Roots manoeuvres

Squash, butternut, pumpkin, onions - now is the time to cosy up with one-pot veg dishes, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

British food is enjoying a revival in restaurants, and, I hope, in homes. I'm certainly doing my bit to persuade everyone to cook home-grown, seasonal food as much as possible. But as far as vegetables go, even I would have to admit we're not as creative as other nationalities. I don't believe in messing about with good, simple, natural ingredients but we just don't have many traditional all-vegetable dishes that can compete. Bubble and squeak, colcannon, mashed neeps and cauliflower cheese spring to mind, but even they are often served with something meaty. On their own they don't exactly light up the table with intriguing flavours and attractive colours like a tagine, ratatouille or peperonata.

A vegetarian dish that holds its own needs a bit of a kick, and as ours isn't a notably spicy cuisine we have to look elsewhere for inspiration. Other countries have endless dishes in which their native vegetables are combined with spices and herbs to make exotic meals in themselves. We can adapt these to our own vegetables. I often use swede, parsnips or potatoes in a vegetable curry, as these are our equivalents of yam and sweet potato.

I could happily eat a vegetarian lunch and dinner in a South-east Asian restaurant every day without missing the meat because there's such a variety of different textures and flavours. Indian restaurants, too, offer a host of complementary dishes using pulses and basic vegetables, such as potatoes and spinach, that provide a sensational range of dishes. I'm not sure a selection of bubble and squeak, spinach and cauliflower cheese would really cut a dash as a British vegetarian spread.

Tagine of seven vegetables

Serves 4-6

This makes a great main-course dish. If you can't go without meat you could offer a meaty tagine alongside it, or serve it with a slow-baked shoulder of lamb with Moroccan spices and herbs. You can vary the vegetables according to the season and a summer version could contain broad beans and peas, while in winter you can make the most of all the root vegetables.

2tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1tbsp finely chopped root ginger
1tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp paprika

1/2tsp crushed fennel seeds
A good pinch of saffron strands
4 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and roughly diced
1tsp tomato purée
1 litre vegetable stock (or good-quality stock cube dissolved in 1 litre of hot water)
1 fennel bulb, cored and quartered, or cut into six if large
1 large turnip, peeled and cut into rough 2-3cm chunks
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into rough 2-3cm chunks
1 large parsnip, peeled, cored and roughly cut into 2-3cm chunks
1 can of chick peas, drained
1tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based oven-proof pan. Stir in the onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and spices. Cover and cook gently for 7-8 minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes, tomato purée and stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 30 minutes. Then add the vegetables, cover and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Stir in the coriander and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with steamed cous cous.

Pot-roasted vegetables and fruits Provençales

Serves 4

This was on the menu at Alain Ducasse's Hostellerie de l'Abbaye de Celle in Provence when I visited recently. It arrived in its own lidded copper pot that the waiter removed in front of us and the contents reflected the season perfectly. There were ceps, pumpkin, parsnip, whole cloves of garlic in their skins, typical Provence herbs and chunks of fresh pear and dried figs all cooked in their own natural juices.

It seemed a perfect vegetarian dish, until I noticed lardons fumés at the end of the description. Don't worry, I've left the meat out, because although there wasn't much of it, I'm on a purely veggie mission this week. You can vary the contents according to what's in season and what takes your fancy. Small potatoes such as Anya or Charlotte could be included to add a bit of carbohydrate.

12 button onions, peeled
4 large cloves of garlic with the skin left on
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm-thick slices on the angle, or 12 small carrots such as Chantenay, trimmed and peeled
150g small ceps, or other wild mushrooms
4 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of rosemary
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
4 dried figs, soaked in water overnight
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pears, quartered and the core cut out

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Heat an oven-proof dish that you can serve from, on a low flame with the olive oil. Add the vegetables and mushrooms, season and stir on a low heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and figs, put on the lid and cook for 30 minutes in the oven, stirring a couple times during cooking. Stir in the pears and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Serve immediately with fresh bread and a green salad.

Thai squash and coconut curry

Serves 4-6

There are plenty of pumpkins and squashes around and now that Hallowe'en has been and gone, instead of turning them into scary faces we can take these magnificent orange-fleshed beauties more seriously for cooking.

Served with rice or noodles this is almost substantial enough to satisfy even a hardy carnivore. Or combine it with other Asian dishes for even more of a feast.

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into rough 2-3cm chunks
1 onion squash, or gem squash, cut into wedges with the skin on and seeded
1 onion peeled and roughly chopped
1 green chilli, trimmed and finely chopped
1tsp ground cumin
2tbsp vegetable oil
1 litre vegetable stock
150ml coconut milk or cream, or a block diluted to that amount
1tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted
A handful of dried coconut shavings (optional)

for the Thai paste

1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Small knob of galangal or ginger weighing about 40g, peeled and chopped
3 sticks of lemon grass, stripped of woody outer leaves, finely chopped
4 lime leaves
Handful of Thai fragrant basil leaves
A handful of Thai parsley or coriander

Blend all the ingredients for the paste in a food processor, or liquidiser, until smooth. Gently cook the onion, green chilli and cumin in half the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add half the Thai paste and continue to cook for a minute or so then add the vegetable stock and simmer for 30 minutes until it is reduced by half. Meanwhile heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the squashes and cook them on a baking tray in the oven for 20 minutes, or until soft.

Add the coconut cream or milk to the sauce and continue to simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add the pumpkin and the rest of the Thai paste and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Serve with jasmine or fragrant rice. Scatter the pumpkin seeds and coconut shavings over the curry.

Spiced fried onions

Serves 4-6

Deep-fried onion rings used to be a wonderful thing with a juicy grilled steak or as a snack. But their reputation has suffered since fast-food places and steak-house chains started serving what seem to be identical frozen ones, all soggy and thick with dodgy orange-coloured batter or breadcrumbs masking the soft, sweet onions inside.

These ones have an Indian spice influence, but can be made without the spices if you prefer. It's interesting to ring the changes (sorry) on the bog-standard rings by using different types of onion for a variety of crisply battered tastes and shapes.

1 small bunch of spring onions, trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, root removed and sliced
1 white onion, peeled and cut into rings

for the batter

120g self-raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
180-200ml lager
1/2tsp ground cumin
1/2tsp ground turmeric
1/2tsp ground fenugreek

A good pinch of chilli powder
1 tsp onion salt
1tsp black onion seeds
1/2tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
Vegetable oil for deep frying

for the dip

4tbsp thick Greek yoghurt
1tbsp chopped mint leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the dip first, mixing the yoghurt and mint and seasoning it.

Mix the flour with the spices and coriander and mix in enough beer to make a thick batter. Heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Mix the onions and lightly dust them with flour, shaking off any excess. Mix them with the batter so they are well coated and drop them into the fat in small batches, stirring with a perforated spoon while they are cooking, for 2-3 minutes until golden, then remove with the perforated spoon and drain on kitchen paper. You can keep them warm in a low oven, or dip them back briefly in the hot fat once they are all cooked. Serve hot with the dip.

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