A short time back, my partner and I attended the wedding and reception of a work colleague of his in the ‘burbs. We were becoming a bit agitated as to what was in store for us as a main course, after the entrée had been presented as a slab of lasagne on a plate. The couple sitting next to us were vegetarians, and we all joked about how far vegetarian food had come since the days of serving up a slab of fried eggplant on a plate, with a boring selection of steamed vegetables. Just then, the mains arrived, with theirs being… a slab of fried eggplant with a boring selection of over-steamed vegetables. We just looked at each other, and you couldn’t do anything else but laugh. I actually think it was probably an improvement on our servings of dried out chicken breast, or this greyish brown thing that was trying to pass itself off as beef.
My other really bad experience with vegetarian eaters was in the 80’s, and the said vegetarian was my partner – for a short space of time, anyway. Frank’s idea of vegetarian food was that everything had to be served with tomatoes – raw, pureed, stewed, steamed, fried – you name a way of cooking tomatoes, and he knew it. He has the dubious distinction of putting me off tomatoes for many years after.
All jokes aside, vegetarian food has come a long way in the last 20 years. Our household is not vegetarian, however, like many other people these days, we tend to eat a lot of vegetarian dishes without thinking of them as vegetarian. We eat a huge range of salads, risottos, pasta dishes and Asian food that is principally vegetables, and very tasty vegetables to boot. As a caterer, I no longer ask the once obligatory question of whether there are any vegetarians or vegans attending functions, as over 80% of the dips and finger food we serve are vegetable-based. To just think of vegetarian food as being lentils, soy-based foods, tofu and nutmeats is to do it a great injustice. The range of things that can be done with vegetables is infinite, and if you don’t want to go down the vegetarian road, take their recipes and add meat, fish or poultry. The following are some examples of what I hope is imaginative vegetarian food, and could perhaps be served up as a complete meal when entertaining with friends. It consists of an entrée, a main, a side, a salad and a dessert.
Butternut Pumpkin & Red Capsicum Soup with Chilli
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 lge red capsicums, washed, trimmed and finely sliced
2 small red chillies, or 1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 small butternut pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into 4cm square X ½ cm chunks.
vegetable stock, to cover
Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add onion and garlic and cook till soft. Add capsicums and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in chillies, salt and pepper to taste. Add pumpkin, and stir to coat well. Add enough stock to cover vegetables and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until pumpkin is tender – about 30 minutes. Puree with wand blender or in food processor to desired consistency.
Check seasoning, then serve sprinkled with coriander leaves.
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon mustard
½ teaspoon aniseed
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon ginger
1 medium cauliflower
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium brown onions, peeled and chopped
450g tomatoes, chopped
sprigs of fresh mint or coriander
Mix spices together with ½ cup water. Cut cauliflower into florets. Wash and drain. Fry onions in oil for 2 minutes, then add spice mix and simmer for 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and tomatoes, then simmer for a further 5 minutes. Add cauliflower and simmer until tender but firm. Serve with herbs sprinkled over.
Saffron and Lime Rice with Yoghurt and Sultanas
2 cups unpolished rice, rinsed
4 cups water
3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) – from supermarket freezer where copha and dripping is
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
120g unsalted cashews
120g unblanched almonds
2 tablespoons fresh coriander
2 teaspoons green chilli, chopped
5cm piece ginger, finely chopped
30g fresh coconut, or 15g dry
½ cup lime juice
½ teaspoon saffron
2 cups boiling water
400ml plain yoghurt
Cover rice with water, bring to boil, then simmer gently, covered, until all the liquid is absorbed. Heat ghee in an overproof dish with a lid and add mustard seeds, cashews, almonds and cloves. Sauté until seeds begin to burst, then add rice, coriander, chilli, ginger, coconut, lime, saffron and boiling water. Cover and bake at 175°C until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.
Mix yoghurt and sultanas together, and serve to the side.
Blood Orange, Beetroot and Rhubarb Salad
2 medium-sized beetroot
1 stick rhubarb, thinly sliced diagonally
1 teaspoon castor sugar
2 blood oranges (use naval if bloods are out of season)
4 sprigs chervil (fine leafed herb that looks a bit like parsley – from large green grocers)
Preheat oven to 200°C. Wrap beetroot in foil and roast in oven for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool, then peel (USE GLOVES, as beetroot stains badly). Cut each beetroot into 10-12 segments. Toss the rhubarb with the sugar and salt. Remove peel and pith from oranges, then segment. Make vinaigrette (see below), then add orange segments, rhubarb and vinaigrette to beetroot, mixing well to distribute. Garnish with sprigs of chervil.
½ teaspoon walnut oil (now available from supermarkets)
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar, or if too hard to get, use balsamic
1 pinch salt
1 pinch white pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
Pumpkin and Orange Jellies
400g peeled butternut pumpkin pieces
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons agar agar powder (from health food stores. This is a non-meat substitute for gelatine)
1 cup water
½ cup maple syrup (from supermarkets)
½ cup fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons cornflour dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
2 oranges, zested
1 lemon, zested
¼ cup fresh roasted almonds, cooled and chopped
Steam pumpkin until tender, mix gently with ginger and set aside. Combine agar and water and whisk well. Bring to a simmer, and continue to whisk. Whisk in the cornflour. Stir constantly until mixture clears and thickens. Puree pumpkin while slowly adding the liquid. Incorporate rest of liquid (orange juice and maple syrup) until the mix is smooth. Put a little orange and lemon zest into 6 large or 10 (150ml) small moulds that have been wetted, then pour some mix on top of each. Refrigerate until set and ready to serve. Dip moulds into hot water, an slowly and carefully pull jelly from edges of moulds by pulling slightly with your finger, then unmould them onto a plate. Sprinkle with chopped almonds.
NOTES: If adding meat or poultry to the main dish. Don’t forget to brown it before adding to other ingredients
If using gelatine instead of agar agar, measure all liquids, and add gelatine according to packet instructions.
Agar agar does NOT set as stiffly as gelatine, and can take a bit longer to set.
Tim Alderman 2015