. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
6.    About 10 minutes before you are ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 400F/ 200C/ gas mark 6.
7.    Bake the pastry case for 10 minutes, or until it rises and turns light golden-brown.
8.    Let the pastry cool a little, and brush the inside with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and garlic mixture and sprinkle with half the basil. Arrange the tomato slices over the top. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and garlic mixture.
9.    Bake for 10 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown and the tomatoes have softened but are still intact.
10.    Cool the tart slightly. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and the remaining basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.

South Indian green beans with coconut

My South Indian friend, Thiru, is renowned for his lavish weekend brunches, when he cooks up a large variety of traditional dishes that he learnt from his mother: spongy white rice cakes known as ‘idli’, accompanied by ‘sambhar’, a spicy lentil and vegetable gravy, along with the popular rice and lentil pancakes called ‘dosa’ and a plethora of green and red chutneys, pickles and dips. He often puts vividly coloured, quickly cooked vegetable dishes on the table, too – this being one of them.

I spent a recent weekend morning watching Thiru speedily whip up all these dishes, and wrote down the recipe for green beans exactly as he dictated it. My friend tells me that it can be made from other vegetables, too, such as green cabbage, carrots, beetroot (beets), green bananas, or other varieties of green beans like runner beans. In fact, I’ve tried a version of this dish in upmarket Indian restaurants in the UK made from asparagus, which I’m going to have a go at cooking next.

If you don’t have a well-stocked Indian larder, a trip to an Indian grocer will be necessary – or at least a visit to the ‘ethnic’ section of a large supermarket. Yes, the mustard seeds need to be black, not the more commonly found yellow, and the mild red chillies could be ones labelled as ‘Kashmiri’. Lentils are often used in South Indian cooking as a spice. If you can’t find urid dal – which is a type of white lentil with a distinctively nutty, ever so slightly smoky taste – then use ordinary red lentils. They’re there to provide crunch and texture, so it doesn’t really matter which type of lentil you use.

If you can’t get hold of fresh curry leaves and fresh coconut – both of which are also available frozen in Asian grocers – it’s not really worth attempting this recipe. Well, you can reconstitute dried desiccated coconut in boiling water before use, but the dish won’t taste as it’s meant to. Asafoetida is a type of powdered resin with a strong, pungent aroma (which mellows after cooking, giving the dish a distinctive taste), so it should be used sparingly.

I was a bit hesitant about posting this recipe, as it requires so many specialist ingredients. But I don’t believe in adapting recipes to suit western kitchens – it’s patronising and, after all, speciality ingredients are widely available in most large cities if you know where to find them. (If you don’t, ask members of the particular community whose recipe you’re cooking, and they will be more than happy to advise you). Besides, I would be assuming that all my readers live in western countries, which is not the case – one of the best things about having a blog, especially a global recipe blog such as this, is that you have readers from around the world!

This dish doesn’t have a sauce or gravy, and it needs to be cooked quickly (especially steps 2 to 5) to prevent burning. Don’t be daunted though – it’s light, refreshing, nutritious, flavour-packed, and easy to cook.

Serve the green beans with plain rice, plain yoghurt, poppadams and an Indian ginger pickle. The dish won’t keep long because of the fresh coconut, so leftovers would be delicious stuffed in warmed pita breads or toasted sandwiches, or turned into half-moon shaped pasties made from ready-rolled puff pastry. Serves 4.

1 lb/ 500g fresh fine green beans
4 tablespoons corn or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
Dried large, mild whole red chillies, to taste
1 tablespoon urid dal (or red lentils)
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
8 – 10 fresh curry leaves
¼ teaspoon asafoetida
Salt
2 oz/ 50g finely grated fresh coconut
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice (optional)

1.    Trim the green beans at both ends. Either leave them whole, cut them in half, or chop them small. If you leave them whole or halve them, steam the beans for 3 to 4 minutes until tender but still crisp. (You won’t need to follow this step if you chop them small, as South Indians do, as they will cook quickly).
2.    Heat the oil in a frying pan. When very hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds and remove from the heat immediately. Cover the pan with a lid and let the mustard seeds pop. They should become dark grey, but must not burn.
3.    Once the mustard seeds have stopped making the popping noise, place the pan back on the heat, and immediately add the dried chillies and urid dal. Stir once or twice.
4.    When the chillies turn a couple of shades darker and the urid dal starts turning pinkish-brown, add the sesame seeds and curry leaves. Stir again.
5.    Finally, when the curry leaves become crisp and turn a shade or two darker, and the sesame seeds start turning pale brown, remove the pan from the heat, and add the asafoetida. Let everything sizzle for just a few seconds.
6.    Place the pan back on heat, immediately add the green beans and coat them evenly in the spice mixture. Add the salt, and let them cook with the lid on until the beans are tender but have still retained their bright green colour.
7.    Top the cooked beans with coconut and coriander, and stir a couple of times. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice if you wish. Remove the red chillies and curry leaves before serving – or let your guests fish them out from their own plates, as South Indians do – and eat immediately.

