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Licence to fill

For many omnivores, going vegetarian means going without. As these dishes prove, however, there is such a thing as a meat-free feast

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

I've been trying, without too much success, to eat less meat and seafood, and to have the occasional vegetarian meal. The problem for me is that vegetarian food often seems too light, and I want something that will not leave me feeling hungry again in an hour or two. These dishes are hearty; even if you're a confirmed omnivore, you probably wouldn't miss the meat if you were served them.

Fresh corn polenta with goat cheese, chard, parmesan, garlic and pine nuts (pictured)
I've been seeing fresh corn polenta (often called sweet corn polenta) on several menus around town and I love the flavour of it - it's a lot lighter and less stodgy than the ground-cornmeal version.

4-5 ears of corn, husks and silks removed
60ml cream
50 grams unsalted butter
150 grams goat cheese, crumbled into small pieces
Oil, for cooking
200 grams Swiss chard or rainbow chard
2-3 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
About 25 grams freshly grated parmesan
30 grams pine nuts, toasted
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the ears of corn, cover with the lid and cook for one minute. Drain the corn and cool to room temperature. Slice the kernels from the cobs - you should have at least 600 grams; if you have more, set aside the excess to use as a garnish.

Put 600 grams of corn kernels in a pan and add just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer until the corn is tender. Drain, but reserve the water. Put the corn in a food processor with the cream and process until the kernels are roughly ground to a paste. If the mixture seems dry, add some of the corn cooking liquid. Scrape the mixture back into the pan, season lightly with salt and cook until it thickens slightly - it should loosely hold its shape. Stir in the butter, goat cheese, black pepper and some salt, if needed.

Lay each leaf of chard on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to trim off the tough stalk, which usually goes about halfway up into the leaf. If the stalks are wide, cut them lengthwise into two or three pieces. Cut all the stalks into 5mm pieces. Stack a few of the leaves, roll them tightly into a cigar shape, then cut them into 5mm-wide ribbons. Keep the stalks and leaves separate.

Heat a wok over a medium-high flame and add about 15ml of cooking oil. Add half of the sliced garlic and shallot and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the chard stalks, season with salt and stir-fry until tender before transferring to a bowl. Heat the wok again and add 15ml of cooking oil. Put the remaining garlic and shallot into the wok and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the chard leaves, season with salt and stir-fry until wilted. Put the leaves with the stalks, add the parmesan and pine nuts and mix until thoroughly combined.

If needed, heat the polenta until bubbling. Ladle it into a shallow bowl and top with the sautéed chard. Scatter the reserved corn kernels on top, then serve.

Vegetarian lasagne with eggplant, mushroom and pepper
For this dish, use oyster mushrooms, or another type that has a thick, meaty stalk.

For the tomato sauce:
About 20ml cooking oil
½ a large onion, diced
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
800 grams canned Italian tomatoes, chopped

For the filling:
30ml cooking oil, plus extra for grilling the vegetables
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
500 grams oyster mushrooms
400 grams ricotta cheese
3-4 Japanese or Chinese eggplants, depending on size
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
9 lasagne noodles
150 grams mozzarella, roughly grated
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the bechamel:
30 grams unsalted butter
30 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
250ml whole milk
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
25 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus extra
for sprinkling

Make the tomato sauce. Pour the oil into a pan, add the onion and garlic and cook over a low-medium flame until soft and translucent. Stir in the oregano and chilli flakes, then add the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt then bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer until the sauce is slightly reduced. Purée in a food processor, then leave to cool.

Finely dice the mushrooms. Heat 30ml of oil in a skillet, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the mushroom, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook over a high flame. The mushroom will exude some liquid, then re-absorb it. Cook until the mushroom is tender and moist, but not wet. Cool to room temperature.

Slice the eggplants on the diagonal into 5mm-thick pieces. Trim the tops and bottoms from the peppers and remove and discard the core and seeds. Cut the peppers into wide strips. Lightly oil a grill pan, heat it over a medium flame and grill the eggplant and pepper until slightly softened.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir constantly for several minutes. Heat the milk until hot in the microwave, then slowly add it to the butter/flour, whisking constantly so the mixture is smooth. Season the bechamel with a little salt and nutmeg, then cook over a very low flame for about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. Whisk in 25 grams of parmesan.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Very lightly coat the bottom of a 23cm x 28cm x 4cm deep pan with a small amount of the tomato sauce. Put three uncooked lasagne noodles over the sauce, then spread with a thin layer of ricotta. Top with a layer of grilled vegetables, half of the sautéed mushroom, then some of the tomato sauce. Repeat the layering, using the grilled vegetables (there may be some left over), the mushroom and half the remaining tomato sauce. Top with a final layer of lasagne noodles and the last of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the grated mozzarella, then spread the bechamel over the top. Sprinkle lightly with grated parmesan. Bake at 180 degrees for 30 minutes, then cool for 15 minutes before serving.

 

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