Ash is the foundation of Persian cuisine – a thick soup of which there are many, many types but always with legumes and herbs. Before rice was introduced 2000 years ago, ash was the staple. While it can contain meat, it is often meat-free, making it perfect for vegetarians. Ash is served at any time and you see it in street-side shops and fancy hotels. I enjoyed a lovely light dinner of a noodle-based ash – on which this version is based – in the gardens of the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, Iran. The stunning hotel was built 400 years ago as a caravanserai, so has a huge central courtyard with gardens and fountains and is the perfect respite from a busy day exploring.
Recipe Category: Veges
In my household, gratin is devoured greedily; the youngest is likely to go for double helpings so I always tend to make a lot. It’s an easy recipe to cut down if you need too, but also a brilliant dish for taking to a potluck. I tend to assume there will be at least one vegetarian, so use a vegetable stock rather then chicken. If I know there are vegans or people on a dairy-free regime present then I omit all the dairy, using oil in place of butter, increasing the vegetable stock to replace the cream and instead of the cheese I will often top the gratin with lightly oiled panko crumbs.
I never get tired of the combination of sweet and silky leeks with the earthiness of mushrooms. I like to use a mix of mushrooms, including some dried for texture and a deeper flavour (porcini are wonderful, shiitake or other dried mushrooms are also suitable). Here I’ve served it with polenta, but it is also delicious tossed through pappardelle, on toast or over mashed potato or kūmara. Sometimes, too, this combination will find its way into a soup with a vegetarian broth and some sturdy ingredients such lentils, buckwheat or barley for a dose of life-affirming goodness.
I like polenta softer and wetter than most directions allow for. The usual suggestion is for a ratio of 1:4 polenta to liquid, but I tend to aim for a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio. Usually I’d add butter to finish, but sometimes if I have a little cream or other dairy that needs using up then it will end up in here. Herbs are always good to add, too, right at the end so that they keep their vibrant colour.
When my eldest recently got braces, this vegetable-laden mac and cheese was one of the few things he could manage to eat (minus the crunchy topping). Vegetables, puréed until silky, go surprisingly well as pasta sauces, especially if they are cooked in a well-flavoured stock. I vary the mix to what I have around – parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and turnips also work well and I always have a jar of roasted red capsicums in the fridge. The cheese varies depending on what I have to hand; sometimes it’s a mix of cheeses using up odd bits. Sometimes, too, I might have cream that needs using up so I replace the crème fraîche with that. The straight purée can also do double duty as soup.
I use the readily available large carrots, however if you can get your hands on baby carrots by all means use them instead (I admit to being a sucker for pretty baby carrots when I come across them). I like to use a ‘rolling cut’ when preparing larger carrots for roasting; this produces irregular shapes of similar size. Slice the tip off your carrot on a diagonal, aiming for a bite-sized chunk, roll the carrot about ⅓ of a revolution and slice on the diagonal again. Repeat until the whole carrot is cut. Hemp seeds are a great source of protein, omega-3 and minerals and the recently amended regulations permitting the sale of them for food means they’re now readily available from health food stores and numerous stores online.
New-season lamb is delicious with these artichokes, but if I were serving to vegetarians I’d use vegetable stock and be inclined to add some sliced mozzarella to the pan as it came out the oven, allowing the flavours to meld for a few minutes.
Soup is one of my Mum’s favourite foods and in winter there was always a pot bubbling away on our range. Inspired by Mum’s soup, I’ve added a touch of spice to this velvety cauliflower and leek soup. If using homemade vegetable stock, use raw vegetables, not roasted, to keep the stock light.
Recipes, Food Styling & Photography Sarah Tuck / Music Food Matches Jeremy Taylor, Slow Boat Records