Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Moroccan Pumpkin - A Vegan Venture

‘My hearse will be followed not by mourning coaches but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures.’

George Bernard Shaw, free-thinker, playwright and vegetarian, who died in 1950 at the ripe old age of ninety-four.

His longevity, Mr Shaw declared, could be explained simply by his choice of food. I imagine his tee-totaling lifestyle contributed a great deal to that too; still, it won’t stop me raising a glass to that sort of revolutionary thinking. Had he lived now, when the ethics of vegetarianism have been nudged further to the left, there’s little doubt in my mind that he would have adopted veganism with the same aplomb. Given, however, his particular passion for cream-laden cake, large wedges of which he would greet guests at the gate with, I’m not entirely certain Mr Shaw would have embraced tofu quite as readily as many modern vegetarians have. Tofu (the ‘T’ word) is, you see, one of the cornerstones of vegan cooking.

Much of what comes out of this kitchen is vegan or almost. The shores of Mediterranean Europe are brimming with ideas from which the greedy magpie cook can thieve. The flavours of India, the Middle East and North Africa offer a goldmine of vegan-friendly treasures, and all without the need for tofu. Tempeh, I love; its nuttiness and crispy, golden, pan-fried edges make it a toothsome addition to South East Asian dishes. Tofu, served in the elegant, Japanese way is high on my list of culinary loves (once, in Auckland, I ate an entire plate of Agedashi Tofu, then poked and prodded my chopsticks deftly around everyone else’s tofu too – a greedy girl, always). But tofu, Mediterranean-style, seems to this palate, wrong.

No tofu today. I’ve something better to share.

Occasionally it is necessary to suspend your disbelief when recipe reading. Skeptics (read me) may scoff at a suggestion (read Edward) that you serve your guests a platter of saffron-tinted couscous, topped with slowly braised golden shallots and sticky prunes, finished with quarter moons of spicy, fragrant orange pumpkin. But they’d be mistaken. Nadine Abensur, who transports you to her childhood home in Morocco in one breath then seduces you with her unique approach to vegetables, is just my sort of cook. Had the recipe not been hers, I probably would probably have turned the page.

The festive season is, amazingly, just around the corner. We were having a little festivity of our own in the backyard last weekend and this stunning, suitably festive meal was perfect. Can I suggest you try at least one all vegan celebratory meal this year? Serves six normal people. Or one normal(ish) person, her greedy partner and a teenage step son who’d been asking for it for months.

Moroccan pumpkin with a shallot and prune confit – for 6

There are three layers here. Start with the pumpkin, move onto the confit and prepare the couscous at the last possible moment. Nadine Abensur’s Cranks Bible was the inspiration for this – the confit is entirely hers with only slight changes by me because you live and learn. It is incredibly rich, really it is, so follow or serve with a simple green salad and some oven-warmed bread.

The pumpkin:
1 small jap (kent) pumpkin (about 1.5 kilos or 3 lbs)
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
2 teaspoons of chilli flakes
1 heaped teaspoon of ground cinnamon or ras el hanout
1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of tamari (or soy sauce)

Cut the pumpkin into at least 18 wedges. Scoop out and discard the seeds.

Toast the coriander, cumin and chilli flakes in a dry pan, tossing constantly, for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Cool on a plate. Grind to a rough powder with either a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee/spice grinder. In a large bowl, mix the ground spices with the cinnamon or ras el hanout, the maple syrup, oil and tamari.

Toss the pumpkin wedges in the spice and oil mixture, arrange in a large baking dish and as best you can. Baste with any remaining spice and oil mixture and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning each wedge at least twice, until completely tender, but still holding their shape.

The shallot and prune confit:
500g (1 lb) of shallots (eshallots)
2 large handfuls of raw almonds
300g (10 oz) prunes with their pits
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Sea salt
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole

Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil. Throw in the shallots and simmer at a vigorous pace for 1 minute. Scoop them out, reserving the water, and drain. Top, tail and peel the shallots and set them aside.

Reheat the water and toss the almonds in for 2 minutes to blanch. Scoop them out, reserving the water, and drain before slipping them from their skins. Spread the almonds out on a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes in the oven. Remove to a plate and cool.

