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Gourmet Vegetarian


Long gone are the days where vegetarian cuisine is limited to nut roasts and veggie lasagne. The Cordon Vert Cookery School and Vegetarian Association suggest veggie mezze delights which will impress all.

“My name is Polly and I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years”. Uttering these words in a Cheshire meeting room, I feel like I’ve entered a support group where herbivores finally admit to their eating habits.

But the reality is that I’m taking part in one of the Vegetarian Society’s Cordon Vert Cookery School courses.

Having been a vegetarian since childhood, the eating out experience has improved significantly since I first pushed the chicken drumsticks away in 1992.

Back then, a meal at a restaurant left me with the choice of ordering either the nut roast or vegetable lasagne. But in the last decade there has been a catering revolution where saying ‘vegetarian’ in an eatery is no longer considered to be a dirty word.

Perhaps this is why the Cordon Vert courses are so popular. The school offers workshops in everything from Route 66 (American cuisine) to Modern Indian and Italian, and today, I’m taking part in the Tapas & Mezze workshop.

Set in a manor house in one of Altrincham’s most exclusive areas, the school has a comforting feel that puts you into the right frame of mind for learning new skills.

In pairs, the seven other students and I are expected to produce four dishes per team in about two hours and - looking at the exotic menu of dishes - I’m slightly daunted. My partner and I are given the enticingly titled Moroccan Beetroot Dip, Spinach and Brazil Nut Filo Layered Pie, Puy Lentils in Lemon and Avocado with Pistachio Dressing.

With two tutors, Sarah Kearns and Marise Maddison (who are clearly experts when it comes to green cuisine), on hand to help, the pressure in the room soon lifts.

My partner and I decide to take charge of two dishes each and I’m responsible for the spinach pie and the avocado dish. I’m pleased to see none of the ingredients are expensive, and it’s likely you’ll have many in the kitchen cupboard.

At the tutors’ insistence, I learn that preparation is the key to recipe success. And I soon learn exactly what finely chopped onion means.

By using a large kitchen knife and applying pressure to the end with one hand and using the other hand
to lift and lower the handle in quick succession, I quickly have a pile of neat onion ready for the spinach pie. I do the same with brazil nuts and garlic.

Once the hard work of chopping is over, both recipes prove to be pleasantly
simple and when served up they certainly look impressive.

When the eight newly-confirmed vegetarian chefs sit down to taste the fruits of their labour, we can all agree the recipes taste just as good as they look.

If you fancy trying out some vegetarian recipes, then why not make the following?

Sweet Ramiro peppers stuffed with halloumi mint and flavoured with Ras el Hanout (serves 4-6)

60g Camargue red rice
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
30 ml olive oil
1/2 tsp Ras el Hanout
20g sultanas
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp mint, finely chopped
175g halloumi
4 sweet pointed red (Ramiro) peppers small bag of mixed leaves

1. Heat the oven to 190oC/oF/Gas 5.

2. Cook the rice for 20 minutes and then rinse briefly with cold water and drain to ensure grains are separate.

3. Saute the onion and garlic in 1 tbsp oil until soft, then add the Rasel Hanout and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the sultanas, herbs and rice and take off the heat.

4. Cut 4 thick slices of halloumi (approximately 5 mm thick) and dry fry in a non stick pan until golden on each side. When cool enough to handle cut into small dice, and add to onion mixture.

5. Cut off the top of the peppers and shake out the seeds. Then using a small spoon with a long handle or chopsticks, carefully pack the mixture into the pepper cavity.

6. Place the peppers in a roasting tin, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake for 15 minutes until the skin of the peppers are just beginning to soften.

7. To serve, slice each pepper into 3 portions and place on a bed of leaves.

Moroccan infused edamame and artichokes with cardamom, fennel and cinnamon (serves 4)

1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 kg vine tomatoes (skinned, de-seeded and chopped)
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp tomato puree
50ml light stock
250g green beans (cut into 2cm pieces & blanched)
175g edamame (blanched)
2 tsp runny honey or light muscovado sugar
1/2 can artichokes hearts in brine (drained)

To garnish:

35g toasted walnuts, chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
1 lemon, cut into segments

Serve with fruity couscous

1. Saute the onion in some of the oil until soft before adding the garlic, tomatoes and spices. Cook gently until the tomatoes start to break up and then add the puree, more oil if you wish and a little stock if the sauce seems too thick. Season well.

2. Add the green beans and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until cooked but still crunchy, adding a little water or stock if necessary.

3. Finally stir in the honey, the edamame and artichokes and simmer for a further 5 minutes, at which point the sauce should be quite thick.

4. Garnish with chopped toasted walnuts, fresh coriander and lemon segments. Serve with a fruity couscous.