Today’s hearty pot of wonder is a dish full of mouth filling flavour that has a slightly spiced, Indian slant. It’s a vegetarian, quinoa plate of joy, that through it’s development went from “mmmmm, this is nice” on it’s first outing, through “mmmmm, this is pretty good” on it’s second, to “wow, this is really tasty” on it’s final incarnation that you see here.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Indian food, when growing up I saw an Indian takeaway as a real treat, from a young age I enjoyed the rich, full flavours which the cuisine offered. When I’ve visited India I’ve always fought with the internal dichotomy of being a kid in a sweet shop, wanting to try the vast variety of new food available and being the cautious visitor, well aware of how our delicate digestive systems don’t always take too kindly to some of the unfamiliar things we ingest when on holiday.
On our first visit, I took the more laissez-faire approach, having visited many countries in South East Asia without getting ill, I assumed I had the constitution of an ox on steroids, so was relatively laid back about what I ate. Whilst my girlfriend followed the sage advice of turning away from anything with ice and skipped salads, I put my faith in the good intentions of the people and my aforementioned self belief. When we got home from that holiday, I was unable to eat anything apart from plain potato or rice for two weeks.
However, the food genuinely is amazing in India, and if you follow a few simple guidelines to safeguard our unprepared Western stomachs, it really is an incredible place to eat. Food has always been the highlight of holidays for me, because once you lay back into your towel and begin thumbing your latest book or occasionally slinking into the water, there’s very little else in the world that matters aside from the source of your next meal. This is combined with the unalloyed luxury of being able to choose any restaurant you desire for that next meal.
I can’t say I’d desire to eat at a restaurant every day whilst at home, especially for breakfast, but when on holiday it really does seem like an adventure into that country’s soul. Just getting past breakfast can be a journey, with local savoury dishes, such as the amazing Nasi Goreng through to food I’ve sworn is last night’s leftovers, via the blissful arrays of truly fresh tropical fruit unlike anything available in England, to the pale pastiches of English breakfasts and voluminous buffets with their dedicated eggman (we salute you). Once past that morning meal, the hardest decision to make all day is where to eat lunch and dinner, a burden that suddenly carries heightened existential relevance.
Alas, I’m writing all of this from a desk in the basement of our home, with the warm, yet dull, grey summer clouds casting an unmitigated blanket of nothingness through the window. Talking of exotic food and travel feels like a cornucopia of colour and a psychological sojourn compared to the dull reality of what’s just out there. To try and replace that, you need a bright dish and that’s why I’m publishing the recipe below, and it’s what I’m for dinner this weekend, because it has a brightness all of it’s own that you can bring into your home, whatever the window is doing.
Spicy veg and preserved lemon quinoa
By Gavin Wren
Uses a saucepan and a baking tray
300g celeriac, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
375g sweet potato, skin on and cut into 2cm chunks/wedges
375g carrots, peeled and cut into slanted slices
1.5 teaspoons ground coriander
0.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
120g tricolore quinoa
2 cardamon pods
50g preserved lemon, finely chopped into 5mm squares
For the yoghurt:
160g thick/greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1.5 teaspoons dark mustard seeds
0.25 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
0.5 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8g finely chopped parsley leaves, plus a little extra for garnish.
Place the celeriac, sweet potato, carrots, coriander, cinnamon and olive oil in a baking tray and mix them all together well so that they are all coated. Cook in the oven for 45 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.
Simmer the quinoa with 240g water and the cardamon pods in a saucepan over a low heat until the water has boiled off, then turn off the heat, cover with a lid and leave to one side for a further 10 minutes.
Mix all of the yoghurt ingredients together in a bowl.
When the vegetables are cooked, remove them from the oven and mix with the cooked quinoa and preserved lemon. Serve, drizzled with yoghurt over the top and scatter a little more chopped parsley to finish.