Mark Hix recipes: Our chef's vegetable feast is a fine way to start the New Year

Don't despair if you have a vegan friend coming to dinner, says our resident chef
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Veganism is one step beyond vegetarianism and pretty much the last stop on what one might call 'the mainstream' eating spectrum.

The thing is, it still seems to scare people. It is hard to fathom exactly why, because eating only vegetables should be the most natural thing in the world.

If you are a confirmed carnivore, but have a vegan coming for dinner this year, don't feel daunted. My advice is to just cook the same vegan meal for everyone and if you do it well then no one will even notice, let alone feel aggrieved.

I have often done this in the past and find that if you have fantastic ingredients such as asparagus, woodland mushrooms and artichokes and serve them very simply, then there's no need for much else.

Vietnamese pomelo salad

Serves 4

A great fresh salad that could be the first course of a heavy dinner or you could bulk it up with vegetables – think shredded carrots and cucumber – and make it into a vegetarian main.

A couple of handfuls of Asian salad leaves such as mizuna, tatsoi, tiny pak choi, pea shoots (from Thai or Chinese supermarkets), or just some small salad leaves, washed and dried
A handful of herbs such as coriander, mint, Thai basil, Thai parsley, betel leaves and perilla, washed and dried

2 pomelos or grapefruit peeled and segmented
40g mange tout, shredded
4 spring onions, finely shredded
A handful of bean sprouts

For the dressing

1 small red chilli, seeded and finely diced
1 stick of lemon grass, trimmed and chopped as finely as possible
A small piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1tbsp vegan 'fish' sauce
Juice of 1 lime
2tsp sugar
1tbsp rice vinegar
3tbsp vegetable oil

Mix together the ingredients for the dressing, and then leave to infuse for at least an hour.

Mix all the ingredients for the salad with the dressing , add the pomelo, and serve in individual bowls or a large serving dish.

Mushroom and ginger freekeh

Serves 4-6

Freekeh, sometimes spelt frikeh, is toasted green wheat and is a big feature of Arabic cooking. It can be used in the same way that we use rice or spelt and can be served hot or cold. Treat it with care and you will find yourself with a very tasty dish indeed.

I've used a selection of both fresh and dried Asian mushrooms here, but you can use what's available.

250-300g freekeh, soaked in cold water for 1 hour and rinsed
2tbsp rapeseed or corn oil
2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
60g root ginger, scraped and finely grated
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
30g dried black fungus, soaked in cold water for a couple of hours, then trimmed and cut into even-sized pieces
2-2.5ltrs vegetable stock
150-200g fresh Asian mushrooms such as shiitake, king oyster, shimeji, enoki etc, trimmed
4-5tbsp chopped coriander

Mushroom and ginger freekeh (Jason Lowe)

Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy saucepan and gently cook the onions, ginger, garlic and black fungus – and shiitake if you are using it – for 3-4 minutes on a low heat, stirring every so often.

Add the freekeh and gradually add the stock, allowing each addition of stock to be absorbed before adding the next. After about 15 minutes, add the fresh mushrooms and continue cooking until the freekeh is tender.

The consistency should be quite moist – add more stock if not. Finish with the coriander and serve immediately.

Carrot and cumin broth

Serves 4

This is based on one of my favourite dishes: a North African carrot salad.

1tbsp olive oil
4-6 medium to large carrots, quartered lengthways then thinly sliced
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp ground cumin
200ml orange juice
1ltr vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped coriander to finish (optional)

Carrot and cumin broth (Jason Lowe)

Heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the onion, carrots and cumin on a low heat for 3-4 minutes with a lid on, stirring every so often.

Add the orange juice and stock, season and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and add the coriander if using. Now serve.