So my brother has recently decided to pursue the vegan diet as have many people recently for various reasons. While I could never give up meat myself, I don’t like to eat it all the time and vegetarian and vegan dishes can be just as satisfying if not more so. So to give my brother some inspiration and to showcase how tasty vegan food is, I’m posting a vegan series of recipes that do not require strange substitutes or try to be a vegan version of meat but that are simple and delicious in their own right.
The first of these is Dal Khichdi. It is an Indian style lentil and rice casserole recipe, an ultimate comfort food and super simple.
½ Cup Rice
¼ Cup yellow dal
¼ Cup red dal
½ onion, chopped
1 medium size tomato, chopped
1 medium size potato cut into small cubes
2 – 3 cloves of garlic, grated
1 inch root ginger, grated
1 green chili, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
salt to taste
1 tsp each coriander seeds, methi seeds, fennel seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili power
1 cinnamon stick
1 tbsp ghee (oil if vegan)
½ onion, sliced
1 medium size tomato, finely chopped
2 – 3 sprig of coriander leaves roughly chopped
2 tbsp ghee (oil if vegan)
In a dry frying pan, gently toast the coriander, methi and fennel seeds over a medium heat until they just begin to crackle and smell nutty and aromatic. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar. Set aside.
In a large cast iron pot, heat ghee over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and as the seeds turn light brown, add the garlic and ginger and sauté until light brown in colour.
Next add the chopped onion and green chili. Stir and sauté for few minutes over medium heat or until onion become soft and golden.
Add the chopped potato along with the freshly ground spices, cinnamon sticksalt, turmeric powder and red chili powder. Stir to combine.
Ass the lentils and rice, stir to combine and sauté for a few minutes.
Add approximately 500ml of stock along with tomato. Stir to combine and seal the lid. Let Dal Khichdi cook over medium heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring every so often. You may need more stock so keep checking. Turn off the heat.
While the Dal Khichdi is cooking. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a frying pan over medium heat and fry the sliced onion until golden. Drain and keep aside.
Serve Dal Khichdi warm topped with the caramelized onion, chopped tomato and fresh coriander leaves along with raita (if not vegan), salad and poppadoms.
Tahchin is a Persian baked rice dish layered with buttery soft chicken and a gorgreous golden covering of saffron infused, spice scented rice. The long bake in the oven produces beautifully steamed fluffy rice with a crispy casing (Tahdig) that you will be fighting over.
Don’t be put off by the multiple steps. It is a really simple dish to create and the result is truly worth it.
FOR THE CHICKEN:
500g skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 ½ cups cold water
FOR THE RICE:
1 ½ cups uncooked basmati rice (I substituted ½ cup with Jasmine rice for added aroma)
3 TBSP plain low-fat yoghurt
1 large egg
Small pinch of saffron strands infused in a little hot water
1 TBSP vegetable oil
2 TBSP butter
1 tsp Persian Rice Spice (see recipe below)
To cook the chicken: Add the skinless chicken pieces to a stockpot with a good lid that will not allow too much moisture loss. Add salt, pepper, the cut onion and 1 ½ cups water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken falls apart with a fork.
Remove the chicken from the stockpot and set aside to cool.
If there is more than 1 cup of broth in the stockpot, bring it to a boil and let it boil for 3-5 minutes, or until it is reduced to 1 cup. Turn off the heat, smash the cooked onions with a fork, pour the reduced broth into a medium bowl and set aside.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred into large chunks. Mix the meat with broth until it is well coated. Chill the meat and broth mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30-40 minutes, or until the broth solidifies. This step may be done up to 3-4 hours in advance.
To make the rice: A lot of recipes require you to wash the rice several times but I just place it straight into boiling salted water, stir to separate the grains and par-cook for about 5-7 minutes. Check one of the grains; it should be soft around the edges while still firm (not crunchy) in the centre. Drain and set aside.
To make the Tahchin: Preheat oven to 200C.
In a medium bowl whisk together 1 egg, yoghurt, 1 tsp Persian Rice Spice and the saffron. Stir in ½ of the par cooked rice and mix until all the rice is coated. Set aside
Add the oil and butter to a medium glass baking dish. Place the dish in the preheated oven 3-5 minutes, or until all the butter melts and starts sizzling. Watch very closely so the oil does not get too hot and smoky then transfer the baking dish to a heat proof surface. Swirl the butter all around the base and sides of the dish.
First layer:Add the rice and yoghurt mixture to the baking dish and spread evenly to cover the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle the rice layer with 1 tsp Persian Rice Spice.
Second layer:Stir the chilled chicken and broth well and arrange evenly on top to cover all of the rice layer.
Final layer:Add the rest of the rice on top of the chicken, press gently with the palm of your hand. Sprinkle with 1 tsp Persian Rice Spice.
Cover the baking dish with a sheet of heavy duty aluminium foil and seal the sides by pressing the aluminium foil to the dish. Use a sharp knife to cut one slit on each corner and then a few in the centre of the dish.
