Why the addiction – well these books respect vegetables like I have been taught to respect them as a life time vegetarian. Growing up in a South Indian household, my mother and grandma had endless ways of making vegetables exciting and I try and continue this tradition till today. However, I’m also a little more adventurous that mum and grandma and I cannot eat the same/similar things day in and day out. This is something I did quite gladly did when I was still dependent on my parents, but ever since I’ve moved out on my own, my kitchen has been a bit of a playground, as is this blog I host.
Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi, while laden with meat-based recipes are also quite generous with their coverage of vegetable/vegetarian dishes from Eastern Mediterranean regions, Israel, Palestine with influences from Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Overall, these vegetables are prepared quite differently (most of the time) to how I’d prepare them as a person of South Indian upbringing and I find that really really exciting. Sometimes, I find some similarities and start thinking about the origins of certain food and how recipes might have travelled from one region to another in ancient time.
To summarize it is food, vegetarian food, exciting vegetarian food and I love it! Food to me is most satisfying when I’ve made it and others are enjoying it 🙂 An opportunity presented itself when we decided to host a dinner and board games evening at our place. While I usually cook Indian food, I decided that I’d try recipes from my recently acquired books instead. There was a deathly silence as everyone sat eating until one of our friends spoke up and said , “You know the food is good when everyone is too busy eating and cannot stop to speak”. I’m going to call it a successful experiment based on this !
My menu and links to the recipes are presented below. I managed to take a lot of pictures for the first few dishes and then ran out of time and my guests arrived so I couldn’t keep clicking any more. Hope you try some of the recipes and like them !
My very first real job was in a small student town in the North Island of New Zealand (NZ) called Palmerston North. The reason it is called Palmerston North is because there is a town called “Palmerston” in the South Island of New Zealand. Full marks for imagination I suppose.
If one wasn’t a student or had a partner/family/pet in this little town, it could get terribly boring. Given I was flush with cash for the first time in my life (not really, but it felt like it), I signed up to as many activities as I could after my work day. Running, swimming, salsa, ceramic painting and so on. Just so happened, 2 other friends of mine, finding themselves in a similar situation as I did, signed up to an “Italian cooking class”. I took cooking classes to be a slight on my ability as a self-made home chef so I shunned them. I could follow recipes well enough on my own!
As fate would have it, one of the two friends couldn’t take the small town politics any more and went back to BIG Auckland (population 1.5 million, largest town in NZ). One of her leaving gifts to me was her place in the cooking class. I smiled and accepted gracefully as that’s all I could do. I went to the first one with great apprehension but to my surprise, I loved it. Our cooking teacher would give us a list of ingredients for the following class. We bought them and then got given recipes for a 3-course meal. We had two hours to cook this 3-course meal and then we’d sit together and have dinner with the teacher. One of the evenings, we even had an olive-oil tasting session. After attending this class, my image of cooking classes changed completely. I’m going to a wine-tasting class soon and will report back.
The friend who remained in Palmerston North was from Germany and was on an exchange programme. So before she went back, she scanned all the recipes from the class and mailed it to not just herself but to me too! I have the entire collection and I printed some of my favourites for my cooking album. The tiramisu recipe earlier on this blog is one of hers. This Caponata recipe is another.
Our teacher told us that Caponata is originally a Sicilian recipe but had spread throughout Italy taking many forms. While it is usually served as a “Contorno” or vegetable side dish, I have always eaten it as a main. It goes with pasta, with pita bread and more recently as I discovered, as a pizza topping.
Once again, I apologise for being away for a bit. In my defence, I’m having a lovely holiday in France with my partner and his parents. We are in this lovely house with an awesome kitchen. I cannot resist awesome kitchens. So I’ve been taking full advantage of it every evening and have been trying to produce meals using local produce/locally available produce every evening. The next few recipes will hopefully capture this. Of course, they tend to be cheese and butter heavy so not a very vegan-friendly territory.
One thing I’m very grateful for is the endless patience, encouragement and help I get from my partner and his parents (my partner’s mum especially) while I slowly try and work my way through this foreign kitchen and with not as many spices/ingredients as I’m used to in my own. The house came with a bazillion cook books including a whole “Donna Hay” series. For those who don’t know Donna Hay, she’s an Australian food stylist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donna_Hay) and you can spend many hours just drooling over her magazines. I have to say, the magazines don’t just have a pretty face but the recipes work – just like that. It is very rare for me not to tinker with existing recipes. With Donna Hay recipes, one can (and I do most of the time) follow them like gospel.
“Hurry burry hot curry” – it was a silly phrase we called out as kids in India. I can’t say very many of us stopped to think what it meant. All we knew was that it rhymed and we thought that was hilarious and giggled a lot. Kids these days are a lot smarter than we used to be. Anyway, this curry was put together in a little bit of a hurry and is served hot. All the ingredients/spices I used were what I found in the house’s pantry. I served this curry pulao made with whole spices. Hope you like it. The next few recipes will have pictures – I promise.
Those who have seen “My big fat Greek wedding” might remember the scene when the other kids in school mock Nia Vardalos’ lunch calling it “Mous-ka-ka”. I thought it was hilariously cruel (it’s easy to make me laugh at silly things shall we say). So I decide to run around the house on evening announcing that I was going to make a Vegetarian mous-ka-ka and my partner looked at me like I’d lost it. Clearly, he hasn’t watched the movie.
Notice I say “vegetable” and not “vegetarian” laksa ? Well, there’s a reason for it and I wouldn’t want to lie. While I am a full-time vegetarian, there are some things for which I shift the Vegetarian line a little. Fruit jubes are one such item – it is a well known fact that they have gelatine in them but they are so yummy I cannot resist. My mother who is quite often a proselytizing (ha ha , big word ! It means the act of trying to convert others) vegetarian has a soft spot for fruit jubes. Of course, these days, pectin is used as a substitute but a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t so common, not even in India.
Curry laksa is another dish for which I slightly modify the definition of “vegetarian”. Those who have eaten laksa will agree with me that it is this amazing taste explosion. Once you’ve had a good laksa, you will crave for more. One of our favourite hangouts in Melbourne was a place called “Coconut curry house” that made some pretty awesome curry laksa. If you are ever there, you must try some. More recently, a Malaysian colleague of mine brought us over some authentic curry laksa. Her mum made the paste and she put it together. We thought it was super fantastic and ever since that day, I’ve been wanting to make some myself. I am currently working on getting her to give me her mum’s recipe but it isn’t so straightforward. In a desperate attempt, I went to the one Malaysian store in this town to buy some laksa paste.
Turning the packet over for ingredients is something I do out of habit. Sure enough, in decent sized letters were the words “shrimp paste”. Of course, I went through the internal dialogue and emotional turmoil of “should I, shouldn’t I” and did look for a vegetarian version of the paste. I had no luck finding a vegetarian version and my craving won so I came back with the paste, some fried tofu, slender eggplants, bean sprouts and bok choy (Chinese cabbage). If I have offended you at this point, please don’t read on. My next recipe will be a 100% vegetarian I promise.
For a packet laksa, it turned out pretty well but given it is from a packet, it is a “cheat’s” laksa. The paste make a LOT of laksa sauce so be willing to share with friends and neighbours. I have two boxes frozen down for a rainy day. The current English summer is giving us plenty of rainy days so it shouldn’t be hard to find an occasion to eat more laksa.