Plant-based and pretty special; the small plates of Slaw…

Eat the rainbow. Words we’ve tried so hard and so virtuously and so strenuously to live by in recent years that sometimes, the joy seems to have seeped out of mealtimes because let’s be clear, there is no place in this world for undressed leaves. Frankly we have enough to deal with right now without naked cabbage rearing its unadorned head.

Now it’s more like eat the frickin’ kaleidoscope and what an unbridled, uncomplicated, unabashed joy that is to do when places like Slaw make it so easy. Plant-based bowls, flushed with colour and alive with texture, are characteristic of the small, stylish restaurant that opened earlier this year, mere feet from similarly vegan sibling Wild Food Café.

Starting life as a series of supper clubs and opening on Islington’s Upper Street in February, Slaw’s ambition is to make plant-based food both realistic and accessible through the clever handling of fresh, simple ingredients and it’s fantastic to see it sailing past its original predicted residency of five months.

Understated in design, bold in delivery, warm in service, Slaw possesses a quietly assured menu that subtly transforms itself with the changing of the seasons outside; strapping spears of tender early summer asparagus gave way only recently to defiantly blousy legs of broccoli nestled with peas, quinoa and pickled radish.

Small plates are designed to be shared so after starting with pillowy slabs of salt speckled, golden crusted, house made focaccia that’s exactly what we did, picking all the dishes on offer and hesitating only at the mushrooms. Sorry guys but unless they’re squishy, rolled in coconut and found in the local multi-screen pick’n’mix, I can’t get on board with the fungi.

Carrots arrive roasted, pickled and laying across dollops of carrot hummus like the tastiest pile of edible pick-up sticks imaginable. Showcasing the restaurants root-to-stem ethos means the pesto dashed across the top is made from feathery carrot tops and a tangy crumb made from hazelnuts and rye delivers a crunch that lingers nicely making this a must-order.

Beetroot dahl is thick, silky and as pink as Barbie’s dream sports car with a sweet, earthy bite to the lentils that stops it from descending into mush. Topped with a glossy puddle of cucumber raita, this is the dish that chewy, puffy flatbreads were made for scooping up…

…as is the star of the evening – dukkah sprinkled, roasted cherry tomatoes and aubergine with nutty black rice lazily paddling around in a pool of spiced plum tomato sauce. Dreamily creamy with layers of deep, sweet, almost smoky flavour, this is a new take on summers’ bounty of tomatoes that will have you scraping the dish for every last smudge of vivid terracotta.

Florets of cauliflower are tinted golden yellow, fragrant with spices, softly spiked with flaked almonds and draped with a bright, grassy coriander dressing that stops this from being just another Middle Eastern ode to the humble cauli.

The loveliest thing about Slaw is that whilst some of their dishes are aspirational and unlikely to be replicated in your own kitchen, others, like the cauliflower, are easy to imagine throwing together with confidence for a mid-week supper and that’s brilliant because that’s what the best places should do. Deliver food that tastes great and gives you a break from your own dining table but also encourage you to think about how you can take inspiration from their menu for another night.

The current vegan landscape of London is vast and at times it’s unforgiving to those dipping a toe into the waters of plant-based cooking but the honest and passionate exploration of vegetables apparent at Slaw is something to be sought out and celebrated.

Roasted Beetroot Salad with Pea Shoots, Lentils & Blue Cheese…

There are so many glorious pockets of beauty in the UK that are unparalleled the world over; one such place is West Wittering which is home to an astonishingly peaceful stretch of land. Set on the southern coast between Portsmouth & Worthing, this particular spot has a prettiness that as a London dweller I’d almost forgotten existed and which transported me to a time of Famous Five, ginger beer, potted meat, sticky bun, homemade picnic adventures where daring romps could be had and dastardly plots could be foiled among the sailboats, crab ponds & swaying reeds of the shore.

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As well as diving headfirst into my Blyton-esque daydreams, a weekend trip here gave me the opportunity to indulge in something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance – Pick Your Own. Yessiree, my romanticised visions of tumbling tin buckets full of fruit and of lips & fingers berry stained & sweet was about to come true…

…ok, so arriving slightly too late in the season for the mountains of glossy berries I was anticipating was a slight disappointment, however it was more than made up for by the absolute bounty of beetroot that was mine for the picking! Can we just stop for a moment and appreciate these leafy beauties? Honestly, I’m not sure my darling friend and co-picker K had ever been witness to the excitement that could be generated by the chance to pick one’s own dinner.