Pit the prunes. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan and fry the shallots until deeply golden all over, shaking the pan rather than stirring them around. Add a good pinch of salt, the garlic and the pitted prunes. Toss to coat in the oil then add a ladleful of the reserved water. Bubble at quite a rapid pace, adding more water as it is absorbed, shaking the pan as above until the shallots are golden, tender but still holding their shape, and coated in a little sauce. Some of the prunes will have broken down – highly desirable. This will take anywhere between 30-45 minutes. Stir through the toasted almonds 5 minutes before serving.

The couscous:
1 ½ cups of couscous
1 very large pinch of saffron threads
1 ¾ cups of boiling water
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of coriander and/or mint, well washed and roughly chopped

Mix the couscous with the saffron threads in a heat proof bowl. Pour over the boiling water and the tablespoon of olive oil and cover the bowl with a plate. Rest, covered, for 5 minutes before tossing over and over with two forks.

Arrange the couscous in a mound on a large platter or in the base of a tagine. Spoon over the shallot and prune confit and arrange the pumpkin wedges on top. Sprinkle generously with the coriander or mint, or both and serve immediately.

I’m submitting this as my entry to Suganya of Tasty Palattes who is hosting Vegan Ventures, a one-off vegan-friendly event for the month of November.


Christina said...

Beautiful. I want some.

Protein from the nuts and all kinds of interesting carbohydrates from the fruit and squash make this complete. I can imagine the spices and the sweetness lifting this to a very festive-worthy status. Your suggestion to serve with a salad is perfect: I can imagine this with a zingy, clean-flavored vinaigrette.

Susan said...

Bless the beasts and the vegans. Vibrantly healthy and colorful, and not a hair harmed on anyone's head. Bravo, Lucy, for your beautiful recipe and sentiment.

Anh said...

Lucy, you now I love veg and tofu. And although i can't give up meat/seafood, I have been incorporating more wholesome veg dishes in my diet. And this Moroccan Pumpkin is excellent! I have to try soon.

kathryn said...

Sounds amazing Lucy. Intriguing and I can't quite imagine the final dish. But that just makes me want to try it!

You know I've never been a big fan of Nadine Abensur, but I'll have to re-visit her. I found her writing and recipes in Delicious magazine a bit bland. I've never tried one of her cook books and I can see I'm going to have to explore more.

Thanks for posting this. In about a month we're having a Christmas party and I'm just looking around for suitable dishes. This looks perfect.

Suganya said...

Lucy, That sounds grand. I would be proud to serve this to my vegan friends. Yeah its that special. Thank you so much for participating and also introducing me to this lovely recipe!

shula said...


winedeb said...

OK Ms. Greedy Magpie Cook, I am for certain going to steal away your recipe for Shallot & Prune Confit. It looks so delicious and savory! And this whole dish is perfect for the upcoming holidays. I think it would be a definate "show-stopper" at our house. I must say your photos surely sell me on these yummy fixings. They make my mouth water!
As usual, a beautiful post Lucy!

winedeb said...

Lucy, I want to tell you about a site you may enjoy. Albioncooks.blogspot.com
She has a nice vegetarian site that I visit and pick up some yummy ideas.

Rose said...

Lucy, I can feel your sensitivity towards what you put into your body in your words. I made a very similar dish this past weeknd, with prunes, dried apricots and alomonds. It's one of my childhood favorite dishes. Although I am no vegetarian nor vegan, I would love to have a sample of your dish. I wouldn't bring a plate, I would bring my self, as Nadine says. And I will show you the traditionnal way of preparing couscous.

Sophie said...

Lucy I've heard you mention Nadine's books in similarly enthusiastic tones before - I must try and find one to check out!

Prunes and shallots with pumpkins sounds gorgeous (and festive). I love your challenge to serve a vegan recipe over the festive season and will definitely try to do this. The trick I suspect is not to mention that the food is vegan until after all of the yummy food has been cleared from the plates

Wendy said...

Beautiful post, Lucy. Mr Shaw would have been proud. :)
And, oh my, what a dish this sounds. I love it. Cannot wait to try it out. Will let you know how it goes.

Callipygia said...

