A week of cooking from Veggiestan
You know when you're staring into the cupboard and thinking you're not sure what you want, and even if you did know then you're not sure you'd have the ingredients anyway?
Well, take a deep breath and take a step back. I know what you want - it's the Everyday Beans from Veggiestan.
Yep, if you look in your store cupboards and your fridge, then there's probably all the ingredients there - it's a few non-exotic veggies, some beans, some parsley and a ton of lemon zest and juice.
Sounds a bit 'meh'? It's not meh. It's not even slightly meh. It's so far from meh, it'd not be able to find meh with a map and a compass.
I was relieved - I'd had high hopes with Veggiestan. I'd gone through adding little post-it notes so I'd remember which recipes I wanted to cook, and ended up with some sort of ticker tape parade between the pages.
Next up, I tried cooking the Broccoli and Tahina Bake (sic), which I thought was going to be a winner right from the off given I love pretty much everything that's in there. The end result was like taking a mouth-shower in lime juice (I've not checked on the internet if mouth-shower is a term for something grim, so please don't tell me if I've just misused some grim term!). If you drop down the lime juice, I think you'd be onto something a little lovely (and, for that matter, if you used sunflower seeds, not poppy like I did.)
Continuing the 'oh crap, I forgot to buy the right ingredients' theme was my attempt at Afghan Yoghurt with Aubergines. In the original recipe, there were fresh herbs. In mine, they were conspicuous by their absence.
Ignoring that small -cough- mistake, this recipe was one of those weirdly simple recipes where, on first glance, you experience a strong desire to primp and gussy it up. But, when you leave it alone, the ingredients sing and you're caught off guard by how so little can do so much. Turmeric, tomatoes, Alpro yoghurt and aubergines? Magic.
Then there was the Armenian Green Lentil, Garlic and Spinach Soup. Sure, to you and me, it might look a bit like something you'd find on a pavement at 3am in South London. But you shouldn't judge a book, or a soup, by its cover.
This one was another recipe were not a lot became got it going on. Admittedly, walnuts, puy lentils and tomatoes are playing to the crowd but it turns out if you let puy lentils cook down in stock for a good long while, then some sort of alchemy occurs, and it ends up golden. (Maybe not in photographic terms, but you can't win the all.)
So far, so tasty, and all fairly doable. Then we got to Subzi Pulao, an Iranian dish of rice and tomato-bean stew.
I read and re-read the recipe, and could not make head nor tail of it. Boil the rice, then cook it in a saucepan with a cloth lid for 45 minutes. You what? Won't it stick and burn? Won't the alchemy of Veggiestan go wrong - golden rice into a thick leaden layer?
No, it won't. It really won't. Follow the Veggiestan instructions, and all will be well. I swallowed my scepticism, and did what the book said to the very letter. I made my cloth lid by wrapping a tea towel around the saucepan lid and fixing it in place with a hairband, and I sat chewing my nails for 45 minutes while the cooked rice cooked away in a pan with only a little rapeseed oil between me and a call to the fire brigade.
The object of double cooking the rice is to get a thick chewy golden crust on the bottom. Once you've got that, you flip the pan over and end up with a sort of pancake-y layer on the top.
So, I didn't quite manage that. But I did manage the golden crust, and I didn't end up having to scrub burnt matter off the bottom of the pan. I make that two-nil to me.
The next recipe I tried wasn't actually a vegan one, but it wasn't a stretch to ditch the animal products in the recipe: Avgolemono. It's a thick soup whose name means egg and lemon, but it was more like avgotofuo. In the original recipe, there's two eggs, which are blended with a little hot soup and returned to the pan at the end to make it thicken up.
In my version, the egg was played by half a block of pressed silken tofu, blended. I've never had the original, so I've no idea how a vegan version compared, but I loved it - big and hearty, and full of broad beans and dill.
I think I ended up eating it three days on the trot - a testament to its reheatability (that's a word, right?!)
And the writing is really rather good for a cookbook. There's lots of food history, sweet little asides, tips, substitutions and other ephemera that makes it so good to read as well as to cook from.
Veggiestan? It's my new home town.