Vegetarian

Bhartha (Spicy Indian Eggplant)

Generally speaking I’m an unashamed carnivore at heart, but when it comes to Indian food I’m more than willing to forsake my love of meat and go 100% vegetarian. Not only is this advisable whilst eating in India, the reality is that Indian food is truly a culinary-nirvana for the non-meat eaters amongst us.

Your rogan joshs and butter chickens aside, Indian food is perhaps the most karma-conscious cuisine in the world with a mind-boggling array of vegan and vegetarian dishes to choose from, one is never short of tasty delights from the sub-continent. At any rate, this diversity of dishes make an Indian feast a great option for a dinner party as it allows you to cater for a wide range of tastes and needs, all without compromising the overall success of the meal. Generally speaking, whether the dish be vegan or laden with meat, all Indian food goes well together.

I’ve always thought of eggplants and Indian cooking as being the perfect partners. It was almost as if the silky opaque flesh of the eggplant was specifically designed to absorb the rich flavours of Indian cooking and as such could withstand even the boldest of spices.

Personally bhartha has always been my favourite way of preparing eggplant and is often a stalwart of any Indian meal of mine, largely for three reasons: it is easy to make, tastes amazing and can be made days in advance. Traditionally the eggplant is deep-fried resulting in a dish that is often swimming in oil and that should come with a health warning. I prefer to steam my eggplant in a microwave instead of frying it which makes for a far healthier and more palatable dish.

As with most Indian dishes bhartha can, and should, be made in advance and gently reheated before serving – again highlighting why Indian food makes the perfect dinner party option.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Advertisements

Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven-Roasted Eggplant with Miso)

Eggplants, aubergines or brinjals; call them what you will, but most of us are pretty much clueless as to what to do with this perfect purple delight.

Nasu Dengaku なす田楽 (Oven Roasted Eggplant with Miso)Along with an undeserved reputation for being bitter, eggplants are unjustly thought of as greasy. Typically shallow fried, eggplant’s absorbent flesh is easily saturated with excessive amounts of oil and can result in the dish becoming too rich. Luckily, however, there are a couple of ways to cook eggplants without the need to have your local cardiac surgeon on speed-dial, those being steaming and roasting. As the name of the recipe suggests this dish involves the latter method and the results are just to die for, as roasted eggplants and miso are quite simply a match made in heaven.

Traditionally nasu dengaku is made with eggplants that have been cut in half and then grilled, but this method only really works with thin Japanese eggplants which are, unfortunately, quite hard to come by in Cape Town. As such, you are welcome to oven-roast halved eggplants if you prefer, but it just seems so much easier to cube them instead, as the end result isn’t that dissimilar and makes for a more chopstick-friendly meal.

This dish makes for a wonderful addition to any Japanese spread and is also great in salads or even sandwiches (nasu dengaku on a ham and cheese sandwich would be all kinds of awesome!).

For more Japanese recipes, please click HERE or to find out more about how to stock a Japanese Pantry, please click HERE

Click here for the recipe

Asian Coleslaw

Lets be honest, coleslaw has been called many things over the years but trendy has never been one of them – at least until now, that is.

A salad stalwart of 80s potluck dinners, coleslaw has since been pretty much relegated to being nothing more than a questionable side-order to a greasy bucket of chicken – a lazy attempt to elevate our deep-fried indulges into something that resembles a balanced meal! Thankfully, however, these days coleslaw has made something of a comeback and is looking (and tasting) better than ever! Personally I think coleslaw owes its unexpected revival to the recent trendy-burger movement: after all what is a gourmet burger without a helping of gourmet sides?

Truffled skinny fries, tempura onion rings and umami ketchup, it was only a matter of time before coleslaw got in on the action and got a much needed makeover. Whilst the Western incarnation of coleslaw has undergone somewhat of a reinvention, the greatest evolution of the dish is, however, truly manifest in Asian Coleslaw. An ubiquitous name at best, Asian coleslaw is really just regular coleslaw but with a fusion twist.  Don’t get me wrong, regular ‘slaw is awesome, but Asian ‘slaw is simply next-level awesome! Whilst no single ingredient turns regular coleslaw Asian, the star of this particular version of Asian coleslaw is undoubtedly the sesame seeds, which add a wonderful toasted flavour that suits the rich creamy tang of the mayonnaise.