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Sat on the train hours later speeding back to London I found myself contemplating all the lovely things that could be made from my earth-dusted haul…a thick & creamy dip tinged with mint? A crusty, golden loaf of beetroot dotted bread? A soothing bowl of ruby soup swirled with creme fraiche?

As much as all of these ideas made me rue the fact I hadn’t pulled out a dozen more handfuls of the fibre rich root vegetable whose benefits include boosting stamina, lowering blood pressure & fighting inflammation, I’m an enthusiastic champion of all things roasted so that was going to be the destiny for my harvest. Caramelised rounds of beetroot with sweet pea shoots, pungent blue cheese nuggets, fizzing pomegranate seeds & drizzles of cooling yoghurt, the perfect dish for transitioning between the warm lazy summer and crispy leafed autumn days.

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Roasted Beetroot Salad with Pea Shoots, Lentils & Blue Cheese

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 6-8 fresh raw beetroot (depending on size)
  • 1 large sweet pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 120g dried green lentils (the ones that don’t need pre-soaking)
  • 100g peashoots
  • 60g pumpkin seeds
  • the seeds of 1 large pomegranate
  • 150g blue cheese, crumbled
  • 150g low fat natural yoghurt (thin with a little water if you prefer a looser dressing)

Optional

  • Muhummara – this is a classic roasted red pepper & breadcrumb dip which is equally gorgeous on a light earthy dish like this or simply spread on flatbreads and drizzled with pomegranate molasses; if you have a good Middle Eastern shop nearby (mine came from Honey & Co), you’re sure to find it there, otherwise the always wonderful Ottolenghi has a deliciously uncomplicated recipe.
  • Ottolenghi, http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/muhammara-shop
  • Honey & Co, http://honeyandco.co.uk/cakes-products/

 

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190
  • Wash your beetroot carefully, pat dry, remove the tops & tails and cut into slices between 0.5 – 1cm thick; try and keep your slices a constant thickness so they cook evenly.
  • Toss the beetroot slices with the olive oil and balsamic vinagar and roast in a baking tray in the oven for approximately 40-45 minutes or until a sharp knife slices through them with ease.
  • Slice your red onion into wedges and gently pull the segments apart then slice your sweet pepper into long strips.
  • Once the beetroot have been roasting for 20 minutes, turn them over and add the onion & pepper to the same baking tray before placing back in the oven for the remaining 20-25 minutes.
  • Place your lentils in a saucepan and cover with water – I tend to boil the kettle and add that water directly to the pan to save time & gas usage on my hob!
  • Bring the water to the boil for 10 minutes uncovered before reducing the heat and simmering for a further 15 minutes until the lentils are tender; drain well and set aside.
  • Arrange your pea shoots on a serving platter then sprinkle your lentils over the top.
  • Place your roasted vegetables on next then scatter your pumpkin & pomegranate seeds over them.
  • Add your blue cheese crumbles and then drizzle the natural yoghurt over everything and finish with dollops of the muhammara if using then serve immediately.

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Pearl barley risotto with beetroot, goat’s cheese & walnuts…

 

There is something ridiculously comforting about risotto. Like snuggling under a softly plump duvet on the sofa while rain spatters the window panes outside or coming home and peeling off your work clothes before climbing with utter gratitude into your sweats and slippers, the concept, creation & consumption of this dish is one of the most soothing, reassuring & satisfying things you can do in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Granted it’s not the fastest dinner you can throw on the table and you do need to devote more time to it than you might do to say, cheesey spaghetti hoops on toast – one of the greatest meals of all time in case you were wondering – but the end results are so worth it.

This particular version of the dish whose life began in northern Italy several hundred years ago does stray a little of the well-trodden path of classic cookery but I hope the forgiveness of the Italians might be bestowed upon me as they recognise a twist on tradition as nothing more than the truest form of flattery and appreciation.  Read More