The part-time vegetarian kitchen

These are a few of my favourite things… or so go the lyrics to the famous song! This eclectic list of predominantly store cupboard ingredients crop up throughout The Part-time Vegetarian and while some may be new to you, others will be more than familiar but are still worth a mention. In places, alternatives are given for the more unusual or hard-to-find ingredients. The following list is presented by type of ingredient as well as alphabetical order for easy reference.

VEGETABLES

It’s only right that vegetables come top of the list, for they are at the heart of this book. We have a new love for vegetables, but it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to buying fresh produce, settling for pretty much the same every week. There’s nothing wrong with having favourite veg, but it’s worth opening your eyes to new varieties that aren’t on the regulars list. Kolhrabi, turnip, cauliflower, kale, hispi cabbage, pak choi/bok choy, broad/fava beans and celeriac/celery root are new-found or revived favourites. Seasonal veg is always best, if possible, and frozen is a good – or sometimes even better – option (see page 15).

HERBS & SPICES

› CARDAMOM: a favourite spice, the whole pods can either be split or lightly crushed and added to Middle Eastern and Asian curries, soups and stews, to the cooking water for rice and other grains and, perhaps surprisingly, to Scandinavian baked goods. For a more intense spicy-sweet flavour, roast and grind the seeds to give an aromatic warmth to sweet and savoury dishes.

› CHIPOTLE CHILLI: you get a lot of bang for your buck with the chipotle in terms of flavour. This smoked dried jalapeño comes in powder, paste and dried whole form and adds a distinctive heat and smokiness to Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking, and is especially good in bean and grain dishes. The dried chilli needs rehydrating in hot water.

› CORIANDER SEEDS: known for their earthy, mildly lemony flavour, coriander seeds feature alongside cumin as a key spice in Indian curries and Middle Eastern dishes, and are also a popular pickling spice. For the best flavour, toast the seeds in a dry frying pan for a minute or so until they start to smell aromatic, then leave to cool and either use whole or grind to a powder.

› DRIED HERBS: although I prefer to use fresh, there is a place for certain dried herbs in the store cupboard, particularly during the winter months. Oregano, thyme, marjoram and, to a lesser extent, mint (although the dried version is good sprinkled over some Middle Eastern and Mediterranean salads and grain dishes) all dry well.

› HARISSA: most usually a mix of chilli, garlic, coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, mint and tomato, harissa comes in powder and paste form and is perfect for enlivening couscous, stews, sauces and marinades. Look out for rose harissa with its addition of rose petals, which lend a wonderful fragrant twist. For an easy marinade, simply stir a spoonful of the North African and Middle Eastern herb and spice mix into olive oil and spread over a mixture of aubergine/eggplant, sweet peppers, courgettes/zucchini, onions and sweet potatoes before roasting to add a fragrant chilli heat and crust.

› NIGELLA SEEDS: a few of these nutty, slightly bitter, tiny black seeds (also known as black onion seeds) go a long way. I like to sprinkle them over flatbreads and salads and into rice, pilafs and curries to add a quick flavour boost.

› SMOKED PAPRIKA: the flavour of Spanish smoked paprika is unmistakeable. With its rich, oaky, smokiness, the paprika ranges in heat from sweet and mild to picante or hot and lends heaps of flavour as well as colour to marinades, stews, soups and dressings. Look out for the authentic Spanish, pimentón de la vera.

 

› STAR ANISE: with its attractive star shape and distinctive warm, liquorice notes, the spice is central to Chinese cooking. Use it in aromatic Asian curries, stir-fries, broths and hotpots as well as a flavouring for sweet custards and fruit compôtes.

› SUMAC: at one time this reddish-brown spice was only available in Middle Eastern shops, but thanks to the increased popularity of cooking from this part of the world – the Ottolenghi factor – you can now find it in many large supermarkets. The ground, dried berries with their astringent, sour flavour are a key ingredient in dukkah (see page 67), the Egyptian seed, spice and nut mix.

› TAMARIND: buy this sweet-sour fruit in a compressed block of pulp or as a paste. Originally the pulp of a long, bean-like pod, the block is closer in flavour to the original fruit than the jars of paste you can buy, but you’ll have to soak it first to soften it to its puréed-date texture as well as pick out the large seeds. Use tamarind to add a sour note to chutneys, curries and marinades.

