For those readers fond of the double entendre, I should first say that by this I am referring to the meaning pertaining to food, i.e. the British stereotypical standard, run-of-the-mill, unremarkable dinner, with a meat and two kinds of vegetable. It is still a bland dinnertime trap that it is easy to fall into in the UK, especially at home, but also when eating out.
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and unusually, I was visiting my parents that weekend. I don’t often see my mum on the day, as we live so far away, so I thought as a gift I would prepare dinner. Considering all the stupendous meals my mum has cooked for family and friends over the years it’s the least I could do.
The problem with eating out on Mother’s Day, much like Valentine’s Day or Christmas is that it is not always advisable to visit any but the finest restaurants in my experience. Somewhat understandably, menus are more designed for mass catering on such days, restaurants are invariably busy and noisy and staff overstretched. Often generic ‘Mother’s Day set menus’ are on offer that are not necessarily representative of what an establishment usually serves.
My alternative meat and two veg was delivered for main course consisting of sirloin steak, beetroot and sweet potatoes. In a final attempt to purge Ottolenghi recipes from my brain (actually this is a lie, I will not be able to resist, but temporarily, at least), I chose to adapt these from his column in The Guardian as I considered these to be as far from the bland meat and two veg image as a dinner could achieve – without actually removing the components that exemplify the concept.
Harissa marinated beef sirloin with preserved lemon sauce
I found this complement of ingredients irresistibly attractive. I bought local Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks from a very good local butchers.The slices of steak were not too thick and were given no more than a flash fry and rested. The flavour of this quality beef was exceptional. Although the sauce was described as preserved lemon, and this was the hook that drew me towards it, in actual fact, it predominated of tomatoes a bit too much for my palate. That said, the addition of sweet roasted yellow peppers and some Hungarian sweet paprika as well as chilli flakes enhanced the depth of flavour and the preserved lemon gave a distinctive tang which accompanied the marinated steak well without overwhelming its flavour.
1½ tbsp harissa
4 beef sirloin steaks, trimmed (about 750g total)
Salt and black pepper
2 large yellow peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
400g tin chopped Italian tomatoes
½ tsp flaked chilli
¼ tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tbsp preserved lemon skin, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped parsley
For the sauce:
- Rub the harissa into the sirloin steaks, season with a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and leave to marinade for at least an hour (or in the fridge overnight).
- To make the sauce, roast the peppers in the oven for at 200C for 45 minutes until charred all over. Place in a bowl, cover with clingfilm until cool, then peel them and cut into long, thin strips. Discard the skin and seeds (my mum kindly did this bit while we were walking the dogs).
- Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds on medium heat, add the tomatoes, chilli, paprika, a quarter teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, bring to a simmer and cook for seven minutes.
- Add the pepper strips, preserved lemon skin and parsley, and cook for seven minutes, until the sauce thickens but is still easy to pour. Set aside and allow to come to room temperature.
For the steak:
- Preheat the oven to 100C. Place a ridged griddle pan on a high heat and, when smoking hot, add the steaks and cook for a minute a side.
- Transfer to a baking tray and rest for 4 minutes, for rare, 6 if you prefer medium. Serve with the sauce.
Roast beetroot salad with yoghurt and preserved lemon
I have always enjoyed the pairing of beetroot with roasted cumin and the extra dimensions of the fresh dill and chicory delight and amuse the palate with contrasting and complementary layers of flavour.
2 tbsp olive oil
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1 small red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
20g preserved lemon skin, roughly chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
30g dill, roughly shredded
Salt and black pepper
3 tsp tahini paste
200g Greek yoghurt
1 chicory, cut widthways into 0.5cm slices
- Heat the oven to 220C. Wrap the beetroots individually in tin foil, place on a baking tray and roast for 30-60 minutes, depending on size and quality – check that they’re done by inserting a knife: it should go in smoothly. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut into 0.5cm-thick slices and transfer to a mixing bowl to cool down.
- Heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the cumin seeds. Cook for a few minutes, until they start to pop, then pour the seeds and oil over the beetroot. Add the onion, preserved lemon, lemon juice, half the dill, a teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Mix well.
- Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir the tahini into the yoghurt and add to the salad, along with the chicory. Give it a minimal stir, so the yoghurt and chicory mix in only slightly and there is still some clear distinction between the red and the white, with some pink ripple. Sprinkle over the remaining dill and serve.
Roast sweet potato with red onion, tahini and za’atar
I have saved the best ’till last. I have made this roast sweet potato dish before and it is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the best vegetable side dishes I have ever eaten. The colours of the dish are intense and appealing but as much as it looks delectable, the flavours combined are truly mind-blowing. The first time I made this I served it with chicken, hazelnuts and rosewater. The fact that most of this side dish was demolished before we got round to eating the chicken is testament to its deliciousness . It served yet again to remind me that vegetarian food can be more delicious than so many meat-based dishes.
Although the recipe can be found in ‘Jerusalem’ using butternut squash, I prefer sweet potato so substituted accordingly.
Preheat oven to 200C
700g of sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 large red onion, cut into wide slices
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp Maldon salt
a few twists of black pepper
3 tbsp tahini paste
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, pounded into a paste
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp za’atar
handful coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Flaky sea salt
- In a bowl mix the sweet potatoes and onion with the olive oil, a teaspoon of Maldon salt and a few twists of black pepper.
- Spread the vegetables on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 30 minutes, or until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through and charred a little. You may need to pick out the onion earlier, lest it burn.
- While the vegetables are roasting, make the sauce. Place the tahini in a small bowl along with 2 tablespoons of water, lemon juice, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey. You might need to add more water or tahini, depending on consistency.
- Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan until golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a small bowl.
- Spread the vegetables out on a large plate or a serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts, followed by za’atar and the parsley. Add a few flakes of the Maldon salt and serve.