My wife is vegetarian which means that by default my own diet is largely vegetarian as well. Some of my friends pity me, “don’t you miss meat?” they ask. The short answer is no.
I could, if I wished, prepare vegetarian and meat-based versions of the same dish by dividing the sauce, or I could cook entirely separate dishes for the two of us. Much as I enjoy cooking, why would I make more work for myself? No, I would rather concentrate on creating one dish that works because it is delicious; if it tastes good then you will be thinking about what is good on your plate rather than thinking “I wish this was steak”.
I am a real fan of quorn meatballs, they have a good firm texture and ‘mouth-feel’, and more importantly they carry flavours really well. My default dish for quorn meatballs is to cook them in a great tomato sauce and serve them with spaghetti. I thought it was time I did something different with them though, so I turned to another cuisine which is big on flavour – the cajun cuisine of the deep south of the USA.
Reliant on green peppers, celery, white pepper and dried herbs to give the sauce a kick, and a very dark roux to give the depth of flavour and thicken the sauce, the flavours can be surprisingly varied just by modifying the relative quantities of green pepper and celery.
Be careful with the white pepper, it is quite fiery and an early version of this dish had me sweating profusely because I was a bit too liberal with it. Be sure to cook it in and the flavours will mellow; experiment with it and tweak it to your own taste. This one is perfect for me.
RECIPE – feeds 2 with leftovers
For the seasoning mix:
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
For the sauce:
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp plain flour
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 400ml tin of chopped tomatoes
1 vegetable stock cube
a dash of tabasco or hot pepper sauce
300g Quorn meatballs
4 spring onions, very finely sliced on an angle
a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped
Prepare all of your ingredients before you do anything else, and combine your seasoning mix in a small bowl. Also combine the onion, celery and green pepper in a small bowl.
In a large pan, over a high heat, heat the oil until it just starts to smoke. Add the flour gradually while whisking constantly, keep it on the heat. Keep on whisking over the heat until the flour and oil are fully combined and smooth, by now you should notice that the roux is starting to change colour. The longer you cook and whisk it the darker it will go. You need to get the colour to a very dark brown, the colour of a hazelnut; be brave, just keep on whisking and if you think you are ever in danger of burning it just lift it away from the heat for a few seconds – just keep on whisking.
When your roux is a very dark brown remove it from the heat and immediately stir in your combined onion, celery and green pepper, and half the seasoning mix. Keep on whisking it all together until the roux and the pan have cooled sufficiently that you can safely leave it for a minute or two and nothing will burn. That should only take a minute or so.
Now add the tomatoes, water, stock cube and tabasco; bring it to the boil and keep on stirring until the sauce has thickened, then simmer gently for ten minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for a further ten minutes.
If you have the time, this is a dish that benefits from resting for a few hours to allow the flavours to develop. If you do so, add the meatballs and turn the heat off. They will cook very gently as the sauce cools and when you are ready to serve just reheat as you normally would.
Add the remainder of the seasoning mix and stir well, then remove from the heat and serve. Garnish with the chopped spring onions and fresh coriander leaves and serve in a bowl alongside Cajun rice.