Although being home for the summer means that I no longer have full control of my own mealtimes and the contents of the fridge, there are numerous advantages: considerable savings in weekly food expenditure, plentiful Yorkshire tea, and the opportunity to cook big dinners for my family. I love cooking for groups: there’s something intrinsically satisfying about providing friends and family with good food. In my student house I rarely baked – not because I didn’t like my housemates, but when all of the housework was left to me, the expense and the time didn’t seem wholly attractive. So, as food is something I like to lavish upon those who I care about most, cooking and baking are even more rewarding at home.
Another plus of cooking here is the fact that I can invest more time and energy in bigger and more complicated dishes, as I’m serving a crowd; whereas I’d normally have to freeze up leftover portions, at home I don’t have to scale everything down to one. Labour-intensive recipes – curry, chilli, stews, lasagne – are infinitely more rewarding to cook than the average stir-fry or bowl of pasta I make for myself, and call for extra side dishes, salads, and garnishes.
I’ve been working my way through an issue of BBC GoodFood’s Vegetarian magazine, a collection of veggie and vegan recipes from previous editions. It’s packed full of dishes which are entirely to my liking, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone embarking on a veggie lifestyle looking for a bit of inspiration. Having never cooked a biryani before, I wanted to give this a go.
For the biryani (serving eight), you’ll need:
- 400g basmati rice
- pinch of saffron threads (optional – I didn’t use them)
- two tbsp vegetable oil
- a cauliflower
- two potatoes
- 100g red lentils
- 100g French beans
- handful curry leaves (these can be hard to come by – I omitted them)
- two handfuls of frozen peas
- small bunch of coriander
- 50g roasted cashew nuts
For the paste:
- a large onion
- large piece of ginger
- five garlic cloves
- two tsp curry powder
- tsp ground cumin
- two tbsp vegetable oil
- a small green chilli (use two, if you prefer more heat)
For the carrot salad:
- four carrots
- pinch of golden caster sugar
- juice of a lemon
- handful of cashew nuts
- handful coriander leaves
- thumb-sized piece of ginger
- tsp of cumin seeds
Begin by making the paste. Roughly chop the onion and the larger piece of ginger, remove the outside covering of the garlic, and chop off the top of the chilli(s). Place everything in a food processor with two tbsp vegetable oil, two tsp curry powder, and one tsp ground cumin. Put the lid on and blitz to a paste.
Chop the cauliflower into small florets, and the potatoes into chunks. Trim and halve the beans. Roughly chop the leaves of the coriander.
Heat the oil in a large lidded pan, and spoon in the paste; tip in the cauliflower and potatoes, and stir so that everything is covered. Add the lentils and beans, and cover with 400ml water. Drop in the curry leaves, season with a little salt, and cover to simmer for twenty minutes, or until tender. The peas can be added towards the end to defrost.
Meanwhile, cook the rice. The recipe calls to soak for thirty minutes, before rinsing several times, covering with 1cm of water, and bringing to the boil before turning off the heat and leaving to stand with a lid on. Prepare your rice however you prefer to do it.
For the carrot salad, begin by toasting a tsp of cumin seeds in a dry saucepan until fragrant. Shred (I grated) the ginger. Using a vegetable peeler, reduce the carrots to ribbons – using a bit of muscle, this won’t take long. In a large serving bowl, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and toss with the cumin, ginger, a handful of the coriander and nuts, and squeeze over the lemon.
When cooked, serve the biryani with the rice and salad, with bowls of coriander leaves and chopped cashews to garnish. Offer naan breads and poppadoms if desired; a little plain yogurt won’t go amiss, either.
Spicy and healthy, this curry calls for any vegetables lurking at the back of the fridge: it’s very versatile. I served five (with a large leftover portion) using two small cauliflower, 150g French beans, a sweet potato, and a bag of spinach. The salad was lovely – sweet, spicy, and aromatic. Vegetarian dishes like these are my absolute dream, proving that a diet without meat lacks nothing – bursting with nutrients, delicious, and filling.