Perhaps one of the best things about coleslaw is its versatility. Traditionally the only two mainstays of the dish are white cabbage and mayonnaise, other than that you can add or omit just about anything. Try making it with some shaved fennel or replace the spring onion with thinly sliced regular onion. Leaving out the sultanas and  doenjang (Korean soy bean paste) would instantly make for the perfect LCHF side dish. Of course if you really wanted to push the boat out you could always substitute the sesame seeds with toasted pine nuts, but given the exorbitant price of pine nuts it does rather feel like an extravagance too far for something as humble as coleslaw.

To call this a “recipe” is somewhat of a stretch as making coleslaw is really just an assemblage of ingredients rather than an actual recipe per se. Okay so there is a fair amount of chopping involved when making any coleslaw, but if you have a decent mandolin handy then there really isn’t anything to it. It seems almost criminal that something so good can require so little effort, but it does and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little obsessed. I’ve been eating coleslaw with just about everything recently, but that’s because it goes with just about everything! Burgers, sausages, grilled chicken and tonkatsu / chikenkatsu (Japanese Pork / chicken schnitzels) – all make the perfect companion to a healthy dollop of ‘slaw!

Click here for the recipe

Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter

For somebody who loves feeding others, I seem to have a propensity for surrounding myself with people with serious food issues.

The omnipresence of my famously flavourphobic partner aside, my small circle of family and friends seem to be a motley crew made up of those with various intolerances, medically restricted diets, committed (and occasional) vegetarians, coriander-loathers, banana-haters and even someone who can’t eat anything green. Whilst I love feeding each and every one of them, they do, however, present somewhat of a challenge to cook for. Luckily (for them?), I do love a good challenge and catering for theirPumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel & Burnt Sage Butter specific needs and preferences does force me to try out new things. More often than not, the end results become firm personal favourites.

Which brings me to this particular recipe: Pumpkin Ravioli with Shaved Fennel and Burnt Sage Butter – a dish so insanely good, just saying the name makes my mouth water! Born out of the need to feed a friend who is a borderline vegetarian (and a selfish desire to use a ravioli mould that I bought when last in Rome), this delightful little dish is damn near pasta-perfection on a plate.

A variation of the Italian classic Ravioli di Zucca, the addition of the thinly shaved fennel is a refreshing twist, both in terms of texture and flavour. The crisp fennel and lemon cuts through the richness of the pumpkin/pasta parcels and burnt butter, giving the original dish much needed balance.

This satisfying dish makes for an amazing starter, as it does a worthy main.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Charred Courgette Ribbons with Capers & Mint

 Charred Courgette Ribbons with Capers & MintRich in potassium and virtually carb-free, courgettes are a vegetable worth getting excited about. Inexpensive and readily available, courgettes are perhaps second only to the mighty cauliflower when it comes to surviving any Banting/LCHF diet. That coupled with the fact that they are also rather delicious, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been eating a lot of courgettes lately! Simply sautéed, slow-braised or grated and eaten raw, courgettes are anything if not versatile.

Recently, however, but I’ve taken to grilling them on the braai.

Whilst not a natural-born braaier, I just acquired a fabulous new gas braai (an early 4oth birthday present), so I’ve understandably become a mite braaiverskrik of late and have been grilling up a storm at every given opportunity! I’ve been braaing virtually everything I can get my hands on and given that courgettes are pretty much omnipresent in my fridge, it was only a matter of time before they too found their way onto the griddle. As it turns out courgettes and a flaming griddle are a marriage made in barbecue-heaven, making them one of my favourite vegetables to get the flame-grilled treatment!

As with most good braai salads, this particular concoction was born out of what happened to be lurking in the fridge at the time. The zingy capers work an absolute treat with the smoky charred courgettes, the sprinkling of cheese gives the dish depth and the blast of fresh mint lightens the whole dish.

Deliciously summery…now lets get that braai started!

Click here for the recipe

Skinny Sweet Potato “Fries”

Undoubtedly the best thing to come out of my recent flirtations with the Banting lifestyle is a renewed love affair with sweet potatoes.

