I have thoroughly enjoyed Lent this year. Mr Cloister and I have been spurning meat most days, and working our way through Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall's Veg Everyday and Sally Butcher's Veggistan - a vegetable lovers tour of the Middle East. We have cooked up some delicious new things; each evening is an adventure for the taste buds. The books are excellent inspiration, the first I bought in Oxfam for £5, the second was a generous gift from best friends of mine. Both are invaluable for creativity in the kitchen. I recommend seeking them out! Veggistan has a website, HFW has been around so long he is in the charity shops.
I have made up some new stuff too.
Chachouka - a spicy North African Stew made with red peppers and tomatoes, baked eggs over the top. We had it with HFW's magic flat breads.
Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry - Sadly, this one belies the fact that HFW does not test every single one of his recipes. He adds water where it is not necessary at all! However, the concept is excellent, and made in the traditional way - frying onions and spices first, adding tomatoes and vegetables and slow cooking, is delicious.
Squash and Fennel Lasagne - HFW prepared the bechamel with celery, onion and bay - then discarded the beautiful ingredients! We cannot conscience such wastefulness! So I fried the the celery and onions with the fennel and made the bechamel with the bay.
Mushroom Stoup - Totally delicious mushroom stew made with porcini mushroom and flat field mushrooms, flavoured with dill. I hadn't had dumplings in years, and these were amazing.
Afghan Hotpot - From Veggistan this one - A lovely sweet gloopy stew to celebrate carrots and yellow split peas. We actually made it with one carrot and the parsnips from the fridge. It was great. I am reassured that you can make the same dish with pumpkin! The basic ingredients are onions, garlic, chilli, ginger, cumin, tumeric, coriander, cloves, tomato paste, tomatoes, white wine vinegar, vegetable stock, carrots and yellow spilt peas. Served with fresh flat breads.
Prawns and Parsley - Okay, I made this one up, but it turned out well. I cooked tagliatelli in a pot with half a fresh fish stock cube. Fried garlic and red chilli in olive oil and butter, added white wine, lemon juice and prawns, then basil pesto. Loads of fresh parsley at the last minute. Garnish with black pepper and parmesan.
Onion and Courgette Quiche - Again, made up. Easy really. Fry onions, and garic in butter with fresh thyme leaves. Roll out short crust pastry to fit pie dish. Whisk up 6 eggs with a splash of fresh double cream. Pour in the fried vegetable mixture to the pastry, add eggs, garnish with dried thyme, and artistic left over pastry strips. Bake for 25 mins at about 180 - 200C. I made a variation of this with leek fried in butter with thyme. I had tallegio cheese and scattered it over the top of the cooked leeks before adding the eggs. Both dishes were scrumptious.
Butternut Squash Pasta - Made up again, but it has turned into rather a favourite. Bake a butternut squash with butter and fresh thyme for 1 hour (ish). When it is cooked, fry onions, garlic, thyme leaves and chilli in butter and olive oil. When translucent add a tablespoon or two of plain flour and a pint of vegetable stock to make a thick sauce. Peel the baked squash, chop it roughly and add to the pan. Cook paste of your choice. Add cream to the sauce if you feel. Add pasta to the sauce, stir all together, garnish with thyme, pepper and parmesan.
Black Eyed Bean and Lemon Hotpot - This was an eye opener and no mistake. Based on a blend of Greek lemon lemonato sauce and Persian casserole wizardry, Veggistan amazed me. Celery, carrots, lemon, dill, basil, tumeric, black eyed beans, potatoes - all flavour and warming, packing comfort and a punch. Life changing. Served with flatbread.
Pinto Bean Chilli and fresh Guacamole - From HFW. He did his track of wanting to add water when it is not needed agin, but was duly ignored. A delicious, flavoursome and comforting meal. Mr Cloister told me he didn't really like guacamole before we began. He loved it by the time we finished. I made that, of course, to my own, time honoured, recipe. Two avacadoes, two tomatoes, half a red onion (rest in the chilli), one garlic clove, cumin, paprika, squeeze of a lemon, salt and pepper. Mash it up a bit, Blend. Serve.
Vegetable Pastries - These were made up, but proved a good lunch too. Roasted parsnips, onions, potato. Fried onion in butter, with thyme. Mix together with cheddar. Fill puff pastry rounds and form traditional pasty shape. Bake for 25 - 30 mins. Serve with bake beans or salad.
That's the journey to date. I have chosen three new things for this week, and learning through Lent has never been more enjoyable. Fasting from meat, buying fresh vegetables from the local farm shop, not throwing anything away, and avoiding as much as possible any supermarket.
Oh! We planted the first veg in the garden too! Tom Thumb and Bingo peas, and Robin Hood broad beans. I drew a plan for our tiny little space. There is a 'walled garden' viz. 6 pots lined up on the wall in front of the fence; a 'herb garden' - pots of delicious things on old apple crates, a'hanging garden' - stuff growing from macrame pot hangers, a 'vegetable patch' - 4 broad bean plants, and about 3m of lawn, 2m of path and room for the tiniest table and chairs money can buy. It is going to be our patch of paradise.