Vegetables are so majestic. I find that when they are turned into a festive main event, they really drop jaws. And if a teenage boy can ask for this meal for weeks, it must be something! Those cows are breathing small sigh of relief-

Cynthia said...

This post made me hungry!

The Illustrated Garden said...

Mmmmmm! This is the perfect fall dish. Thanks so much for sharing it.

VegeYum @ A Life (Time) of Cooking said...

Lucy, I got carried away today with your photographs. Your use of light and shade is great, it really engages the viewer. The photos are not "food photo chic" as is the fashion (but not my preference) but really engage the reader more and more into the story. There is such a gentleness, a sensitivity in your photos. The last one particularly, it is full of emotion. Amazing for a tea towel and a spoon.

In every photo in this post you have used curves very well. It is so easy to use straight lines, and many people do, and it is easy with straight lines to draw the eye and direct it to where you want. But curves are different. Sort of sensuous but more difficult to work with. I love the curviness of the photos in this post.

Hey I am no photographer - I just fumble around in my kitchen with camera in one hand, wooden spoon in the other, and ingredients spilling all over the floor. But I just had to tell you how much I liked these.

Now I will go and read the text.

Lucy said...

Christina, I'd pop it on a aeroplane for you (I'd smuggle myself on too just to get a peek at your garden), but Edward eats so damn much of the stuff that there is never, ever anything left to share.

Bless 'em, Susan. I'm not able to totally adapt to that lifestyle, not totally. Yet. Who knows what the next few years will hold. The G.B.S. quote I have always loved for its wit as much as its compassion.

Anh, your food is now, as it always has been, amazing. I know it's not for everyon, the avoidance of flesh. I would have trouble giving up fish. Dairy I'm not such a bit fan of, though butter, yoghurt and ghee would be difficult for me to live without!

Kathryn, it travels quite well too. I've made this a few times and what I love about it is that it can be served at room temperature without any flavour-loss. I didn't like Nadine's stuff in Delicious either - how funny! Maybe she felt on edge, writing as a vego. I did a cooking clss wih her and she's gentle, gorgeous and warm.

Oh Suganya, thnks to you for holding the event. For me, vegan is something to aim for - and in the meantime, I'm happy to eat as close to that ethical ideal as is possible!

It was Shula. It is. Great way to show off veggies as something spectacular.

Steal away Deb, steal away! I imagine this would complement all mnner of meat-based mels as well, as a sort of condiment. I do know Albion Cooks, but I haven't visited for ages - thanks for the reminder!

Rose, you are welcome ANY time to show me how to prepare couscous the traditional way - I am completely at your command! One of the things that I love about this dish (and yours sounds fabulous - blog-worthy perhaps?) is that it's rich enough to please everyone at the table, regardless of their particular needs.

Sophie, that is exactly right - don't mention the war as Basil Fawlty would say! We are about to enter the season of excessive eating, which for you guys up north makes sense, but for us, it all happens as the temperatures head into the high 30's (bushfire seson too...). A meal, heavy on the meat whilst traditional, is almost too much for many southern hemisphere-ites.

Do you think he would Wendy? G.B.S. has so many hilarious but moving quotes about lots of social issues - women's rights and beyond. I love the image of him greeting guests with doorstop-sized wedges of cake! It's a fun dish, I must say.

Callipygia, Edward is unique among teenage boys in some ways - loves yoga and embraces any strange combination of foods served up to him. Lucky me. When they are treated well and served beautifully vegetables do steal the show. Bless those cows...

So pleased Cynthia!

Of course, Val, it never occurred to me, but yes, pumpkin does fit into your seasons (for once) as well!

Thank you Vegeyum. I don't know what to say...that won't last for long though. My approach to the photos is mostly about process - about the ingredients, the tools and the little moments that make cooking itself playful. I rarely get the urge to plate up and then play - usually by that stage, I and the diners are too hungry! I too loved that shot of the tea towel and slotted spoon. Thank you.

Nora B. said...

This sounds amazing, something I would love to try. I love the combination of flavours. Thanks for sharing!

MEM said...

Just this morning I was eating zucchini with hazelnuts and thinking, wow, that's a pretty amazing combination. And then I added some prunes, also great. I'm wondering what the next evolutionary step in the squash-net-driedfruit chain is....mint? You're already there...great recipe.