I took enormous pleasure in cutting up a big piece of cow earlier this week. Sorry vegans, I know you’re out there in your hoards, but it’s true. I took part in a beef butchery class at The Ginger Pig in Marylebone and while I think the class itself could have been more comprehensive I still felt I learnt how to deal properly with a two and a half kilo piece of aged prime rib. I carefully cut away the chine bone, I tore back the cap and removed the paddywhack, French-trimmed the bones and tied it all back together. Back home I roasted it with nothing but salt and pepper and served it with roast potatoes, creamy courgettes and a salad of beetroot, sugar snap peas, rocket and balsamic and the most outstanding gravy made from the roasted bones and resting juices. It was absolutely epic.
Vegans, you don’t know what you’re missing, but then conversely all you adamant anti-vegans out there, you don’t know what you’re missing either. Because here’s something that you’d shun if offered I’m sure, though you’d be fools to do so. I think I’ve perfected my vegan Chilli Con Carne (a contradiction in terms I realise so hereafter called more accurately Chilli Sin Carne). It’s rich and oily and very spicy and it’s also bloody quick. I threw it together last night in less than twenty minutes (plus simmering time though it doesn’t need long like a beef one would).
(By the way, I’ve been informed that one of the ingredients on the list isn’t actually vegan, but see below for a slight alteration to the recipe that sorts this little problem out.)
Chilli Sin Carne
Olive oil and plenty of it
6 or 7 mushrooms (finely chopped)
2 onions (try finely chopped)
1 carrot (very finely diced)
1 celery stick (very finely diced)
2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 heaped teaspoon hot chilli powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tbsp normal paprika
2 red chillis (1 sliced, 1 left whole)
a scant handful of raisins or sultanas (chopped)
1 bag of frozen Quorn* mince
1 packet of TVP (soya mince) rehydrated
1/2 cup of cold black coffee
1 bottle of pasatta (about 700g I think)
2 tins red kidney beans, drained
a scant handful of picked jalapeño slices, roughly chopped
some sugar, honey, date syrup, molasses – anything sweet, even jam will do
about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of gravy browning**
*it’s been brought to my attention that frozen Quorn mince isn’t actually vegan as it contains some egg derivatives and I think some milk too. SO, if this is a problem (rolls eyes and shakes head a little bit) then simply use two packets of rehydrated soya mince instead. You may need to up the gravy browning (see below) too to get the required appetising appearance.
**yes, gravy browning is just brown food colouring but, ladies and gentlemen, we eat with our eyes and if your chilli looks deep and rich it’ll taste deep and rich too. Trust me.
Get a nice big casserole on your hob and bring the heat up underneath. Pour in a really generous amount of olive oil and then your mushrooms. Don’t move them around at all for quite a while because you want them to catch and to caramelise. When they’ve got a nice bit of colour on them throw in the onion, carrot and celery and give the whole lot a good fifteen minutes over a nice gentle heat. Again it’s colour and flavour you want to encourage. You can pop the cinnamon stick in now too, and the whole red chilli. the chilli will impart some flavour, but it’ll also look the business and if anyone’s feeling particularly brave at dinnertime they can eat the whole thing, which is a fun challenge after a few tequilas.
Once everything is nicely coloured add the cumin seeds, the raisins or sultanas (they add a lovely sweetness that’ll balance the heat beautifully), the other chilli chopped up small, the garlic, the Quorn mince, the rehydrated TVP*** and the chilli powder and paprikas and give it all a good stir and a fry. The spices might catch a bit and if they do add a splash of water.
Next pour in the coffee. It’s going to add a bitter note that’s not dissimilar to the flavour of charred bones you get from a good beef stock. Let it reduce down a bit before adding your pasatta and giving it all a really good mix together, season with lots of black pepper and about half a teaspoon of salt. But taste to check the balance.
Now, at this stage it won’t look especially appetising. In fact it’ll look a bit insipid, maybe even a little bit like sick, so here’s where you deploy your secret weapon – the gravy browning. This stuff is a VERY POWERFUL colourant, and as Raymond Blanc says, you can add but you can’t take away. Put a little bit in, stir, if it still looks too pale then add a little more. Bear in mind that the sauce will darken as it cooks and you can add more later if you want, so don’t overdo it. Get it looking a bit richer, bring it to a simmer and let it cook for about thirty minutes.
By now it should be rich, reduced, dark and oily and really meaty-looking, and tasting. If it needs a further boost you can add a bit of Marmite, or just some more salt and pepper. If it’s too acidic then put in a bit of brown sugar, molasses or honey. Add the beans and the chopped jalapeños. And if it’s too thick add a splash of water. Bring it back to a simmer and give it another ten minutes or so. When it’s done trickle on some more olive oil on top.
Serve it with rice, with baked potatoes, or just with a big hunk of bread. Trickle over a little cream, or a dollop of sour cream (unless you’re still a vegan in which case you can substitute the cream for water or ice – just kidding – maybe use some soya yoghurt). Sprinkle with fresh coriander, a big squeeze of lime and some fresh raw chilli and flakey salt. Oh and if you’re feeding it to a meat-eater, don’t tell them, they won’t realise.
***TVP is something I talked about in an earlier blog. It’s what we used at school Home Economics lessons instead of too-expensive meat. It’s a real throwback to the days of early vegetarianism but it really does the job.
