Inspired by Alice Hart's stunning cookbook, The New Vegetarian, seven members of our team have been trialling and testing recipes from the book at home. We'll be writing about a different recipe every day this week to give you a real flavour of the book and so far the results have been largely delicious!
Who: Louise Court, Publicity Manager, Vintage
What I made: Sweet Potato Cakes with Lime and Avocado
What I thought: As a vegetarian, I dream about beautiful cookbooks like this. I could (and have) spend a very happy weekend cooking and Instagramming everything in this book. All the recipes are exciting, innovative and inspired by dishes from across the world with exciting flavour combinations that go pop in your mouth. I’ll never get bored with this on my kitchen shelf.
But to my mind, the real test of a great cookbook is the mid-week dinner. Are there go-to easy but delicious recipes for when I crawl through the door frazzled and hangry after a long day at work and the gym? And how will it go down with my partner, who has been the somewhat unwilling subject of my years-long campaign to sneak more and more fresh vegetables into our meals?
As always, Alice did not disappoint. She recommends this sweet potato cake for brunch or a light lunch, but I found it a very comforting yet light recipe for a mid-week supper too. You could hack the recipe a bit like I did to make it even quicker – using a food processor to quickly grate the sweet potato, and using pre-minced ginger. I didn’t have brown rice flour so I just used what I had. I also didn’t have small frying pans, so as Alice suggested I cooked all into one larger cake in a 23cm frying pan, leaving it on the hob for a little longer. I also substituted rocket for the coriander as there is no place for coriander in my kitchen (sorry, tastes like soap to me). I demolished my portion in about 3 minutes, and my partner… well, he ate the rest. The whole lot. That’s three whole portions, made entirely of vegetables, all to himself. Sounds like a winner to me.
Who: Lottie Huckle, Digital Content Producer
What I made: Blood Orange and Olive Oil Cake with Almonds
What I thought: I find it very hard to pass by a cake recipe. So when I opened The New Vegtarian on this page, I really didn't have much choice in the matter. This recipe, although a little time consuming for a single layer cake, has opened my eyes to new methods of baking. For example, boiling the oranges until soft, blitzing in a food processor and then adding in their entirety to the cake, is an incredible way to impart fragrant citrus flavour. And even though I found the process a little longer than usual, it was thoroughly relaxed and the perfect way to spend a morning off.
So what did I make of the cake? Delicious. It's gluten-free (although I hadn't hunted for a specific GF recipe) and is moist, dense and moreish because of it. The cake is heady with the zesty flavours of orange and the crust is sweet and caramelised - it's potentially my favourite part. And don't worry if you can't get hold of blood oranges, I substituted in normal ones and the result was still quite wonderful.
What I Made: Brown Rice Bibimbap Bowls with Smoky Peppers
What I Thought: I’m a massive fan of bibimbap but have never attempted to make this popular Korean dish at home. Alice Hart’s brown rice version immediate caught my eye when I was flicking through The New Vegetarian wondering what to cook for our group challenge. I adore the nutty crunch of brown rice and could just imagine how fantastic it would taste paired with barely stir-fried vegetables and rich bibimbap sauce.
The dish absolutely lived up to my expectations on the flavour front. I made a big batch of the bibimbap sauce, which I’ll now be using to slather all over eggs and avocado whenever I get the chance (can’t believe I’ve found a rival to my beloved Sriracha). The combination of vegetables in the dish is exquisite. Each is prepared slightly differently, giving incredible variety of flavour and texture. Alice herself warns that the dish requires a lot of juggling in the preparation and there were times, during the cooking, when I thought I wasn’t going to manage it all. You could remove a couple of elements to make it simpler but, to enjoy the dish’s full flavour punch, I’d recommend taking your time over it on a lazy weekend evening and enjoying it in all its glory. You can always make double and enjoy the leftovers the next day (as I did).
Who: Indira Birnie, Social Media Manager
What I thought: I love a bit of extravagant cooking. A weekend session concocting something complicated yet indulgent is, for me, somewhat of an obsession and an excellent way to relax. However, when picking up The New Vegetarian I had a more practical objective -- a recipe that would help curb spending by providing packed lunches for the week. It must have been fate, then, when I opened the book on this recipe.
Obviously I flipped through the rest of the book in case something else caught my fancy and oh, how it did. As a vegetarian it's refreshing to be able to cook all the recipes from a cookbook, since I usually have to ignore half of them or mentally amend recipes with meat-free substitutions. Anyway, after a thorough browse, I decided this artichoke frittata was The One.
