Vegan. It's a word that tends to produce a strong reaction in chefs, whether positive or negative, but with more than half a million people now identifying as vegan in the UK, it's a growing consumer group that can't be ignored by the hospitality sector. Vegan Recipes from the Middle East is a good way for chefs to start thinking about veganism.
Using Middle Eastern cuisine as a starting point for vegan cookery is a great way to approach what many chefs would see as a challenging or uninspiring area of cooking. Iran-born Parvin Razavi has used the cuisines of Iran, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, with their reliance on grains and pulses, nuts, vegetables and fruits, to produce an entire cookbook of simple vegan menu options. From stuffed vegetables and soups to pilafs and pastries, Razavi (food blogger and editor of Biorama, a sustainable lifestyle magazine) has created a collection of ecologically sustainable, fuss-free recipes that can be easily incorporated into a menu.
Recipes are grouped by country rather than course or ingredient, and then by mains, sides, desserts and groups of mezze possibilities, leaving the precise approach open to a chef's creativity, menu and style.
I tested out several Iranian dishes. Some, such as the spinach, pearl barley and chickpea soup (ashee joo) and a spinach and soy yogurt borani were disappointingly bland. But a soy mast-o-khiar (yogurt and cucumber) dip was a refreshingly cool accompaniment to flatbreads (and soy yogurt is an excellent dairy substitute, although Razavi stresses that any plant-based alternative is acceptable).
The mirza ghasemi (aubergine mousse) also went down very well. In particular, the grilled aubergines with a walnut and pomegranate-jewelled crust were a real winner; and the butternut squash tagine and the rice pudding made with almond milk, cardamom, star anise, cloves and cinnamon looked equally appetising.
If you like this, you might enjoy these
Vegan Street Food by Jackie Kearney
On the Side: A Sourcebook of Inspiring Side Dishes by Ed Smith
Keep it Vegan by Áine Carlin
Vegan Recipes from the Middle East (£18.99, Grub Street Publishing)