I’ve always been fond of sweet potatoes, but they have never really been a major part of my diet. These days, however, I can’t seem to live without them. Whilst still a carbohydrate, luckily sweet potato finds itself on the Banting Orange List, making it the “occasional carb” of choice for many of us on LCHF diets. Provided they are eaten in moderation, this Skinny Sweet Potato Friestuberous gem is nutritious, tasty and most importantly, relatively guilt-free. Chock full of goodness, sweet potatoes are high in Vitamins A, B6 and C, beta-carotene, potassium, antioxidants and contain enough dietary fibre to account for 16% of your RDA. That’s a lot of ‘goodness’ packed into a humble root vegetable!

The nutritional value of sweet potatoes aside, what ultimately makes them so popular is their versatility; they can be used to make soup, mashed, microwaved, oven-roasted, gratinéed or glazed, although the latter is most definitely not for those of us avoiding sugar! Currently, however, my favourite way of preparing sweet potatoes is to use them to make skinny fries.

Cooked in a hot oven, skinny sweet potato fries are just the absolute bomb. Easy to make, healthy and incredibly tasty, these skinny fries are downright irresistible, making them almost TOO good! Personally, I prefer skinny fries over making sweet potato wedges as their ‘skinniness’ encourages a light singeing of the edges, resulting in a ‘burnt’ bitterness that perfectly plays against the inherent sweetness and earthy tones of the vegetable.

Trust me, wholesome has never tasted this good.

Click here for the recipe

Aloo Mutter (Peas & Potato Curry)

I’m not sure many people can say this, but I owe my sanity to aloo mutter…or at least my sanity in India anyway.

Travel has always been a huge part of our lives. From Tokyo to Kathmandu, down to Ushuaia and all the way back up to Kirkenes, we are blessed to have trampled the globe together. For me our travels have always been synonymous with seeking out new food experiences. For my flavourphobic partner, however, the mere notion of culinary-tourism is unpalatable. In spite of being the most well travelled person I’ve ever met, my partner holds scant regard for sampling foreign flavours in foreign climes. This is, after all, a man who ate nowt but Big Macs in Beijing, Whoopers in Bergen, doner kebabs in Florence…and then there was India.

Ah, dear Mother India!

Aloo Mutter (Potato & Pea Curry)A land defined by fierce fragrances, earthy hygiene and spicy flavours; India is a culinary destination that should strike fear in the hearts of even the bravest of world travelers, let alone those of limited culinary bravado i.e. ‘you know who’…or so you would think. Little did I know that, culinarily speaking, the sub-continent would prove to be one place in the world the Flavourphobe would have no problem finding something to eat – all thanks to aloo mutter! Who knew a man could almost exclusively live on peas and potatoes for a month, but that he did. With the exception of the occasional aloo gobi, he had it in the South, he had it in the North, he even had it somewhere in the middle and he loved it every single time…but not as much as I did! No one was happier than I when we saw aloo mutter on the evening’s menu; not because I wanted to eat it myself, but rather because it meant we could actually enjoy a meal together whilst on holiday! For the first time on our travels I had been spared our usual dinner-time routine of depositing him at the nearest KFC whilst I sampled the local delights on my lonesome. At last, we could eat at the same restaurant every day. What travel bliss! Indeed what a privilege!

So did aloo mutter prove to be that watershed moment when he would finally open his taste buds to the favours of the world? Hah, don’t make me laugh. With the exception of Japanese Curry, his culinary ‘awakening’ was as short-lived as our time in India. Soon enough we were back to traveling together, but eating apart. Alas, the dream couldn’t last forever and the aloo mutter bubble had to burst at some stage. We will, however, always have dear Mother India and the days she granted us the simple pleasure of  enjoying a meal, together.

Oh…did I forget to mention that aloo mutter is also incredibly delicious and cheap to make? Don’t just take my partner’s word for it, it really is possibly the best way to jazz up a couple of potatoes and those long-forgotten peas at the back of the freezer! Aloo mutter is definitely a worthy addition to any Indian meal.

For more of my top picks for an Indian feast, please click here, or for more great Indian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Minestrone

So down here in the Southern Hemisphere winter is almost upon us and this heralds the perennial popularity of two things in South Africa: Wimbledon and soup!

