Let’s face it, 20, 30, even 40 years ago veggie food was…how do I phrase this? Well, dull.
Unless you were very lucky, or found yourself in one of the more ‘progressive’ restaurants in London such as Cranks (in its heyday), chances are as the token veggie in a party you’d be pretty much fobbed off when you ate out.
Sat in the corner with a watery vegetable lasagne, jacket potato with cheese or half-arsed attempt at a risotto, you’d be the po-faced party pooper, pushing food around on your plate with your fork, chucking back the wine to get through the crapness of it all.
Fast forward to now, and I don’t think there’s been a more exciting or dynamic time for vegetarian cuisine. Think of all the ingredients we have available to us now.
All the possibilities. Speciality seasonings and additions from all over the world can take simple, unassuming veg such as the humble potato or carrot (usually boiled and relegated to being a side dish on Sundays) to new heights. With a cupboard of goodies, from spice pastes, to harissa, preserved lemons, tahini, herbs, oils, olives and more, there are no limits to where your imagination can take you. And mine has taken me this week to the Middle East.
We’re coming to the end of British Pie Week but rather than steak and ale, chicken and ham or the other obvious contenders, I had the wherewithal to make this cracking number – including wonderful gluten-free yellow pea flour from Norfolk’s Novo Farina.
The delicately encased pie holds a medley of melting pan-roasted vegetables, fried off in Crush oil’s Peri Peri rapeseed oil and finished with fresh garlic and harissa paste. On top is my never fail falafel recipe, heady with aromatic spices and herbs. Give it a try. A few sweet potato fries tossed in rosemary and smoked paprika wouldn’t go amiss on the side.
Gluten-free halloumi, roasted vegetable and falafel pie
(serves 6 to 8)
For the pastry:
200g pea flour (or gluten-free plain flour)
100g unsalted butter
For the filling:
1 large red onion, 1 deseeded red pepper, 1 medium courgette, 150g button mushrooms all roughly chopped
2tbsps Crush Peri Peri rapeseed oil (or chilli oil)
Small tin (about 230g) chopped tomatoes
2tsps harissa paste
½ block halloumi (I used Squeaky Cheese from Yorkshire) cut into 1cm cubes
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
Grind of fresh black pepper
For the topping:
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1tbsp sesame seeds
2tbsps pea flour or gluten-free flour
1tsp gluten-free baking powder
1tsp each garlic powder, salt, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground allspice
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/4tsp ground cayenne pepper
Handful each fresh mint and coriander leaves
Grate the butter into the flour and rub together until the butter pretty much disappears. Bit by bit add enough cold water to bind the pastry. Wrap and put in the fridge for 20 minutes.
For the filling place the oil in a heavy pan (I used a cast iron casserole) which has a lid. Bring it to a high heat to sizzle and add the chopped vegetables apart from the garlic and tomatoes. Stir fry for a couple of minutes then turn the heat down to low-medium, cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes until softening.
Add the tinned tomatoes and harissa and turn the heat back up with the lid off. Sizzle until the tomatoes turn into a thick sauce. Add the black pepper, fresh garlic and cheese and take off the heat. Allow to cool slightly.
Now make the topping. Simply put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until it’s the texture of rough breadcrumbs – you don’t want a smooth mixture.
Now get your pastry dough and press it into a round, loose-bottomed 20cm tin, pushing the mix evenly up the sides by about 3-4cms and pressing firmly into the base.
Pop in the oven at 220C for 20 minutes. Now add the vegetable filling and distribute the falafel topping evenly over the top. Turn the oven down to 200C and cook for another 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Beware, the pastry is rather crumbly but wonderfully short. If you’re making this for a dinner party I suggest using individual loose-based tart tins.