It’s Jem’s 19th birthday today and so of course some sort of decent breakfast is called for. And inspired by the recent addition of edible flowers (from hotel hanging baskets!) to the Anarchist Cook show, I made modest non-blow-out-sized portions as above.
On the plate:
3 day old sourdough (sliced, drizzled with a little EV rapeseed oil and griddled)
a chunk of plum tomato (grilled and dotted with thyme leaves)
raw chestnut mushrooms (sliced and salted and dressed with a little lemon juice and black pepper – thanks for the help with those Tom Kerridge)
maple-cured streaky bacon (fried)
little nubs of Bury black pudding (fried in the bacon ‘dripping’)
a poached egg
a nasturtium leaf (which I remembered I’d picked after I took this photo)
an edible flower (a miniature pansy)
And then all sprinkled with pluck pepper and a little smoked salt.
Oh, and we had an Irish potato cake on the side (fried/warmed in the bacon/blackpudding pan so it had a few char marks and ‘bits’ on).
And for Nikki, something vegan: griddled sweet potato slices (like these here), a grilled Portabello mushroom, tomatoes (as above), toasted gluten free bread, grilled peach and the herbs and flowers that we all had.
Happy Birthday Jem x
I’ve written before, and at length, about the challenge of cooking for those on some kind of specialist diet or another, be it for weight loss or some other health and well-being enhancing reason. Funny that I should be quite so reluctant to follow something like that myself. Perhaps it’s the necessity to cater for others that makes me adopt such an ‘I don’t need this’ and an ‘I can eat anything’ kind-of a stance. Just to address the balance.
So I made a moussaka a few days ago. It was packed with tender minced lamb, hefty rich dark chicken stock (oh yeah, home made of course), a bit of Bovril to enhance the meaty flavours, and topped with a really thick creamy béchamel sauce that set like a custard under a thin crust of crispy toasted parmesan. I shared it with another performer, sat in a tent at the excellent Machynlleth Comedy Festival in mid-Wales, after a seven hour drive, followed by putting up tents in the wind and rain, and it was very welcome indeed. We had it with a halved avocado sprinkled with coarse sea salt, black pepper, crushed chilli and trickle of olive oil and lime juice, and an enamel cup of rough red wine.
But having enjoyed it so much I wanted Nikki (my wife) to eat it too, and she’s following a gluten-free and (sort of) vegan diet at the moment (‘sort of’ because she’s eating fish, but no meat and no dairy). So when I got back I came up with this vegan version which really is absolutely delicious, as well as being inexpensive. And I think the vegan ‘béchamel’ is a revelation.
100% Vegan Moussaka
1 large onion (finely chopped)
3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
a generous handful of chopped rosemary
1 red pepper (diced)
a small handful of raisins (chopped)
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 pinch crushed chilli flakes
250g puy lentils
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 generous squeeze tomato puree
1 teaspoon marmite
lots of black pepper
Sweat the onion in a generous amount of olive oil until its softened. Add the garlic and the rosemary and sweat for a couple more minutes. Then add the peppers and cook for a further five mins or so. You want to really get a lot of caramelised flavours from these vegetables. Next add the lentils, raisins, cinnamon and chilli and fry them around for a bit before pouring in about 1/2 pint of cider. Let this bubble away and reduce for a few minutes and then add stock and the tinned tomatoes (squashed between your fingers to bust them up). I don’t know how much stock I used, not loads as the sauce doesn’t want to be too sloppy. I think I poured in stock until the lentils were covered by about 1cm and then added more as the liquid was absorbed. Cover and let the mixture cook on a gentle simmer for about 40 mins. You want a little bit of bite to the lentils. When it’s done take a couple of cupfuls and puree them in a blender before returning to the pan. It just makes the base a bit thicker and creamier.
Leave it and let it cool a bit.
THE OTHER LAYERS
500g potatoes (peeled and sliced into 5mm disks)
2 large aubergines (sliced a little thicker)
Fry the potato slices in olive oil until lightly browned on each side and just cooked through. Do the same with the aubergine. You can salt the aubergine first but I don’t think it’s really necessary.
Set these aside.
THE VEGAN ‘BECHEMAL’
1/2 an onion (finely chopped)
1 large cauliflower (roughly chopped)
salt and pepper
Sweat the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft and then add the cauliflower. Stir a bit, season, and pour in about 1/2 pint of water. Bring it to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 15 mins, occasionally string the top bits to the bottom. You want to cauliflower really soft.
Let it cool, add a bit more oil and puree in a blender until super smooth. Return to the pan and if it’s not thick enough (you want it to be thicker than custard but not as thick as mashed potato) you can slake it with a little cornflour in cold water.
Check the seasoning, add more black pepper and a good grating of nutmeg.
Finally, assemble. In a deep over-proof dish which you’ve lightly oiled put half the aubergine in a layer on the bottom, followed by a layer of potato slices (all of them) and then half the ragu. Then another layer of aubergine and the rest of the rag. Finally pour over the ‘béchamel’, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and a dusting of paprika. (You could add breadcrumbs too, but I didn’t). And bake at about 190ºC for around 30-40 mins.
I think it’s better at room temperature, and when cooler it’s more likely to keep it’s shape, which looks so good I’m sure you’ll agree.
Who needs meat or dairy eh? Well, I think I do, but not all the time.