Ex-MasterChef contestant Rukmini Iyer says one-dish dinners are the way to go
Food stylist and former MasterChef contestant Rukmini Iyer talks Ella Walker through her new veggie cookbook
IF THERE'S ever been a decent rule for Monday to Friday mealtimes, it should be Rukmini Iyer's. "Weeknight dinners shouldn't be s**t," says the food stylist and cook, over her homemade Bourbon biscuits. "They should be nice, but low effort."
The 33-year-old, who you're likely to recognise as a contestant on MasterChef 2013, has gone and written a whole cookbook packed with recipes that fits this bill.
The Green Roasting Tin is the vegetarian and vegan follow-up to her debut, The Roasting Tin, created for time-poor home cooks. It hinges on chucking a whole load of ingredients into a single tin and roasting it all into speedy, tasty, flavourful life.
The idea for it, she recalls, was triggered by tacos and getting home absolutely shattered from work, in no mood to cook.
"I'm on my feet all day styling – it's a bit like cheffing, you never sit down – but I like eating something fresh when I get in, but I didn't want to stand and stir because I'd been standing all day."
So instead, she grabbed all the ingredients she needed for tacos, popped them in a tin, and "blasted it all under the grill". From then on, her frying pans pretty much knew their days were numbered.
In the book, you'll find warm Indonesian gado gado potato salad that is pure assembly, drizzled with a quick peanut sauce; an earthy leek and puy lentil gratin with a crisp, cheesy topping; and scored aubergines slathered in miso.
"Because it's all roasted, you think it might be quite heavy and not fresh, but there's so many fresh things you can just throw on top afterwards," muses Iyer. It's all about layers, she explains. "You want colour, you want a variety, and you want texture. No using curly parsley as a garnish like they did at school!"
Iyer cooked in a casual way at university, but it was while studying for a law conversion degree – which she hated – that food as a career began to occur to her. She went from drawing meal ideas in her margins during lectures, to graduating, putting down a deposit for cookery school, and then getting a call the next day to say she'd been picked to appear on MasterChef. She can't bring herself to watch the show now ("It's too stressful") but since then, she's worked in the kitchens of Michelin-starred chefs Tom Kitchin and Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir.
"It's really intense – it's a great way to learn because you get really quick because you have to be," she says of her restaurant stints. "It's this incredible focus when you're doing service, your brain has to be razor sharp, and that's really exhilarating."
She found food styling more attractive than the relentlessness of restaurant cooking though and began assisting on shoots ("Which means a lot of washing up"). Iyer now runs her own – which is why the boot of her car is awash with blenders, gas burners and electric whisks. "It's amazing because you get to work with your hands."
While her whole family's now veggie ("They all went, one by one"), she tends to eat plant-based meals four nights a week, and the rule is: "I want to not miss meat when I'm eating something veggie."
As she notes: "You've got to be more creative when you've got a plate that doesn't have meat on it."
And when she does buy meat, it's almost always free range and organic ("I don't want to eat unhappy meat"). However, Iyer is fully aware that's not an economically viable option for all. "I appreciate that I'm in a position to do that," she explains, "but not everyone is – you can't ram that stuff down people's throats."
And so, this latest recipe collection is the mid-point on a Venn diagram that provides week-night supper answers – and support – whether you're carnivorous, vegetarian, flexitarian, rushed for time, on a budget, or just lack confidence in the kitchen. Plus, Iyer adds: "You can never have too many vegetarian recipes."
The only sad thing about this book, she admits, "is that it hasn't got cakes in it". Maybe next time.
:: The Green Roasting Tin: Vegan And Vegetarian One Dish Dinners by Rukmini Iyer, photography by David Loftus, is published by Square Peg, priced £16.99. Below are three recipes from the book for you to try.
LEEK AND PUY LENTIL GRATIN WITH A CRUNCHY FETA TOPPING
(Serves 4 generously)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
500g leeks, thinly sliced
2tsp sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
500g vac-packed cooked Puy lentils
300ml creme fraiche
125g feta cheese, crumbled
50g panko or fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/ gas 6. Put the butter and garlic into a roasting tin and pop into the oven to melt while you get on with slicing the leeks. Mix the sliced leeks with the melted garlic butter, season well with the sea salt and black pepper, then return to the oven to roast for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, stir through the Puy lentils, creme fraiche and another good scatter of sea salt, then top with the feta cheese and breadcrumbs. Drizzle with the olive oil, then return to the oven for a further 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Serve the gratin hot, with a mustard or balsamic dressed green salad alongside.
1kg Charlotte potatoes, halved
2tbsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
240g green beans
A handful of fresh coriander, to serve
For the dressing:
50g crunchy peanut butter
80ml coconut milk
30ml lime juice
1 1/2tbsp soy sauce
1 fresh red chilli, grated
2.5cm ginger, grated
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/ gas 6. Mix the potatoes in a roasting tin with the oil and salt, then transfer to the oven and cook for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing. Depending on your brand of peanut butter, you may need to add a little more coconut milk so you have a thick, spoonable dressing consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Once the potatoes have had 40 minutes, add the green beans and beansprouts. Add a splash more oil if needed, then return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. Sprinkle the potatoes and vegetables with the coriander and serve warm or at room temperature, with the dressing alongside.
MISO AUBERGINES WITH TOFU, SESAME AND CHILLI
2 aubergines, halved lengthways
250g firm organic tofu, cut into 1.5cm slices
100g spring greens, thickly sliced
75g miso paste
1tbsp sesame oil
2.5cm ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
For the dressing:
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2cm ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 limes, zest and juice
30ml soy sauce
30ml sesame oil
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
30g sesame seeds
300g white rice
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/ gas 6. Cut deep cross-hatches into each aubergine half, then transfer to a roasting tin along with the tofu and spring greens. Mix the miso paste with the sesame oil, ginger and garlic, then rub this into everything in the roasting tin. Transfer to the oven and roast for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the dressing, mix the chilli, ginger, garlic, lime zest and juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and spring onions together. Tip this dressing over the aubergine and tofu as soon as it comes out of the oven, then scatter with the sesame seeds. Serve hot with rice alongside.