Despite common belief, I do live on a tightly controlled budget. Sometimes, I overdo it with large cuts of meat and expensive cheeses. Those are the times where a vegan dish fits the bill. And guess what? I managed to make one worthy of posting! This dish is a spelt risotto with super caramelized Mediterranean vegetables that send flavour blooming through the grains. Punctuated with fried basil and lemon zest, this was a dynamic winner that won't hurt your wallet.
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 Red Onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 Stalks of Celery, finely sliced
1 Aubergine, cut into cubes
2 Courgettes, sliced
1 Green Capsicum, Sliced
400g Chestnut Mushrooms, sliced
1 Handful of Peas
Zest of One Lemon
1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
1 Teaspoon Tomato Paste
1 Cup of Vegetable Stock
One Big Handful of Basil Leaves
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
Flaky Sea Salt
In a large frying pan, get a decent amount of olive oil to a medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, capsicum and celery. Saute on a medium heat until soft and browning. Then, add the aubergine, courgettes and mushroom.
Continue to saute until the vegetables are mushy and tender. Essentially, you're cooking out a decent amount of moisture, reducing them down to their most concentrated flavours. They should be nicely caramelized. Add the vinegar, paprika and vegetable stock. Cook away the stock.
Once it's dried up again, add the spelt to the mixture. Gently fry the spelt for five minutes until well coated in the vegetables. Cover the whole thing with water, add the tomato paste, then simmer until the spelt is tender (about 20-25 minutes, in my experience). If you need to add more water to get it over the line, do so, you won't spoil it and the grain in pretty hardy! Once it's tender, the gluten from the spelt will start thicken it into a risotto-esque texture - just not as creamy. I found it to be a lighter eat that risotto. At this time, add the peas. Continue to simmer until the peas are cooked.
In a separate frying pan, fry your basil leaves on a medium heat it a generous amount of olive oil until they darken, and look "saturated". Take them out, and they'll become cripsy!
Season the risotto really well with salt and pepper. Serve with a pile of peppery watercress on top and a sprinkling of lemon zest.