From charring to shocking – chef and author Richard Buckley shares the most unusual (and delicious) ways to make your fruit and vegetables sing. Flexitarians rejoice!

‘Plant-based’ is no longer a buzzword, it’s now the healthiest way of eating we know. A third of people in the UK are stopping or reducing their meat eating, with one in eight of us vegetarian or vegan. A further 21% trying a flexitarian diet (a largely plant-based diet with occasional meat and fish).

With this behaviour change comes a new wave of experimental chefs, making plants the star of their plates. In his new book Plants Taste Better (£25, Jacqui Small), chef Richard Buckley argues that there’s no better way of cooking that ‘root to fruit’.

“This means looking at ingredients as a whole, not just as components to be cooked. Not every part of a plant is edible but many parts that we normally throw away can be used in surprising and delicious ways. From fresh seeds to cauliflower leaves – we don’t think enough about the treasures we’re missing out on!”

Ready to refresh your cooking style? Richard gives us seven surprisingly scrumptious ways to cook up your fruit and vegetables.

1. Get charring and sizzling

Don’t be afraid of grilling and charring your fruit and veg. “Burning veg helps to bring out the biscuity, rich flavours so often missing from plant-based cookery. Boiled asparagus is one thing, barbequed asparagus is a whole other beast. Plants can handle fire and grown-up flavours too.” Try Richard’s charred leek [LINK] recipe.

2. Make crispy snacks

“Making tasty veggie crisps is easier than you think – sweet potato and Cavolo Nero (‘Italian kale’, a dark green cabbage) are the best for this.” Richard suggests peeling and slicing your veg very thinly with a mandolin, sprinkling with salt and a little sugar before leaving for 20 minutes to soften. Pat the slices dry and bake them on a tray lined with baking parchment for around 7 minutes. As they cool, they’ll become lovely and crispy.

3. Create shocking colour

Ever find your vegetables turning dull and soggy after cooking? Try blanching or ‘shocking’ them to make them taste and look amazing on the plate. “Firstly, make sure your water is at boiling point when you add your vegetables, with a little added salt – they’ll cook quicker this way. Then, plunge them into a bowl of ice-cold water, which stops them cooking instantly. Leave them for a few seconds, before removing and serving.” This way, they’ll stay green and crisp.

4. Do it with heart

“Cauliflower is now a contender for one of my favourite vegetables and I have a recipe that puts the stem at the heart of the meal.” To make Richard’s ‘cauli hearts’, he suggests cutting the stalk and top from the cauliflower, then cutting across the cauliflower in half and in half again to create four discs. Use a cookie cutter to carefully cut out the centre of these discs. They’re delicious when lightly fried with fenugreek seeds and blanched almonds. You can use the florets and offcuts for roasting or purées.

5. Play it smooth

“I make a lot of purées – they’re a great way to use offcuts of vegetables and they bring vibrant colour and a creamy texture that can help to lift a dish. They also make fantastic dressings and dips – imagine slow roasted carrots dressed in a puree of their own leaves.” All you need to do is cook your veg until soft and blend with water, olive oil and seasoning. Some of Richard’s suggested purée creations include asparagus and parsley, parsnip and shallot and broad bean and cayenne pepper.

6. Try a fruity salad

Who says a salad needs to be boring? Add a burst of flavour with some seasonal fruit. “I love to throw fruits in my salad. A simple green bean salad is much better with gooseberries or raspberries in it. Put some strawberries in a summer herb salad ­ and wow!”

7. Pickle

“Pickles are a great way to add acidity and variety to any plate. Occasional shots of acidity help wake up the palate and keep things interesting. I use a pickling method called ‘123’ – one part sugar, two parts vinegar, three parts water. This gives a milder pickle than you may be used to but it makes it very versatile.” Richard recommends trying pickled shallot, cauliflower, carrot or beetroot.

Want to experiment with more fruit and veg at home? Try these three delicious summery recipes:

 

1. Summer gazpacho

vegetable gazpacho in bowls

This is rustic peasant food, made from the freshest, simplest ingredients. It’s best made a day in advance for the flavours to mature. Serve it cold with crusty bread and a fresh green salad.

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 3 spring onions (scallions), coarsely chopped
  • 1 red (bell) pepper, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and central stem removed
  • 15g basil
  • 10g oregano
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp) red wine vinegar
  • 1kg ripe, juicy tomatoes (the best you can find)
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper

For the garnish: 

  • ½ cucumber, half diced and half sliced and rolled
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 Romano red pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion or spring onion (scallion), sliced
  • 16 small basil leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method:  

  1. Put all the gazpacho ingredients, except the tomatoes, salt and pepper, into a blender and process slowly until semi-smooth (this is not meant to be silky smooth). Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Quarter the tomatoes and add to the blender. Process until almost smooth, with just a bit of texture, then add to the mixing bowl along with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and store in the fridge overnight for the flavours to come together.
  3. Serve cold with a garnish of cucumber, tomatoes, Romano red pepper, onion and basil. Add a good glug of olive oil to each bowl and serve.

