Out of Veggiestan
Published at 08:58, Saturday, 19 November 2011
Meat-loving Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall shocked many when he announced he had gone veggie.
But there is a vast area of the globe where there is a long and proud tradition of non-meat dishes as the main food.
‘Veggiestan’, stretches from the Middle East into Asia, according to Sally Butcher.
For the past 10 years, the cook turned retailer has been exploring Persian cooking (and beyond) with help from her long-suffering mother-in-law Afsaneh.
“It’s taken perseverance to learn these lessons,” Sally explains. “She’s quite a reluctant teacher. I have to stand next to her and bombard her with questions.”
Her second cookbook Veggiestan is an ode both to this journey and her deep love of vegetables.
“In Iran, they’re very happy to make a dish out of one vegetable and not overcomplicate it. They’ve also got different ways of cooking them – and in general I find they work better,” she explains.
In Middle Eastern cooking, meat is regularly saved for special occasions, meaning that everyday veg preparation can often be more interesting.
Butcher’s recipes use eye-popping ingredients such as dried limes, rose water and harissa paste to blow life into her food.
“I’ve always eaten broccoli crunchy, al dente style,” she says, recalling her first Iranian cooking revelation.
“I was merrily cutting up the florets and lobbing the stems into the bin, and my mother-in-law was horrified.
“She got them out of the bin, washed them off, and peeled the outside off, leaving the core to be served with salt. Apparently we throw away the best bit!”
Here are a couple of eastern dishes to try.
Peppers filled with moghrabieh (makes 8)
8 large, pretty green capsicum peppers
200g moghrabieh (or barley or risotto rice)
Olive oil, for frying
1 red capsicum pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4tsp ground saffron, steeped in boiling water
500ml vegetable stock
Large handful fresh coriander, chopped
Large handful fresh parsley, chopped
1tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper
150ml tomato juice or passata
1 Trim the base of the green peppers very slightly so that they will sit up rather than all fall down. Then cut off the tops: retain them but discard the seeds.
2 Blanch the peppers plus their ’lids’ for a couple of minutes, and then drain and arrange them snugly in an oven dish.
3 Blanch the moghrabieh (or rice) for about 5 minutes in boiling water, and then drain – this will stop it from becoming gloopy.
4 Heat some oil in a frying pan, and when it is hot, slide in the chopped red pepper, onion and celery. When they have softened, add the spices followed by the moghrabieh/rice, stirring well so that all the globules get coated.
5 Add the saffron to the vegetable stock, and then add this, bit by bit, to the moghrabieh/rice until it is all absorbed.
6 You will in all likelihood need to add a little water as well: the moghrabieh/rice should be soft but not mushy, and the process should take about 25 minutes. Once it is cooked, take it off the heat, stir in the herbs and season to taste.
7 Spoon some of the mixture into the cavities of each of the peppers, topping them off with one of the blanched lids. Pour the tomato juice around the base of the vegetables, cover the dish with foil and bake on 190C/Gas Mark 5 for around 30 minutes.
I8 f you wish you can sprinkle some Parmesan over the hot dolmeh. Serve with warm bread and yoghurt. Like most dolmeh, they are also great cold for picnics.
Qorma-e-zardak – or Afghan carrot hotpot (serves 4)
2 medium onions, chopped
Oil, for frying
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 Scotch bonnet chilli
1cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1tsp ground turmeric
1/2tsp ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cloves
600g baby carrots, scrubbed or grown-up carrots, peeled and chunked
300g daul nakhud (yellow split peas)
1tbsp tomato paste
3 large tomatoes, chopped
Salt, to taste
2tbsp sour grape juice or 2 tsp vinegar
500ml water or veg stock
1 Fry the onions in a little oil in the bottom of a big saucepan, and add in the garlic, chilli and ginger. When the onions have started to soften, add in the spices, carrots and split peas, followed a couple of minutes later by the paste and fresh tomato chunks.
2 Sprinkle in some salt, add either the vinegar or sour grape juice, and then enough water to cover all the ingredients.
3 Bring to the boil and then set to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the carrots and peas are cooked through.
4 Serve over plain white rice, with yoghurt and bread. And maybe salaata (Afghan salad).
Salaata (To serve with hotpot)
3 small continental cucumbers (or half a regular)
3-4 spring onions
Half a bunch of fresh coriander, trimmed
Handful fresh mint, trimmed
1 small regular onion
2 small, hot green chillies (optional, of course)
Juice of 1-2 lemons
1 Chop all the ingredients together: we’re talking bigger than a salsa here but much smaller than a regular chunk. 2 Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with lemon, and then cover and pop it in the fridge for about 30 minutes (to let the flavours mingle and get to know each other).
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