In terms of vegetarian options available to us today in comparison with a couple of decades ago the word that comes to mind is vast.
Most menus these days include at least one if not more vegetarian dishes. These menus include cafe style service, full restaurant service and even cafeteria (counter type of operations).
During my early days of cooking the request for a vegetarian dish was something that always caught the cook out. The best one could expect back then was some iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, cucumber etc and if you were really lucky you might have been offered a poached egg on top.
It would be fair to say that vegetarian diets were abundant in the culinary world during earlier centuries and those vegetarian diets consisted of interesting variety.
Classic ethnic dishes from Italy, India, Thailand, China, Mexico and Japan mainly consisted of vegetables and grains or derivatives of grains. Nuts and fruits were also popular but realistically those diets were mainly what are recognised today as peasant diets with only those who could afford it enjoying meat. As the world's population became more prosperous the diets changed to include meat - albeit small amounts in many cases.
The debate on the benefits or non- benefits of a strictly vegetarian diet will go on for some time. What we can be certain of is the 5 + a Day campaign being run in New Zealand is working well. We are enjoying more fruit and vegetables than we were a decade ago and we certainly should continue in that vein. We can also be assured the vegetables have a unique way of helping flavours. Thinking back to some of those classic cuisines of yesteryear shows just how versatile vegetables are and how easy they are improved with herbs, spices etc.
For six portions
450g kumara, peeled and cut into 1cm pieces
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium sized onion peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 Tbsp brown cumin
100g raw cashew nuts
1 x 400g can butter beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp tahini
1 egg white
Salad garnishes such as beetroot, grated carrot, salad greens
6 crusty Italian rolls, split in half
sour cream and sweet chilli sauce to serve
Cook the kumara in salted boiling water until soft, then drain and cool to room temperature.
Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy based pan adding the onion and garlic and cook over a low heat until the onion is soft and transparent.
Mix in the cumin and cook until fragrant, just a minute or two.
Add the cashews and cook for 3-4 minutes until lightly browned.
Place that mixture along with the beans and parsley in your food processor and process until well combined. Transfer this to a bowl adding the kumara, bread crumbs, lemon juice, tahini and season with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste.
Beat the egg white until soft peaks form and stir into the kumara mixture. Divide mixture into six patties and cover, placing in the fridge for 30 minutes to set.
Now get all your garnishes ready and toast your buns.
Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and cook the kumara patties on each side over a medium heat until both sides are nice and golden. Drain on absorbent paper. Now place your salad garnishes on the base of your bun and top with the kumara patty. Top the patty with cooked pickled beetroot if you choose, adding a dollop of sour cream and some sweet Thai chilli sauce.
Serve the top half of the bun either alongside or on top.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
- The Southland Times