› TOGARASHI: a sprinkling of this Japanese spice blend (also known as shichimi togarashi) adds a lively citrus-chilli lift to noodle and rice dishes, salads, dressings and marinades. Like the spice mix harissa, there are many versions available, but a combination of chilli, orange peel, sansho, sesame seeds and nori is most common. You can make your own blend or buy ready-made in Asian grocers or large supermarkets.

SAUCES & CONDIMENTS

› CHINESE RICE WINE: second only in importance to soy sauce in Chinese cooking, this sweet wine can be swapped with dry sherry if you find it difficult to get hold of.

› KECAP MANIS: this Indonesian sweet soy sauce is almost syrupy in consistency and adds a sticky, spicy sweetness to marinades, dressings and dips. It is possible to make your own version by combining 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce with 1 heaped teaspoon soft brown sugar and a pinch of ground star anise.

› MIRIN: a splash of this slightly syrupy sweetened rice wine in a marinade adds a glossy glaze to grilled, roasted and stir-fried foods. If you can’t find it, dry sherry makes a worthy alternative, as does Chinese rice wine or slightly sweet white wine – or maybe that’s sacrilege.

› MISO PASTE: a spoonful of this intense fermented soya, barley, wheat or rice paste makes a simple restorative broth, but its uses are far wider. Don’t limit miso to oriental dishes – marinades, dressings, stews and sauces all benefit from its savoury umami quality, which varies in depth of flavour depending on its colour – brown, red, yellow and white. Generally, the darker the colour, the stronger the flavour of the paste. A jar of miso will keep for weeks stored in the refrigerator.

› RICE VINEGAR: generally less acidic than wine vinegar, there are many types of rice vinegar. Ideal for pickling ginger and vegetables when you don’t want the finished result to be too harsh, rice vinegar ranges from the slightly sweeter Japanese to the sharper Chinese versions that vary in colour from pale to deep red and black. There are no true Western alternatives, but if push comes to shove use a good-quality white wine vinegar slightly sweetened with caster/granulated sugar, or you could use balsamic vinegar instead of Chinese black vinegar.

› TAHINI: a jar of this rich, thick sesame seed paste is a must in my kitchen. Not only does it add a deep, nutty flavour to both Middle Eastern and Japanese dishes, it’s an easy way to add a protein-rich, nutritious boost to anything from stews and noodle broths to dressings and sauces. It’s also indispensable in humous and the aubergine/ eggplant purée, baba ganoush. For a quick dressing, mix together tahini, plain yogurt, crushed garlic, lemon juice and seasoning and loosen it with a little hot water if too thick. The light-coloured tahini is preferred as it is not as bitter as the darker alternative.

› YUZU: find this intensely flavoured, vibrant yellow juice in small bottles in the condiments or Asian sections in large supermarkets or Asian grocers. The juice comes from the yuzu fruit, which looks like a knobbly mandarin and has a flavour that could best be described as a cross between a lemon and a grapefruit. Popular in Japanese cooking for its intense citrus taste, you could replace the juice with other citrus fruit such as lemon, lime or white-fleshed grapefruit.

OILS

› COCONUT OIL: this pure white solid fat, which liquifies when heated, has become the oil of the moment. It’s highly stable, so that means it can happily be heated to high temperatures, is less prone to rancidity than most other oils and has many impressive reputed health benefits. For cooking, look for extra virgin or organic coconut oil as they are less likely to be chemically processed and are therefore purer, retaining their health properties. For me, coconut oil works best in Asian curries, stir-fries and pilaus as well as North African tagines, pilafs and similar. A big bonus is that the oil makes an excellent moisturiser and hair conditioner.

› RAPESEED/CANOLA OIL (cold pressed): while it goes without saying that a good-quality extra virgin olive oil is a ‘must-have’ in the kitchen, cold-pressed rapeseed/canola oil has impressive credentials. Along with its inviting vibrant colour that lends a golden hue to whatever you’re cooking, it’s a highly stable oil when heated with a high smoking point. Therefore it suits use in stir-fries as well as marinades, griddled/grilled foods, roasts and salad dressings, although it would be pretty wasteful to use a high-end rapeseed/canola oil for deep frying. It’s important to look for an unblended cold-pressed oil, which is extracted from the seed without the use of chemicals and retains its numerous health benefits. Its mild flavour also lends itself to home-made mayonnaise or aioli, when a more dominant olive oil can overpower or be too bitter.

