Vegging out

by Lauraine Jacobs / 10 November, 2012
Vibrant flavours aren’t hard to concoct even when meat and dairy products are off the menu.
Vegan recipe - Crisp-fried potato avocado and beetroot salad

Cooking with vegetables has been in the spotlight lately with World Vegan Day on November 1 and World Vegetarian Day a month before. I’m not sure when things changed, but these days when visitors come for dinner, the question seems to pop up about dietary requirements. I find myself having to take account of food allergies, strong dislikes and an increasing number of vegetarians, pescatarians and vegans. Working around any of these restrictions is both a challenge and encouragement to find new ideas and directions for my cooking.

The one person I am not minded to cook for is Paul, a worker we had doing odd jobs around the house who told me with complete sincerity he was allergic to all vegetables. Yes, well. Hosting vegetarians is easy. There is never a shortage of fresh seasonal produce to work with, and for that matter, most vegetarians are not offended if meat is served as well. They just politely pass on it. There is no constraint on vegetarians and those with food allergies eating out, as any number of cafes cater in a small way to such needs. Some of the finer restaurants in Auckland offer vegetarian tasting menus, and most cafes have gluten-free baking.

Vegan eating is more complex and a lifestyle choice. The foods vegans cook with are combinations of vegetables, fruits, nuts and dried pulses. Dairy products, eggs, meat and fi sh are all off the menu. Once you’ve come to terms with the limitations, new possibilities open up. Delicious sauces can be made by puréeing vegetables, and garnishes are easy using sprouts, nuts and herbs. Citrus and seasonal fruit juices can add flavour and texture, and vegetable oils are a substitute for the unsaturated fats I’m used to. I was intrigued to find one Auckland hotel offering a full vegan menu. The executive chef of Hector’s Restaurant at Heritage Auckland, Jinu Abraham, has developed a range of vegan dishes for both the restaurant and the lobby snack bar. Vegan food is prepared in its own kitchen, so there is no cross-contamination with meat products. The meal Abraham cooked for a food writers’ event at the hotel last summer was so intriguing I invited him to share a couple of recipes with me. We cooked them together and the resulting dishes, with their fresh vibrant flavours, were eaten with delight.


  • 50g salted capers, rinsed and drained

  • 50g golden raisins

  • 1 red-skinned apple, cored and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

  • 2 tbsp dark raisins

  • 2 tbsp pine nuts

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 300g baby spinach leaves, washed

  • Juice of 1 small lemon

  • 1 tbsp canola oil

  • 120g soft tofu, cut into 8 strips

  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

To make the purée, put the capers and raisins in a small saucepan and pour in just enough water to cover. Cook gently for 5-10 minutes until the raisins are soft and plump. Cool for 15 minutes. Blend in a food processor with half the liquid to a fi ne purée, stopping once or twice to scrape the mix from the sides of the bowl. Add a little more water if the purée is too thick. Keep this sauce aside. Heat a large pan, then add the canola oil. When the oil is very hot, add the apple cubes and cook until slightly browned (about 1 minute). Add the dark raisins to the salt and stir together over the heat.

Add the pine nuts and cook until they have browned for 20 seconds. Add the spinach leaves, mix and sauté over high heat until the spinach starts to soften. Remove the pan from the heat, as the spinach will continue to wilt. Squeeze half the lemon juice into the spinach. Taste and add more salt and lemon if needed. Pan-fry the tofu in a little canola oil so the outside is crisp and golden. Drizzle over a little balsamic vinegar. To serve, spread some of the caper raisin purée on the plate. Place the spinach in a pile on the purée and top with two slices of the tofu. Garnish with a little extra caper and raisin purée. Serves 4 Wine match: chenin blanc



  • 2 medium beetroot

  • 2 tsp sugar

  • 100ml white wine vinegar

  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 500g baby gourmet potatoes, sliced

  • 1/2-cm thick

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves

  • 7-8 sage leaves

  • 2 tbsp roasted almonds, sliced

  • Salt as needed

  • Extra virgin olive oil to dress

  • Fresh herbs or radish sprouts to garnish

Prepare the beetroot by simmering in a mixture of the water, sugar and white vinegar for 1 hour. Once cooked, cool the beetroot and trim, peel and slice thinly. Dress with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Heat a heavy sauté pan and pan-fry the potatoes with oil and salt over a low heat. Add the garlic cloves. Keep on the heat until the potatoes are cooked through and crispy. Add and mix in the sage leaves. Place the sliced beetroot on four dinner plates with the potatoes on top. Slice the avocado and arrange around the dish. Finally, spoon the ajoblanco sauce over and garnish with roasted almonds and radish sprouts. Serves 4 Wine match: chardonnay


  • 100g blanched almonds

  • 3 cloves local garlic

  • 250ml soy milk

  • 2 slices ciabatta

  • 30ml extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar

  • Salt

Toast the blanched almonds lightly in a hot oven to bring out the oils. Bring the almonds and milk to a boil in a saucepan, then allow to cool. When cool, use a stick blender to combine with the garlic and bread to make a fine, glossy sauce. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar and blend again. Add salt to taste. Put through a fine strainer and reserve.

Further reading

  • Benessere (Laurinda Erasmus, Quinoa Publishing, $69.99) is a comprehensive vegan recipe book with a wide variety of interesting meals, snacks and baking.

  • The New Zealand Gluten-Free Cookbook (Jim Boswell, Penguin, $44.99) is a lively book with baking and savoury recipes, including plenty of meal ideas.

  • The Family-Friendly Gluten-free Cookbook (Sarah King, New Holland, $39.99) has plenty of baking and sweet treat recipes from the owner of the Gluten-Free Grocer in Auckland.

  • Gluten-Free Dishes (Carol Beckerman, New Holland, $24.99) is a compact and comprehensive collection of meal ideas and recipes for the whole family.

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