Food writer and presenter Alice Zaslavsky’s new cook book is a definitive guide to making vegetables the centre of the plate.
For the vegetarian or just veg-forward, In Praise of Veg promises to help beginners and avid cooks alike turn a bag of yawns or a produce-box surprise into a knock-out meal.
Here are two recipes to try:
Gajar makhani – Indian-style butter carrot
Curries are always better the next day, or even a few days afterwards. Most vegie curries, though, start to get mushy after a day or two – except this one. Carrots are the ideal density to last as long as you need them to, and soften just enough with heat to be perfectly al dente. Make your carrot chunks bite-sized, serve with steamed rice and naan bread and leave the cutlery in the drawer – this is hand food! Any left-over gravy is good enough to mop up with naan or roti bread. Or try mixing in some picked charcoal-roasted chicken meat for a quick and easy butter chicken, before or after the carrot is all gone.
50 g (1 ¾ oz) butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup (150 g) raw cashews
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
4 curry leaf branches, leaves picked (about 35–40 leaves)
1 bunch of coriander (cilantro), leaves picked, stems and roots washed well and finely chopped
3 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon mild chilli powder
1 ½ cups (375 g) Greek-style yoghurt
800 g (1 lb 12 oz) carrots, peeled and cut into
3 cm (1 ¼ inch) pieces on the diagonal
1 tablespoon brown sugar
700 g (1 lb 9 oz) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
1 cup (250 ml) coconut cream, plus extra to serve
steamed basmati rice, to serve
naan or roti bread, to serve
Heat the butter and oil in a wide saucepan over medium–high heat. Add the cashews and toss for 3 minutes, or until toasted and golden.
Add the garlic, ginger, mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes, or until aromatic. Set aside half the cashew mixture for serving.
Add the coriander stems and spices to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until fragrant.
Stir in the yoghurt until combined, then add the carrot and stir to coat. Stir in the sugar, passata, coconut cream and 1 cup (250 ml) water and bring to a simmer.
Cover the surface of the curry with a cartouche (see tips) to stop the sauce cooking down too quickly – or you could partially cover the pan with a lid. Simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, or until the thickest piece of carrot you can find is fork-tender, and the gravy has thickened and reduced slightly.
Serve drizzled with extra coconut cream and scattered with the reserved cashew mixture and coriander leaves, with rice and naan or roti bread.
Tips: Creating a ‘cartouche’ out of baking paper encourages even, gentle cooking, without sweating. It’s handy for gentle poaching, and low-and-slow broth-making. Make a cartouche by folding a square-ish piece of baking paper into quarters, then cutting a rounded edge with scissors, to fit the diameter of your pot. Cut a little bit of the middle out, too, to make a little blow-hole for air to escape.
Fantastic naan and roti bread are readily available at Indian supermarkets. Look for ones with a short shelf life and not too many ingredients. Try popping them over some heat to take on an almost-authentic tandoor char, or into the toaster to crisp up a little.
Broccoli steaks with tkemali
Broccoli is meaty by nature, particularly when chargrilled like this. If you can find smaller heads with leaves attached, they’ll make an especially dramatic addition to the table – like an edible centrepiece. I love the depth of colour of the plum sauce known as tkemali, a Georgian barbecue mainstay; be sure to use the sourest plums you can find. When I was a little girl, it was my job to go out and forage for damson plums (we called them ‘alycha’ – uh-li-chah) on nature strips in our neighbourhood for Babuschka Zina’s tkemali. I think she’d be proud of this one.
2 heads of broccoli
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 handful of walnuts, some grated with a microplane, some finely chopped
Tkemali plum sauce
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) Damson plums or sour equivalent, halved and pitted
1 teaspoon celery seeds
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus a little extra if the plums aren’t tart enough for your taste
Cut the broccoli heads along the side, to create a flat surface. Reserve the o-cuts, then cut the broccoli into ‘steaks’ about 2 cm (¾ inch) thick; you should get at least 2–3 steaks out of each broccoli. Drizzle some olive oil onto a tray, add the steaks and toss to coat. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. While the oven is preheating, pop the plums for the tkemali on the baking tray, give them a drizzle of olive oil, then whack them into the oven. Pull them out after about 15 minutes, when they’re blistered and softened, and are leaching out ruby red liquid; this should be roughly around the same time the oven is at‑temperature.
Pop the plums and the remaining tkemali ingredients in a blender and blitz to a purée. Taste for seasoning and‑acid, adding extra vinegar if need be.
Meanwhile, heat an ovenproof chargrill pan for at least 5–10 minutes, until searing hot. Working in batches, chargrill the oiled broccoli for 2–3 minutes, or until slightly charred. Transfer to a baking tray and repeat with the remaining broccoli, then transfer to the oven and bake for 15–20‑minutes, or until a knife can go through the thickest part of the broccoli stalks.
To serve, spoon the tkemali sauce around a platter, then arrange the broccoli on top. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Sprinkle with salt flakes, freshly cracked black pepper and the walnuts. Serve warm, or at room temperature.
Tip: If you don’t have a chargrill, cook the broccoli in a heavy-based pan – you just won’t get the char marks.
Shortcut: Oil the broccoli well and cook in a 220°C (425°F) oven until they start to burnish. Bonus points for leaving the baking tray in the oven to heat up, so that the florets really cop the heat as soon as they hit.
Images and text from In Praise of Veg by Alice Zaslavsky, photography by Ben Dearnley. In Praise of Veg is out now from Murdoch Books. RRP $59.99.