Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vegetarian Fine Dining

Today - being vegetarian day - we move slightly upmarket with recipes suitable to serve when entertaining. This does not mean we have to wait until the right occasion to make them, for when dealing with 'posh nosh' (or any other dish cooked for the first time) we should always have several goes to make sure we get it right, and this means the family can be given the experiments. Just because food is 'posh', it does not mean it is expensive. Often more depends upon the presentation (appearance) of the dish than the cost.

Perhaps served with drinks before sitting down for the main meal, or - if you wish - served as a starter, these canapes are easy to make and the 'mixtures' can be prepared ahead of time.
brie and olive bites: makes 16 (V)
6 oz (175g) ripe Brie, rind removed
5 fl oz (150ml) Greek yogurt
2 oz (50g) veg. margarine, melted
4 oz (100g) black olives, pitted
8 oz (225g) can water chestnuts, diced
4 slices bread, crusts removed, fried or toasted
Put all but the water chestnuts and bread into a blender or food processor and blitz together, then mix in the prepared w.chestnuts. Either toast or fry (and drain well) the bread and when ready to serve then place a teaspoon of the cheese mixture on the top.

stilton and walnut balls: makes 20 (V)
4 oz (100g) Stilton cheese
2 oz (50g) walnut pieces
2 tblsp walnut or olive oil
Put the above into a food processor or blender and give a quick whizz to blend together, but leaving crunchy pieces of nuts mixed in. Chill, then roll into balls and spear each with a cocktail stick.

For the soup course, am giving a cold soup suitable for the warmer weather we hope to have. Although simple to make, it is definitely one of quality. If you prefer to prepare as much as possible, halve red bell peppers, remove seeds and membrane, roast until charred, then cool in a polybag, remove skins and use as the canned pimientos (sometimes called pimentos).
Tri-colour Pepper Soup: serves 4 (V)
1 x 400g can of red peppers (pimientos) drained
1 pint (600ml) tomato juice
1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper, treated likewise
salt and pepper to taste
Put the pimientos, tomato juice into a blender, adding a little seasoning to taste, and blitz into a puree. Chill before serving in individual bowls, garnishing each with a few strips of green and yellow peppers. Serve with Melba toast or crostini.

Instead of cold soup, you may prefer a hot starter, in which case this next recipe is a winner. Use the largest flat field mushrooms you can buy, and although the topping can be prepared in advance, the dish needs serving immediately after baking.
Massive Mushrooms: serves 4 (V)
4 large flat mushrooms
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed (more if you wish)
1 oz (25g) dry-roast peanuts, chopped
3 oz (75g) cream cheese
1 egg yolk (opt)
grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Remove stalks from the mushrooms, chopping the stalks finely, then set to one side. Heat the oil in the pan and fry the onion gently, covered, for about 5 minutes until softened, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the celery, chopped mushroom stalks and the herbs, adding seasoning to taste. Mix well together, then cover the pan and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the peanuts. Cool, then cream the cheese with the egg yolk, and stir into the mixture in the pan and spoon into the mushroom caps.
Sprinkle with the Parmesan, and bake at 180c, 350F, gas 4 for 25 minutes. Serve piping hot on squares of fried bread.

For a lovely and unusual main course, serve these Asian rice cakes, they are extremely adaptable as different spices can be experimented with. With an internal delicate soft texture and spiced up with the satay sauce, they eat very well with a variety of salads.
Indonesian Rice Cakes: serves 4 (V)
1 pint (600ml) water
2 oz (50g) creamed coconut
12 oz (350g) Basmati or other long-grain rice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tsp garam masala or curry paste
half cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small pepper, chopped
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
serve with satay sauce
Put the water and creamed coconut in a pan and heat until the coconut has dissolved. Bring to the boil then add the rice, herbs, salt and garam masala/curry paste. Cover and cook gently for 10 - 12 minutes, adding the prepared vegetables a few minutes before the end of the cooking time. When all the liquid has been absorbed, put the rice in a shallow baking tin, cover with a similar sized tin so the base fits over the mixture, and top with weights,(a couple of cans of beans?) to compress the mixture. Leave to get cold. Chill for a couple of hours, then cut into 16 squares. Serve four squares per person, placing them on a bed of shredded lettuce, and spooning a couple or so teaspoons of satay sauce over each square.