GRAINS & BEANS

› BLACK RICE: striking in salads when combined with contrasting ingredients, this good-looking, medium-grain rice keeps its shape when cooked and has a lovely nutty flavour and texture. Brown basmati makes a suitable, if perhaps slightly less dramatic, alternative.

› GRAM FLOUR: also known as chickpea or besan, this pale yellow flour is a staple in Asian cooking where it’s used use to make batter for pakoras as well as flatbreads and fritters. Perhaps surprisingly, the distinctively flavoured, slightly earthy-tasting flour is well travelled since it is also used to make farinata, a type of thick pancake in northern Italy and socca, a similar version in the south of France.

› FREEKEH: though this green unripe wheat is new to most of us, it’s been around for hundreds of years and makes a delicious alternative to rice (but with extra substance) and other grains in pilafs and salads, or as an accompaniment. What makes the grain different to most others is its slightly smoky, nutty flavour, which comes from being roasted over wood fires.

› KAMUT: the trademarked name for the ancient type of wheat known as khorasan, this rediscovered grain is now grown in North America as well as the Middle East. It is an attractive golden-coloured grain that keeps its shape after cooking. Although the grain contains gluten, many who find they are intolerant to modern strains of wheat can eat protein-rich Kamut. Find the grain in health food shops and large supermarkets. Barley makes a good alternative.

› POLENTA: the beauty of this fine yellow cornmeal is its versatility. It makes a welcome change from other types of carbs, particularly as an alternative to mashed potatoes or chips, as a base for bruschetta and pizzas, or as a pie crust. There’s something very pleasing about stirring a spluttering pot of polenta and, while it makes the perfect comfort food served plain with a knob of butter, try adding other flavours, such as a good handful of grated Parmesan or other cheese, flavoured oils, pesto, herbs, chilli and other spices. I’ve even added Thai flavours with delicious results.

› PUY LENTILS: I’m a big fan of lentils of all types (and beans for that matter). Puy not only have an attractive marbled blue-green colour, they retain their shape after cooking, so add substance and nutritional value to salads, hotpots and soups. Unlike dried beans, lentils don’t require pre-soaking and are much quicker to cook, but for super-quick lentils, you can’t beat canned ones that just need heating through. For a quick, warming lunch, sauté mushrooms, garlic, tomato and kale and stir in cooked Puy lentils, hot smoked paprika and thyme. A squeeze of lemon juice and seasoning adds the finishing touch. This works equally well with canned chickpeas, butter beans and cannellini beans, too.

› QUINOA: hailed as a ‘super-grain’, the tiny, bead-like seeds make a protein-rich alternative to grains such as couscous and bulghur wheat. Look out for the distinctive, nutty red and black quinoas, along with the more usual neutral-coloured one. With its mild, slightly bitter flavour, it benefits from combining with spices and herbs or as part of a salad. Flaked quinoa, too, is excellent in muesli and porridge/oatmeal.

AND MORE…

› CAPERS: it’s taken a while for me to get into capers, but a turning point was discovering the small, peppercorn-sized, strangely named nonpareil, which are absolutely delicious fried in olive oil until crisp. The salty, briny berries are also great finely chopped into a salsa verde, tapenade, salsa, pesto or relish, or any type of buttery sauce when you want to add a touch of acidity.

› CHESTNUTS: nothing quite matches the smell of roasting chestnuts, yet a vacuum pack of ready-cooked and peeled ones makes a useful and convenient store cupboard standby. Chestnuts add a rich, earthy, ‘meaty’ substance to casseroles and can be mashed into stuffings and vegetable roasts or puréed into pâtés.

› SEA VEGETABLES: the West has been relatively slow to catch on to seaweed, but thanks to the growing popularity of sushi we’ve become more open to using it in cooking and appreciating its impressive health benefits. Sushi lovers will be familiar with nori sheets, but you can also find nori flakes or make your own: simply use tongs to hold a sheet of nori over a hob/stovetop for a minute, moving it so it toasts evenly and turns crisp. Leave to cool then crumble over noodle salads, stir-fries and broths.

