National Vegetarian Week: Our places to eat, foods to buy and recipes to try
National Vegetarian Week is in full swing and we've put together a selection of interview snippets, recipes and lovely legume-based treats and restaurants to try from east London and beyond.
First up, our review of Barbican veggie eatery, Amico Bio.
It must take a chef with utmost confidence in his craft to pair up a simple plate of pasta with lemon for a main course menu.
Three words - tagliolini al limone (£9) - two ingredients and one hungry Wharfer made a perfect sextet during my post-work trip to organic vegetarian Italian restaurant, Amico Bio.
And courage in the freshness of citrus and the wholesome nature of the home-made dough paid off.
Beforehand an attractive opener of rustic focaccia, grissini and sourdough made on the premises had proved divine, coupled with a fresh selection of olive miste (£3).
My friend and I then tucked into antipasti of chargrilled white asparagus with spinach and kinara (£7) and mozzarella with fennel, cucumber salad and pesto (£8).
Then came the simple pasta, injected with a striking sour tang from the lemon juice, with slices atop the mound of ribbons to add extra bite.
Italian ice cream and a sweet and sticky jam tart (£6) rounded off our time pleasantly immersed in this slice of Italy in the City.
Next, why not check out the Arabica Food & Spice Company, in Borough Market?
We quizzed James Walters, the man behind Arabica Food & Spice Company, about the veggie grub on offer at his stall in Borough Market.
Dishes are served up every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with an Arabica restaurant due to launch in the same venue next month:
■ What can we expect to find at your stall?
The favourites at the moment are smoked courgette dip - chargrilled courgettes mashed with thick strained yogurt, olive oil, lemon and fresh mint, spinach kibbeh - bulgur wheat parcels stuffed with long leaf spinach, pine nuts and sumac and tabbouleh - a salad of parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon zest and an aromatic, spiced dressing.
■ Do they change with the seasons?
We do rotate our classics but a dish like Tabbouleh features 365. It's one of those quintessential Levantine dishes that customers always expect.
■ What's the latest addition to your veggie offerings?
A recent summer classic returning to the stall is our shankleesh salad. We make the sharp, tangy spiced cheese ourselves from yogurt. It takes about four weeks. It's a brilliant dish that screams summer with cherry tomatoes, red onion, olive oil and lots of fresh parsley and mint.
Another dish that will go on shortly is green wheat freekeh with fennel, lemon and toasted nuts.
We're just waiting on a shipment of freekeh to arrive from Jordan.
■ Are veggies a good partner to spice?
Absolutely. Have you ever seen the film Perfume?
I think of spices in the same way. It's all about understanding them and how they will react when you cook with them.
■ Do you get many meat-eaters craving your veggie produce?
We attract a wide range of omnivores. Some make a whole meal up from our products while some will buy a pot of tabbouleh to serve alongside a piece of rib-eye they've bought at the Ginger Pig.
■ What veggie foods can we expect to see on the stall this summer?
I don't want to give it all away. You'll have to come on down and check it out for yourself.
Go to arabicafoodandspice.com.
And for a veggie tipple?
Say cheers and raise cocktail glasses filled with vegetable-infused concoctions at Grand Union Bars across the capital.
Staff at the chain of eight, which includes venues in Brixton, Camberwell and Chancery Lane, will be raiding the greengrocers in celebration of National Vegetarian Week.
Tastebud-ticklers including Asparagus and Beetroot Bloody Mary, Carrot Negroni and Country Garden, which combines gin, cucumber, soda and elderflower, will be available from May 19 to 25, for £5 each.
Go to grandunionbars.com.
What about the chef behind one of London's newest eateries?
A foodie discovery inspired chef Scott Hallsworth to try to add an extra tickle to the taste buds of diners at his new restaurant.
The 38-year-old Australian is at the helm of Kurobuta, now serving up Japanese small plates to diners from a swish venue in Marble Arch, in addition to its King's Road base.
He's embraced the power of umami receptors within his Shogun-style cuisine saying they shine a light on the ability of the palette to embrace the savoury, in addition to a dish's sweet, salty, sour and bitter aspects.
"It's all about the flavour factor," said Scott. "We try to think about dishes packed with glutamates in, so things like soy sauce and miso have a huge level in them.
"Western chefs would make a stock with bones and veg, but Japanese stock is always made with kombu - a kelp - and put that in you have got a glutamate flavour burst."
After three weeks of service in Kendal Street, he said Kurobuta's nasa dengaku of aubergine baked with miso was "going down a treat with everyone".
A traditional Japanese summer treat of chilled somen noodles with shiitake broth and tempura crunchies is in the pipeline when the warm weather hits.
Go to kurobuta-london.com.
And finally, how about whipping up a veggie dish yourself, from Leon's latest cookbook?
Bursting with colour and mouth-watering ideas for breakfast and brunch dishes to pasta and salads, Leon's Fast Vegetarian cookbook is an ideal companion for veggie chefs.
The 150 culinary creations within the chain's fifth tome have been put together by Jane Baxter and Henry Dimbleby to embrace the concept of fast, meat-free food using fresh vegetables that will nevertheless make an impact.
Recipes include the visually-striking Jackson Pollock salad with camargue red rice, dried apricots and broad beans and, for those with a sweet tooth, Li'l Bob's black bean chocolate chilli.
The dishes are also designed to be quick and use ingredients that you're likely to have in your cupboard.
This was especially handy for me as, after a busy day in Canary Wharf, I was lacking in inspiration and high in the hunger stakes.
And there's few things more speedy than a soup so I whipped out the book and embarked on a sweet potato, orange and cardamom concoction.
It promised a "fragrant, stunningly coloured" tea-time treat within half an hour - and it delivered, in hearty, orange bowlfuls. With a simple ingredient list, it packed a punch in flavour, partly due to the cardamom seeds, which added depth, intrigue and a welcome spice, as well as an attractive aroma to my kitchen.
The liquid once whizzed in the processor was silky, smooth and earthy, with a sweet tang from the orange adding freshness and lightening up what could have been a stodgy blend.
Suffice to say, this book's already found a place on my kitchen shelf.
Leon's Fast Vegetarian by Jane Baxter and Henry Dimbleby is published by Conran Octopus, priced £25.