Often a vegetarian 'Wellington', or a retro Nut Roast, may be the centrepiece of the main course, so then we look to the vegetable side dishes to add that little extra 'something'. Here is a recipe for celery - the one vegetable that we are never quite sure how to serve (other than raw, with cheese).
Creamy Celery with Almonds: serves 4
1 head celery, sliced
1 can condensed celery soup
2 fl oz (50ml) double cream or yogurt
1 tblsp grated onion
1 whole canned pimento (roasted red bell pepper)
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds, toasted
Cook the celery in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drain well. Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the almonds. Put into an ovenproof dish and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the almonds on the top and serve immediately.

This next is a vegetable dish where the flavour improves even more after being cooked then chilled and re-heated just before serving. The beetroot can be home-cooked or they type sold in a vacuum pack, but not beetroot already pickled in vinegar.
Beetroot in an Orange Sauce: serves 4
1 lb (450g) cooked beetroot, cut into strips
8 oz (225g) muscavado sugar
5 fl oz (150ml) malt vinegar
1 tblsp cornflour
zest and juice of three oranges
Put the beetroot in an ovenproof dish. Make the sauce by putting the sugar and vinegar into a pan and heating gently until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 5 minutes. Blend the cornflour with a little of the orange juice, the add the remaining juice to the pan with the zest. Simmer for 5 more minutes, the stir in the slaked cornflour and stirring constantly, heat until thickened. Pour over the beetroot and warm through in an oven (150C, 300F, gas 2) for about 10 minutes or until ready to serve.

Onions are the one vegetable we cannot do without, so almost certainly we will have them to hand. This next vegetable dish, although can be served as a 'side', as it eats equally well hot or cold, also makes a good buffet dish.
Baked Spiced Onions: serves 4
8 medium onions (unpeeled)
4 tblsp red wine
6 tblsp water
1 tsp salt
2 tbslp cumin seeds
Put the whole onions, peel still on, and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain and remove the skins. Put the onions into an ovenproof dish with the wine, water, salt and cumin seeds and bake at 200C, 400F, gas 6 or until softened, turning from time to time, and adding more water if it begins to dry out. Serve hot.

Final dish of the day is a salad, but one with a difference as it can be made with almost all seasonal vegetables, for even raw winter root vegetables taste wonderful when peeled and very thinly sliced. In fact most vegetables, other than potatoes, can be eaten raw: try Jerusalem artichokes, baby turnips, young parsnips, carrots, onions...
The mixed vegetables in this dish could be shredded white cabbage, string beans, baby spinach, courgettes, spring onions, beansprouts, cucumber, bell peppers. Also podded peas and broad beans, sweetcorn (these three are better lightly cooked). Add thinly sliced raw root veggies, and salad leaves such as watercress and rocket. Who needs lettuce?
When we cannot be bothered to make the peanut sauce, instead we could heat some peanut butter until 'runny' then thin down with a little coconut milk.
All Seasons Salad with Peanut Sauce: serves 4 (V)
half oz (15g) creamed coconut
half pint (300ml) boiling water
4 oz (100g) salted peanuts
a little single cream (opt) OR lemon/lime juice
1 1/2lb (675g) mixed vegetables: see above
Dissolve the coconut in the water, then - after cooling - put into a liquidiser with the peanuts, and blitz until it has turned into a smooth paste. Put into a pan and boil for 2 minutes, thinning down with cream, lemon or lime juice. Cool slightly then pour this over the sliced and shredded vegetables, tossing everything together thoroughly.