Tuesday, August 26, 2008

winter vegetarian classics while dreaming of spring

In the hope that it banishes this seemingly endless season, I have cooked a run of classic winter vegetarian fare. Early on I embraced and celebrated the soup or stew but now with spring a whisker away I am sick of such food. Nothing left but to resort to the fiddley stuff. But these wintry, labour intensive, baked dishes leave me a little resentful about the effort-to-wow-factor ratio.

Take lentil shepherds pie. It is about combining some relatively dull ingredients. Sure each has its merits but really I find it difficult to wax lyrical about a mound of brown lentils or a mass of root vegetables. Then there is the time and mess factor. The lentils are to be soaked (I know it is optional but I like to give them a bit of a swim) then cooked. There is always a bit of scum left on the pot that needs some extra elbow grease as well. The potatoes peeled, cooked then mashed. The rest of the guts of the dish peeled, chopped and sautéed. Finally the three parts come together, the dish is assembled and it all goes into the oven. There is a mass of cleaning to fill in the time while it bakes.

What came to the table is a pleasant enough looking mound of golden crusted mash, topping a mix of lentils, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, celery, onion and garlic. There is a dash of smoky paprika and salt to season. But at the end of the day it is brown food. Warm, filling, tasty even, but lacking the half-pike twist of excitement.

Last night I was back at the stove and oven chopping, cooking and assembling once more. This time a gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian lasagne. The eggplants were sliced and placed under the grill. A napoli sauce slowly bubbled. There was a massive cauliflower from the garden that needed to be eaten so that went into the mix. Not my first choice of vegetable for a lasagne but worked much better than a long ago housemate’s insistence to put cabbage into his version, every single time. The GF pasta sheets were not the instant variety so they needed a little cooking in a large vat of boiling water. Fortunately there was no cheese sauce to make, just more of the delicious fasting fetta (made from soy) to sprinkle on top. It was hot, packed with vegetables and had the bonus of being ‘cheesy’, Lasagne is more wow than a lentil pie but still for an hour or more of preparation I’d like to swoon when it finds its way to the table.

The good news though is that the winter vegetables have finally begun to be harvested. The massive cauli is very timely – the prices for this humble vegetable having spiked last week at $7 a piece. The broccoli is coming up the rear though I don’t think the sprouts will come to fruition. The rocket has peaked and now gone feral. The silverbeet has been a delight, now cut back twice over there is a little left to welcome spring. The most amusing thing to appear in our little patch is the persistent nettle. This is brand new soil yet the air in this part of Melbourne must be impregnated with nettle seeds. No matter what I do, the nettle reappears. At least I know how to cook it now.

But for now I am hankering for the return of crisp salads, food that is seared and cooked in a flash. I’ve had enough of the stove warming me while I toil in the kitchen and dream of cooking with the door wide open and light still pouring in at dinnertime.

Spring is only a week away.

I can’t wait!

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Anonymous Lucy said...

All I want is something light, clean and fresh.

Just made a 'raw food' veggie, almond and pepita pate. Bloody fantastic.

Not a moment too soon. If I see another heavy meal grace my table I WILL turn into a potato.

11:08 am  
Blogger Ran said...

god i know what you mean

11:30 am  
Blogger Johanna said...

I am also cooking these winter vegetarian classics like lasagna and shepherd's pie - makes me glad we can look forward to a change of season as I am just so ready for spring!

2:00 pm  
Blogger docwitch said...

I'll give that lasagne is worth a go. That solves tomorrow night's dinner as I have some gluten free (instant) lasagne in my cupboard.

Actually, I've lost my cooking mojo, and am feeling very uninspired. I'm sure it's due to my yearning for Spring and its much lighter palate. I'm feeling very stodgy at the moment.

11:01 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

As much as I'd like to want to eat raw foods, with it still so cold out there I just can't face it yet!

Made an omelette with onion, garlic, spuds, silverbeet and sun dried tomatoes last night. Really needed a one dish wonder!

8:44 am  
Blogger Dani said...

absolutely! I have severe salad lust. Not quite warm enough for salady dinners yet though.

5:09 pm  

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