Meatfree Jan ’15

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A seriously busy month and some Jan blues illness has meant little time to dedicate to cooking in our house. But, it being Jan, I’ve still found time to turn over a bit of a new leaf.

I wanted to make sure if I made a pledge to any kind of diet that it was something that might actually be achievable. It’s far too common to tell yourself on New Years you’re going to give up carbs or try a new crash diet, then, come midway through the month (it’s depressing enough let’s face it) it’s out the window.

I’ve always wanted to challenge myself to give up meat so this felt like a great time to try. I am a huge believer that you can still make delicious meals with vegetables, pulses and no animal in sight. My culinary month has been a real testament to that.

Some of the meals we’ve enjoyed:

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Delicious homemade pasta Puttanesca (‘whores pasta’!!) a really simple tomato sauce with a serious flavour kick from plenty of anchovy (don’t worry it doesn’t taste fishy) garlic, capers and olives.

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Spiced parsnip and truffle soup, made easily with roasted parsnips whizzed up with a couple of tsp of garam masala and a tbsp of truffle paste.

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One of the real showstoppers we’ve made has been this interpretation of a north African dish we tried on our travels over Christmas. ‘Haraime’ is essentially any delicately cooked white fish (originally bass) with a pungent, spiced tomato sauce. We made this interpretation with caraway seeds, paprika, cumin, garlic, chilli and lemon from an Ottolenghi recipe: http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/salmon-steaks-in-chraimeh-sauce-shop all served up with satisfying roasted vegetable cous cous (super quick to make if you just roast up the veg in advance in small pieces then mix in with fresh cooked cous cous).

Finally, my favourite of all so far has been something quite different but definitely delicious, a simple cauliflower cheese made special with a touch of truffle, teamed with a filling lentil salad packed with flavour. The salad is even better for the addition of onions made super charged with a soaking in vinegar and lemon juice. Here’s my recipe:

For the cauliflower cheese:
1 large cauliflower
50g butter (I don’t like to use too much butter and don’t think you need it)
100g plain flour
2/3 pint semi skimmed milk
100g grated cheddar cheese
50g parmesan grated
1 tbsp truffle paste
1 nutmeg to grate
4 tbsp breadcrumbs

1. Cut the cauliflower into small florettes. Add to a pan of boiling water and leave to simmer.
2. In a hot pan melt the butter then add the flour slowly and mix together quickly to make a roux.
3. Add the milk very slowly, whisking vigorously to ensure lumps don’t form and you start to get a thick sauce.
4. Slowly add the cheese and whisk in vigorously. Add more milk until you have a thick cheese sauce that doesn’t quickly run off a fork.
5. Add the truffle paste and mix into the sauce.
6. Finish the sauce with a couple of fine grates of nutmeg.
7. Make sure the cauliflower doesn’t cook all the way through so after around 15 mins remove from the heat and drain.
8. Heat the oven to 180 degrees.
9. In a large square dish add the cauliflower (I like to cut it quite fine) and pour over the sauce, coating everything,  finish with a bit more cheese on the top and the breadcrumbs. Oven until golden brown on top.

For the lentil pepper salad:
150g Puy lentils
2 red peppers
1 red onion
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 lemon juice
1 garlic clove
1 handful flat leaf parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Very finely slice the red onion and add to a bowl. Cover the onions with the vinegar and the lemon juice and set aside.
2. Cook the lentils through (don’t allow to overcook and become too soft)
3. Finely chop the peppers into small half cm pieces and add to the onions.
4. Once the lentils are cooked drain (if needed) and leave until cooled.
5. Add the lentils to the onions and peppers, mix together thoroughly and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Finish with finely chopped parsley.

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