 

2. Pan-fried cauliflower and caper salad

cauliflower and caper salad

Serve this vegetable salad with a caper pine nut and chilli dressing to make the cauliflower really sing. Pan-frying the cauliflower in this way also means it fries unevenly – leading to charred tasty florets and softer sweeter ones.

Serves: 4

Ingredients: 

For the cauliflower:

  • 2 large cauliflowers
  • 20g gram flour
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 60ml extra virgin olive oil, for frying

For the dressing:

  • 40g small capers in salt
  • 25g pine nuts
  • 80ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, puréed
  • 2 red chillies (not too hot), cut in half, deseeded and finely sliced
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 40ml lemon juice
  • 20g parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 20g mint leaves, finely sliced
  • ¾ tsp sea salt

Method:  

  1. Put 4 litres of water and 3½ tbsp of salt into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.
  2. Separate the cauliflower into florets and peel off any woody skin on the stem. Add the florets to the boiling water and simmer gently for 4–6 minutes until cooked but still al dente (a knife will just pass through the stem). Shock in ice-cold water, then drain and pat dry.
  3. Preheat the oven to (fan) 160°C/180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.
  4. Make the dressing. Place the capers in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Drain and re-cover with water, then leave to soak for 1 hour.
  5. Put the pine nuts on a small baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Leave to cool slightly, then crush gently using a pestle and mortar, so they are just broken with some whole pieces.
  6. Remove the capers from the water (leaving the salt) and dry on kitchen (paper) towel.
  7. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and add the capers. Fry gently until they begin to go crispy, then add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, stir in the chillies and pine nuts and allow to cool. Add the lemon zest and juice, parsley, mint and salt to the saucepan. Mix well.
  8. Mix the gram flour and paprika together in a small bowl. Lightly sprinkle it over the cauliflower florets, making sure there is a light coating with no lumps, then rub it on. Turn the cauliflower over and do the same on the other side.
  9. Heat the olive oil in a large, wide-based frying pan, place the cauliflower in the pan and fry until a deep golden brown. Turn over and repeat on the other side. You may need to cook it in batches, adding more oil if necessary, keeping the cooked cauliflower warm.
  10. Serve the cauliflower with the dressing drizzled generously over the top.

 

3. Charred baby leeks with Romesco sauce

Pictured above

If you can, cook these charred leeks on the barbecue. The outer leaves of the leek burn and protect the inner layers that cook slowly and become melting and sweet. You can create a similar effect with a griddle pan – just make sure you have the kitchen extractor fan on full! Serve with crusty bread and enjoy in the sunshine!

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

For the charred leeks:

  • 8-12 baby leeks

For the Romesco sauce:

  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
  • 2 red (bell) peppers
  • 25g blanched hazelnuts
  • 25g almonds
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • Generous ½ tsp cayenne
  • Pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to (fan) 160°C/180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Wash the leeks and trim the dark green tops, leaving the roots intact.
  2. Cut the base from the garlic bulb to expose the cloves. Drizzle with a little olive oil and put onto a small baking tray. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes or until soft and lightly coloured, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  3. Squeeze the bottom of the bulb to pop the cloves out and put the cloves into a blender.
  4. Rub the red peppers with the measured olive oil and place on a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes until the skin blackens and blisters but the peppers aren’t mushy. Remove from the oven and put in a small bowl. Cover with cling film, leave until cold, then peel off the skin and remove the stem and any seeds. Roughly chop the flesh and add to the blender.
  5. Mix the hazelnuts and almonds together and put on a small baking tray. Roast in the oven for 5–7 minutes until golden but not very dark. Transfer to the blender.
  6. Add the rest of the ingredients to the blender and blend until very smooth. Check and adjust the seasoning.
  7. Heat a large griddle pan until very hot. Add the leeks and leave until the underside begins to blacken. Turn them over by a quarter and repeat. Keep turning them over by a quarter until the whole leek is blackened and the inside is melting, then remove from the griddle and allow to cool slightly. Cut off the outer charred layer and peel away, leaving just the succulent soft middle.
  8. Serve the leeks with the Romesco sauce. Delicious with a crusty loaf of bread.

Recipes extracted from Plants Taste Better by Richard Buckley (£25, Jacqui Small).

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