Other favourite sea vegetables are dulse and wakame. The former has purple-brown flat fronds with a mildly spicy flavour when soaked from dried, but can also be toasted or dry-fried when it takes on a salty, slightly ‘bacon’ flavour. Wakame, on the other hand, has a definite hint of the sea in flavour and delicate green fronds when rehydrated.

› SEEDS: they may look small and unassuming but seeds – sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and hemp – are nutritious and versatile. A daily part of my diet, whether added to breakfast muesli, toasted and sprinkled over stir-fries, as a nutty crunch in salads and pilafs, or ground into pastes and dips, they are indispensable. This is perhaps more true of sesame seeds than any other, as the tiny cream-coloured seeds are a fundamental part of the Middle Eastern spice condiments, dukkah and za’atar, as well as the creamy paste, tahini – a must in humous.

› TOFU (& TEMPEH): you either love it or hate it… and I’m in the former camp. Rather than seeing it as bland, I like to think of it as a blank canvas, a vehicle for flavouring with all manner of herbs, spices and marinades – and not just Asian flavours. The methods of cooking tofu, or soya beancurd, are equally versatile: roast, stir-fried, grilled, griddled or smoked, they all lend a different quality to the protein-rich ingredient. Likewise, tempeh can be used in similar ways to tofu. Made by fermenting soya beans with a cultured starter, tempeh has a firmer, denser texture than tofu with a nutty, savoury flavour.

FREEZER

A full freezer costs less to run than a half-empty one, so it’s worth making the most of this invaluable storage space. It pays to be organized, labelling foods and dating them before freezing, especially if you, like me, have a tendency to fill your freezer with pots of leftover wine (for use in sauces, risottos, gravies and stews); bread (some processed into crumbs); foraged berries and other fruit; surplus egg whites; homemade stock and various meals made in bulk. There are also a few shop-bought must-haves, including:

› VEGETABLES: some vegetables take to freezing better than others. If you regularly find yourself throwing away bags of fresh spinach that are past their best, then frozen leaf spinach is indispensable. Avoid the chopped spinach, which is prone to turn to mush when cooked, and go for leaf spinach instead and, since it is usually frozen in handy individual portions, it’s super convenient.

The short growing season of fresh peas as well as broad/ fava beans, makes them both an obvious choice for the freezer. Frozen peas are a godsend: the small petit pois are sweet and tender, while the more economical garden peas are perfect blended into soups, mashed with cooked potato or can be transformed into fritters. Broad/fava beans are best popped out of their grey outer shell after cooking to reveal bright green, succulent beans inside.

A bag of endamame beans (fresh soya beans), now readily available from large supermarkets and Asian grocers, also makes a useful addition to the freezer, and the beans can be added to oriental broths, stir-fries, noodle dishes or mashed into fritters and croquettes.

› LIME LEAVES & LEMONGRASS: if you find a good source of fresh kaffir lime leaves, sticks of lemongrass and fresh curry leaves, it pays to buy them in bulk – what’s more they all freeze well. Open freeze on a baking sheet, then transfer to an airtight container or zip-lock freezer bag and return them to the freezer – there’s no need to defrost them before use.

› HERBS: certain fresh herbs freeze better than others and not surprisingly the more sturdy varieties, such as sage, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves fare much better than more delicate leaves. You can also freeze fresh parsley, chives and coriander/cilantro, but once frozen they are best used in cooked dishes. Freeze herbs laid out on a baking sheet, then transfer to a zip-lock freezer bag once frozen.

› WONTON WRAPPERS: there are a few recipes in this book that use wonton wrappers. The thin pastry squares or rounds can usually be found in Chinese grocers in the freezer (or sometimes chiller) cabinet. They come stacked in packets and you simply need to defrost and peel them off one by one to use. When using, keep them covered to prevent drying out, and then the ones you don’t use can be refrozen. There tends to be two types: slightly thinner for frying and thicker ones for steaming.

› PUFF PASTRY: last but not least, few people now have the time or the inclination to make their own puff pastry and a pack of either the ready-rolled or a block (the latter is more economical) in the freezer is a must-have. Frozen puff takes little time to defrost and can be transformed into delicious sweet and savoury tarts, pies and tartines in next to no time.

The Part-Time Vegetarian: Flexible Recipes to Go (Nearly) Meat-Free