Monday, 31 October 2016

Vegetarian food: Riverford recipe box review

Recently, after a few months of eating some (good, well-sourced) meat and fish, I've changed tack and gone back to pure vegetarianism. Although it was convenient to eat the same as my kids and family, it didn't feel right to be eating even small amounts of chicken or salmon. 

Back when I was sixteen, I decided to go vegetarian after seeing my dad dismembering a duck to make his own confit de canard. It was an act of protest, nothing to do with animal welfare, more a way to exert some control over what I wanted to eat. Dad is a very proficient, adventurous cook and my childhood eating was defined by the sorts of beautifully elaborate meals that wouldn't look out of place on the cover of a fancy food magazine (of which we had stacks and stacks). We tried everything from a young age. Foods that weren't so mainstream in the 80s, like curries, sushi, tagines, and Thai food, were all presented to us with varying degrees of success. Dad travelled across town to specialist ethnic markets, sourcing lime leaves and lemongrass that he put in the freezer and that made everything taste and smell sour. Ice cube trays would be filled with homemade stocks – woe betide anyone who unwittingly added a fish stock cube to a gin and tonic! Vegetarian food, although gaining in popularity, was still defined by the health food movement and was all brown bread and lentils, ergo not very interesting. 

But that duck was a step too far for me. Influenced by my best friend and our favourite bands of the early nineties who claimed to survive on brown rice alone, I ventured into the world of the vegetarian, where I stayed for years and years, until I had kids.

We'd always planned to bring them up eating the same as us, so a meat-free diet. On the nursery form, I duly ticked the food preference boxes and assumed my little darling was building muscles and growing thanks to a well-balanced veggie diet. Once, we went to a local cafe where I ordered him the kids mezze plate (I know), forgetting to specify the veg one. It arrived, a great slab of ham on the slate. He lunged for it, wolfed it down, swallowed and said 'Mmm, ham. Have ham at nursery!' And that was that. 

Fast forward to now. My favourite foods have always been heavy on the beans and lentils – plonk me in front of a big bowl of chilli and I'm in heaven. So why was I eating meat and not enjoying it? Deciding to switch to pure vegetarianism again was such a relief! It's a way of eating that suits my body so much better, plus I love how adventurous veggie cookery books have become (see faves Anna Jones, Alice Hart, Celia Brooks Brown etc). 

Riverford veg boxes have been on the scene for a while now, with a range of recipes boxes now added to the mix. For £24.95 for two meals (each serving two) or £33.95 for three meals, you can have all the organic, fresh ingredients delivered to your door, along with the recipe card for each meal to follow. Choose the Quick recipe box if you need your meal on the table within 30 minutes. 

So what did we eat? The first meal we cooked was a delicious lentil dal (I refer you to my earlier comment about a love of lentils) that was easily stretched to feed three when a friend turned up unannounced. 

The second was courgette pitta pockets with autumn tabbouleh. Hot with harissa, these huge sandwiches were more than enough for a substantial meal, but the highlight for me was the tabbouleh. Flavour came from the orange zest and juice stirred into the bulgur wheat, while walnuts gave crunch and dates provided a sweet and chewy texture. But the biggest revelation for me was the inclusion of such generous fresh herbs – the parsley and mint acted more like salad leaves than garnish.

And the third? Beetroot hash browns with kale, poached egg and hazelnut breadcrumbs (pictured). I LOVE beetroot. Although I came to it later in life, it's one of my favourite vegetables and I adore it roasted with cumin. This recipe combines beetroot with potatoes and onion, and seasoned with garlic, chervil, horseradish and dill for a bright, vibrant hash brown, served on a bed of kale. Add to this a poached egg and a sprinkling of lemon zesty breadcrumbs and toasted hazelnuts, and voila! The finished dish. It was divine. 

For me, the joy of having some of the choice of cooking taken away from you lies in the surprise element (as with the recipe boxes), but also in necessity being the mother of invention. We also tried out one of the medium veg and fruit boxes, which included a Romanesco cauliflower. Cue alien cauliflower cheese for tea! The kids couldn't quite believe it. (Want to know how to cook Romanesco cauliflower? Head to the Riverford YouTube channel for a one-minute cheat's guide.)

So, would I recommend the Riverford recipe and veg boxes? Of course, it all depends on what sort of cook you are. The veg box I could and would definitely make good use of each week, and the recipe boxes would suit us during some of the more hectic weeks in the calendar. What you can be sure of is that the produce is fresh, organic and delicious, and the recipes are innovative, they work (which can't always be said!), and the resulting meals are tasty and vibrant. And such a good way to add to my constantly expanding vegetarian repertoire. Two thumbs up!

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post. 
Thanks to Riverford for supplying us with the Vegetarian Recipe box and Medium fruit/veg box

Do you like vegetarian food? Care to share your favourite recipe? Leave me a comment!

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