It means that every time I have people over for dinner I seem to be faced with a long list of ingredients I can’t use which, on the one hand, can be a good test of my culinary skills (the inverse of MasterChef’s mystery box challenge), but on the other hand can be highly annoying because it often means I can’t cook dishes I want to try and food I like to eat.
I’ve learned that its easiest to avoid certain guest combinations eg- I don’t invite the lactose intolerant friend with the friend who is allergic to nuts as it makes desert a bit tricky and I don’t ask vegetarian friends at the same time as my celiac friend as a few non-meat staples have wheat in them.
On Friday night I invited some friends for dinner and only had to contend with no wheat and no fish: a walk in the park. I wanted to try a recipe for a slow cooked Spanish lamb stew and I could do a flourless cake for desert and grilled haloumi for starters.
At the last minute I invited a couple I didn’t know very well who were friends of one of the other guests. I was speaking to the mutual friend on Friday afternoon and when I told her what I was cooking she said, ‘Oh I think Nat’s vegetarian’. Ok, no lamb for Nat, but she could eat everything else. My friend then called back to tell me that she’d just checked with Nat and she’s actually a vegan.
Nat’s plate was now looking pretty bare but it was too late to change the menu. Instead, I did some last minute shopping and was a bit vague when she asked about one or two ingredients. That fantastic flavour in the pilaf that you were trying to put your finger on Nat? Well, it was butter. Lots of lovely nutty browned butter. Does that make me a bad person?
Below are pictures are of the leftovers I ate the next night. Although I don’t have a photograph, I promise I made Nat a very tasty baked Portobello mushroom using no meat or dairy products whatsoever.
I did feel slightly less guilty about my butter deception after reading Jay Rayner’s article “Eats leaves and shoots ... himself" in the Observer’s Food Monthly yesterday. He says he doesn’t believe you can be genuinely happy and vegan - “…the two are mutually exclusive”. So really I was just trying to spread some happiness.
Pyrenees Lamb with white wine and paprika sauce (serves 8-10)
from the MoVida Cookbook - one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne
2.5 kg lamb shoulder - ask the butcher to cut into chunky pieces. (You could also use shank, or forequarter chops)
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
150ml olive oil
6 cloves garlic chopped
3 brown onions finely diced
6 bay leaves
7 red capsicums, seed, membrane removed and finely chopped
8 large tomatoes. peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
To make the sauce, heat ¼ cup olive oil in large heavy based saucepan over medium heat and sauté garlic, bay leaves and onion until soft. Reduce heat to low. Add capsicums, cover and cook stirring occasionally for 30 minute or until well softened. Add tomatoes, cover and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add white wine, and cook 10 minutes. Add 5 and a half cups of hot water and increase heat to high. Once the water is boiling add the paprika, reduce water to low and continue cooking the sauce gently for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Trim lamb of any excess fat and put in a roasting tin. Pour in the sauce to just cover the top of the meat (you will have left over sauce). Cook in the oven for about 2½ hours until meat comes easily off bone. As the lamb cooks, some of the sauce will evaporate, allowing the top of the meat to brown.
Eggplant (Aubergine), tomato and herb salad (serves 10)
4 large eggplants sliced into 1 cm rounds
6 tomatoes chopped into 2cm cubes
1 red onion, halved then finely sliced
small bunch flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
small bunch mint roughly chopped
juice of a I/2 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sumac
To make the dressing put oil, lemon juice, pinch of sea salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper in a jar and shake.
Preheat oven to 220 degrees. Brush both sides of eggplant with olive oil and season with sat and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes until golden brown (even better if you can grill them on a barbeque). Allow to cool to room temperature. Gently mix with other ingredients and arrange on a platter. Pour over the dressing and then sprinkle with the sumac.
Pilaf with asparagus (serves 10)
500g basmati rice soaked in water for an hour or 2 (the longer you soak the less cooking time required)
75g unsalted butter
2 brown onions finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 bunches asparagus, cut off tips and cut stems cut into 1cm rounds
700ml hot vegetable stock
Heat butter in a medium saucepan with the cinnamon and allspice until it foams. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat for 20-25 minutes until the onion is soft and caramelised. Drain rice and add to pan. Stir to coat in butter. Add the asparagus and stock. Cover with a circle of grease proof paper and place lid on saucepan. Bring to boil and then reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Orange and pine nut cake (serves 8-10)
from Tamasin Day Lewis’s cookbook All you can eat: 1000 Recipes
190 g castor sugar
6 eggs separated
175 g flaked almonds toasted and roughly ground
275g pine nuts
zest and juice of 2 oranges (keep separate)
2 tablespoons runny honey
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease and line a round springform cake tin.
In a bowl, beat 85g of the sugar with the egg yolks until pale and golden. Fold in the ground almonds, whole pine nuts and orange zest.
In another bowl whisk the remaining sugar with the egg white to a thick, glossy meringue. Fold, a third at a time, into the orange zest and nut mixture, then pour into cake in.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool 15 minutes. Warm the honey until it thins and mix with strained orange juice. Pour this mixture over the cake in the tin.
When cool, remove from tin and serve with cream and berries. The vegan just gets the berries.