Moroccan vegetable kebabs

The versatile chermoula serves as a sauce and a marinade in a wide variety of Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian dishes. Although traditionally used with seafood, it is also mixed with pureed tomatoes to create a delicious sauce for green beans, broad (fava) beans or carrots. Recipes vary widely, often containing ingredients like finely chopped pickled lemons. In this dish, my Moroccan-recipe chermoula imparts a wonderful flavour to fresh vegetables. Serving little saucers of ground cumin on the side is the tradition in Morocco.

Serve the kebabs with plenty of couscous flecked with saffron, finely chopped herbs such as parsley and mint, and sliced nuts like almonds and pistachios. If you are serving the kebabs as part of a barbecue spread, you can also grill freshly made or shop-bought flatbreads on the barbecue, along with skewers of cubed white cheese. A big bowl of green salad, and a side salad of sliced oranges, red onions and black olives would be perfect, along with little saucers of pickled lemons and harissa or chilli sauce on the table. Serves 4.

For chermoula:
½  pint/ 300 ml virgin olive oil (Moroccan, if you have it)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons ground dried ginger
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
Small bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), trimmed and minced
Fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the kebabs:
1 small cauliflower, trimmed and separated into florets
1 medium aubergine (eggplant), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
1 courgette (zucchini), sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 red and 1 green pepper (bell pepper), trimmed and cut into 1-inch squares
12 tiny baby onions, trimmed, peeled and left whole

To serve:
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed

1.    To make the chermoula, combine all the chermoula ingredients in a small bowl and mix until well-blended. Set aside.
2.    To make the kebabs, blanch or steam the cauliflower, aubergine and fennel for 5 – 7 minutes. They should be fairly soft, but not falling-off-the-fork tender, otherwise they will become mushy. Drain and cool.
3.    Place the par-boiled and raw vegetables together in a large bowl. Add the marinade, gently rubbing it all over the vegetables so that they are evenly coated. Cover and set aside for between 30 minutes to 4 hours, tossing the vegetables occasionally.
4.    About 15 – 20 minutes before you are ready to eat, heat up the barbecue or grill (broiler). Thread the marinated vegetables on metal skewers, reserving the marinade for basting.
5.    Barbecue or grill the skewers, rotating them carefully and basting the vegetables several times until lightly and evenly browned.
6.    Serve hot with the crushed cumin on the side.

Mexican green pea soup

I love shelling peas – somehow it makes me feel like a proper, grown-up cook. I imagine Elizabeth David used to shell tender peas in her garden on warm sunny days, pick a few herbs and sauté her green treasures together in unsalted butter. Simple but, I’m sure, utterly delicious.

I unfortunately made the mistake of declaring to my friends and family members how much I love shelling peas and how therapeutic I find it – because now, almost every time they see me in the summer, they give me a big bowl of peas to shell.

A couple of weeks ago, my neighbour Laura went one step further. We were sitting down watching tennis during the Wimbledon Championships, when she put an enormous BUCKET of pea pods in front of me and asked – in a terribly polite, gentle, unassuming British manner – whether I would very much mind shelling them. It took me two hours to get through the lot – thankfully, it was a five-set match – and once I was done, she asked me to cook with them!

This is the soup I made with some of the peas (the rest were subsequently used in pasta, risotto and curry). The soup is known as sopa de chicharos, and versions of the recipe, often made with dried green split peas, are found all over Mexico as well as Cuba.

Laura and I wolfed down the vibrant emerald-hued soup with sweetcorn and red chilli muffins straight from the oven – but it goes equally well with cornmeal bread, wholemeal pumpkin seed bread, or tortilla chips. Serves 4 – 6.

2 oz/ 50g finely minced flat-leaf parsley
3 oz/ 75g butter
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground white pepper
1 medium egg
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and thinly sliced
2 pints/ 1 litre well-flavoured vegetable stock
1 lb/ 450g fresh green peas (shelled weight)
1 large avocado, peeled, halved, stoned and thinly sliced

1.    Mix the parsley with 1 oz/ 25g butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
2.    Lightly beat the egg and combine well with the parsley butter. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
3.    Heat the remaining butter in a large saucepan, taking care not to burn it. Fry the onions until soft but not browned.
4.    Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Add the peas, lower the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes with the lid on.
5.    Remove the lid, and carefully drop in the parsley mixture one teaspoon at a time.
6.    Cover again with the lid, and cook for 10 or 15 minutes or until the peas are tender.
7.    OPTIONAL STEP: If you want smooth-textured soup with a glossy sheen, blend the soup using a hand blender. Otherwise leave it as it is. (This is my own preference – a clear soup with whole green peas and fluffy, eggy bits floating on top – but many people prefer it blended).
8.    Season the soup to taste. Serve in bowls garnished with the sliced avocado.

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.

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