Bake on the lowest rack of the preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the lowest portion of the sides of Tahchin are golden brown. Do not overbake; the bottom will bake darker than the sides. If the lower sides are not golden brown, return the Tahchin back to the oven and bake for another 7-10 minutes, or until it is golden brown.
Remove the baking dish from the oven, remove the aluminium foil. Run a knife along the sides of the baking dish to release the Tahchin. Place a large shallow baking sheet on top of the dish. Use oven gloves and hold both baking sheet and the glass dish and invert the Tahchin. Let the Tahchin sit on the counter for 10 minutes.
Use a serrated knife to cut the Tahchin into 4 equal pieces and serve with Sabzi Khordan (fresh herbs), Torshi Sir (pickled garlic), cooling yoghurt and/or Salad Shirazi.
The Persian rice spiceis a blend of 5 spices with the main ingredient being the dried rose petal powder. You may find dried rose petals “gole sorkh” in most Middle Eastern supermarkets. It is the dried blossoms of a special species of wild rose that grows in Iran and is used for culinary purpose. However if you have a hard time finding it, no worries, the spice blend still tastes wonderful without this ingredient. I have cooked rice with a spice blend combining cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg and cardamom and it turns out really delicious and fragrant.
4 TBSP ground cinnamon
2 TBSP cumin seeds
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp cardamom seeds
6 TBSP powdered rose petals (optional) (I didn’t include these)
Toast the cumin and cardamom seeds in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until fragrant. Blend in a pestle and mortar until well ground. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and rose petals if using. Mix all the spices well. Place in a small airtight jar.
Take the flavours of the classic comfort food to new heights with this omurice with crab and curry sauce. Omurice is a Japanese favourite consisting of omelette covering a bed of fried rice slathered in sauce. This particular version involves a generous dose of rich and flavourful curry sauce that works perfectly with the fluffy omelette and veg and crab-filled fried rice inside.
½ onion, finely chopped
2 chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
2 crabsticks, chopped
50g cooked, cold jasmine rice
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp mirin
1 cube curry roux
150ml hot water
Fry the onion and mushrooms in a small saucepan over a medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add the rice, crabsticks and soy sauce. Stir until everything is evenly distributed. Remove from the heat.
Make the curry sauce by mixing the roux with hot water in a mug then microwave for 1-2 minutes until thickened to your liking. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs and mirin together in a small bowl.
Heat a little oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. When the pan is hot, pour the eggs into the pan and quickly spread to cover the bottom of the pan.
Lower the heat and put the fried rice on top of the omelette. Fold both sides of the omelette toward the middle of the rice to cover.
When the eggs have cooked, cover the frying pan with a plate and carefully flip over to place the omurice on the plate. Serve the curry sauce over the omurice and sprinkle with chopped chives.
Arancini, named after the little oranges that these fried rice balls are said to resemble, are best known in the UK as a handy way to use up leftover risotto. You can use any risotto you have made, fill it with anything you like and coat it in what you fancy too.
I had leftover mushroom risotto, stuffed it with some chorizo and coated it in a sage and pistachio breadcrumb coating but you can use whatever you have or fancy.
Some ideas could include:
Risotto: Butternut and sage, chicken and bacon, saffron, tomato and basil
Take 1 heaped tsp of leftover risotto and flatten it slightly in the palm of your hand
Place a little of your filling in the centre and gently cup your hand to encase the filling within the risotto mix. Form into a compact ball and repeat until the risotto is used up.
Place the flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs in three separate bowls. Coat the risotto balls in the flour, then in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs.
Heat the oil in a pan over a high heat until it reaches about 180C or until you drop a few breadcrumbs in and they sizzle and turn golden.
Fry about 4 arancini balls at a time so the temperature of the oil does not drop as this will make the balls soggy. When they are deep golden brown, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Keep in a warm oven while you cook the rest.
Serve with a tomato sauce to dunk them into… and maybe a glass of wine too 😉
I’ve left some of the quantities undisclosed here as it is really up to you on your preferences and what you have to hand. I love the salty savoury note of soy sauce so tend to be quite liberal with it. Sometimes, I add a little oyster sauce to the mix too.
It is important to use cold rice as just boiled rice will turn mushy in the wok and will not be very pleasant to eat.
Add leftover meats, bacon, crunchy veg, beansprouts, sweetcorn, mushrooms… whatever you like. Duck and five spice is a fantastic addition or you could even keep it really simple and add a separate stir fried dish to it. Go crazy!
Cold leftover rice (I used brown rice)
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
250g pack raw king prawns
1 large egg
½ cup of frozen peas
2-3 spring onions, sliced
Ground white pepper
Fresh coriander, to serve
Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a wok over medium-high heat and fry the onions until soft and golden. Add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds.
Add the tenderstem broccoli and peas to the pan and stir fry for a minute to begin softening the broccoli.
Add the prawns and stir fry until just pink.
Add the cold rice and stir to combine everything. Crack the egg into the wok and gently fold into the rice mix as it cooks. You should be left with some clumps of egg while binding the rice at the same time. Season with soy sauce and pepper generously and stir in the peas. Cook for a couple of minutes and serve topped with coriander and another drizzle of soy sauce.