Despite its three separate elements, this recipe was pretty easy to make and was ready in an hour, so it could be a great weeknight dinner option too. An hour may seem ages but most of it is in the oven-cooking rather than prepping.
The result, considering the minimal effort, is delicious. The frittata is great alone, of course, especially with the inclusion of the slightly unusual artichokes, but the accompaniments elevate the dish. The pesto is tangy and sharp while the tomatoes are mouth-puckeringly sweet and sticky after an hour in the oven. On top of that, it's given me lunch for nearly a week so I've probably saved myself about £20 on central London lunch prices. Thanks, Alice Hart!
Who: Susannah Otter, Assistant Editor, Square Peg
What I made: Twice-cooked leeks with Goat's Curd
What I thought: As one of the editors for Alice's book, I have been quietly cooking my way through the recipes for months, and was waiting for the first hints of spring to try this as a light supper. Alice suggests serving it as a main on a bed of polenta, but as we'd had quite a heavy weekend, food-wise, I went off-piste and went for peppery salad leaves.
As with all the recipes in the book, the cooking process described was simple but contained intriguing twists that I never would've thought of, and will now be doing time and again. In this recipe, there were two: one was crushing some bayleaves in the leek cooking water, which, much as it does when you cook lentils, imparts a subtle but excellent flavour. The other was the twice-cooked element: usually, I'd boil leeks and leave it that, but griddling them after a quick blanch really elevates them from a side-vegetable into something more significant. The crunch of the hazelnuts and the smooth creaminess of the goat's curd added the perfect finishing touch to a surprisingly filling and substantial Sunday supper.
The dish comes from the 'quick' chapter of the book. Alice sensibly states in her introduction to the chapter that we all have different definitions of what a quick dish might be, so for the sake of properness, it's worth saying that mine is 'from fridge/larder to table in an unhurried, potter-y 30 minutes'. This recipe certainly fell into that category: there's a fair bit to concentrate on and get done, but you could always make the dressing ahead of starting on the leeks if culinary multi-tasking feels too much of an ask.
Who: Penny Liechti, Rights Manager
What I made: Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi
What I thought: I love Banh Mi. I love smoked tofu (don’t judge). The lemongrass tofu Banh Mi was therefore a slam-dunk of a dish for me. I was initially slightly daunted by the long list of ingredients, and the need to prepare some of Alice’s quick Vietnamese pickles beforehand, but these really were a doddle to make, and pretty much all the ingredients were lurking in my cupboards anyway (except the white pepper, which I left out. Sorry Alice).
I chopped all the veg and put the tofu in to marinate in advance, then came back to cook my baguette (I used a pre-frozen one as they only take a few minutes to cook in the oven), and got on with stir-frying the tofu. It took a few minutes to get nicely caramelised, but the good thing about smoked tofu is it doesn’t break up in the pan like the unsmoked variety, so it worked really well. There was quite a lot of lemongrass and chili left over in the pan from the marinade mix, and I didn’t put all of it into the banh mi, but I was scaling down the recipe so it would have been a better ratio for more than one serving.
All that was left to do was cut open the baguette, layer up my sauces, cucumber, pickles, tofu and coriander and eat. Even with the insides of the bread torn out it was a ridiculously overstuffed, incredibly tasty lunch for one, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Who: Rowan Yapp, Editorial Director Square Peg & Yellow Jersey
What I made: Courgette, Ricotta and Dill Tart
What I thought: I am not vegetarian but these days I eat more and more meat-free food. For one thing it is cheaper, but it also feels simpler and more in step with the environment just to eat meat occasionally. That said I still want my dinners and weekend lunches to feel like an event. For me, in the past vegetarian options felt more limited but now there are so many great ingredients, ideas and sources of good quality veg around that my view has completely changed.
I chose to cook this tart because I was yearning for a bit of Spring in my life. The courgettes, dill and peas spoke to my cravings for something fresh and green, while the tart itself answered my love for comfort food.
I am interested in cooking with different flours so I loved the idea of the spelt-rye crust. I enjoy baking but I've always found my tarts a little hit-and-miss so I was up for the challenge of a new tart recipe.
The recipe was a pleasure to make. At one point along the way I had an inevitable moment of doubt about whether my pastry would ever come together, but it did and it tasted delicious. The filling was simple to make and had a lovely, subtle, spring-like flavour. Making the tart took a little time but the great plus for me was that I could prep ahead serve it cool. So I made it in stages punctuated by hectic everyday life and I enjoyed the slow process, in much the same way as I do baking.
To find out more about The New Vegetarian, click here.