Roger vs. Djokovic aside, in our house winter has always been a season defined by your preference in soup. Generally speaking I have always lent towards bowls of a refined nature, filled silky smooth soups without a suggestion of rustic charm, but in typical spousal aberrance my partner has always championed the opposite. Chunky, vegetarian and woefully wholesome, his soup of choice is invariably the same every winter: minestrone.

MinestroneAh, minestrone – how I’ve loathed thee. In tennis terms, ’tis the Murray of soups: interminably unlikable. However, culinary speaking I have always considered this simple Italian classic to be my ultimate soup nightmare; watery, insipid and chock-full of vegetables and beans, what’s not to hate?

So with that said, it should come as little surprise that minestrone was the last recipe I expected to be talking about on my blog, but oh how things have changed. Quite unexpectedly I’ve made peace with my brothy nemesis and I find myself enamoured with this classic soup.

So what’s changed? In a word, consistency. It turns out that the devil wasn’t in the details (i.e. the vegetables), it was in the viscosity. It seems that with just a bit of tweaking and fiddling, even the most dreaded dishes can find redemption through a few pulses of a hand blender. Okay, so I’ve also ditched the traditional additions of rice and beans in favour of pasta, but beyond that this recipe remains quite true to its classic origins.

Note: I recommend adding some lightly browned chorizo as part of the final garnish, far from authentic I know, but damn, it tastes good.

Click here for the recipe

Miso Butter

Broccoli with Red Pepper and Miso Butter

Broccoli with Red Pepper and Miso Butter

Okay, so I have confession. I can hide it no longer: I’m a closet Banting/LCHF dieter.

At least I’m trying to be.

Admittedly, I’m not yet a complete high-fat convert – I’m sorry, but butter in tea?!? Seriously, I’m not a Tibetian yak herder; so thanks, but no thanks. I have, however, taken to a reduced carb diet and have developed a new obsession as a result of an increased fat intake – miso butter!

Simple and insanely tasty, miso butter is a must-have staple in everybody’s freezer – whether you subscribe to Banting or not. Quick to make, the miso butter ‘log’ can sit in your freezer almost indefinitely. Not that it will last that long as you will probably end up eating it with everything!

Great on grilled steaks, vegetables, grilled chicken and burgers – miso butter will perk up virtually any meal.

Click here for the recipe

Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Asparagus, Avocado and Sugar Snap Peas

Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Asparagus and Sugar Snap PeasQuinoa: the mere mention of the word is enough to instil a sense of dread in any meat lover!

Thankfully, the recent popularity of couscous and, to a lesser extent, bulgar wheat, have paved the way for a quinoa renaissance of sorts. With an increased appreciation of grains as a healthier alternative to traditional carbs, quinoa is no longer the preserve of sandal wearing hippies and long forgotten Incas. This once sacred grain is now the darling of the health conscious and has even sneaked into the hearts of some of the most ferocious carnivores among us, myself included!

Which brings me to this awesome salad.

Packed with the best of nature, this salad tastes like Spring on-a-plate and makes for an excellent side dish to a braai or just as a great vegan/vegetarian dinner. I must confess, this sort of food is not usually my style, but this fabulous salad was a result of the need to feed a guest who was on a restricted diet and my repertoire is all the better for it!

Forced to go “healthy” for the sake of my guest, I turned to the healthiest food I knew of – quinoa. Unfortunately, my previous experiences of this protein rich grain were limited to its popular use as a poor meat substitute in the 90s – not a great starting point for any dish! Nevertheless, after a flurry of panicked internet trawling and cookbook research, I discovered that quinoa has come along way since the days when it was relegated to being stuffed into vegan sausages.

Simple to cook and easy to digest, quinoa was an absolute revelation! Delightfully flavoured, quinoa is, in my opinion, far nicer than couscous (which can be rather dull) and bulgar wheat (which is, at best, indigestible). With its distinctly nutty flavour, quinoa is tasty without being overpowering, making it the perfect base for any tabbouleh style salad.

So, quite unexpectedly I find myself in love with quinoa…and after you try this dish, the chances are you will be too.

Click here for the recipe