Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Pea and mint rissotto with toasted pine-nuts

Makes enough to serve 4-6 main portions

As a vegan or vegetarian eating out in restaurants can be an uninspiring event. As meat and fish dishes take the focus and attention of the chefs, vegetarians and vegans (worst still) don't even get a look in. Some restaurants are better than other but for the most part there is very little choice on a menu for a vegan or vegetarian. Risotto is often one of those choices. A vegetarian or vegan risotto done well is
lovely, creamy and full of flavor but not always the case in cafe's and restaurants. It's often bland, lacks flavor because as far as the chefs are concerned, take out butter, chicken stock and parmesan then what else flavor risotto?

Creating flavor is easy. Using vegetable stocks (home-made or powdered) as well as fresh herbs can make up the basis of the flavor. In savory dishes I always use olive oil in place of butter. It give the fatty flavor of butter and adds a richness to any risotto. Garlic and onion or leek, slowly caramelized, also add to the flavor and body of a good risotto.  Spices like nutmeg go beautifully with Pumpkin or Broccoli risotto's. Red wine and mushroom risotto pairs well with fresh thyme or sage or any of the italian herbs. Artichoke heart and roasted fennel risotto again go well with most of the italian herbs and or lemon zest. Using citrus zest, green or black olives, chili, sun-dried tomatoes or capers can bring another level to a simple risotto.
Sometimes, like in this recipe, I want very simple clean flavors to offset the delicateness of peas. You don't need much mint to make the peas sing and when you add pine-nuts, you're adding texture and nuttiness to complete the dish. 

The reason I use brown rice compare to the traditional arborio rice? Purely for nutritional reasons. While arborio rice is very creamy, I have found that if you cook brown rice for a long time and slowly feed it water or vegetable stock you can achieve a creaminess and create a lovely soft textured rice. 

Brown rice is a good source of B vitamins, such as thiamin and niacin, and also provides iron, phosphorus, and magnesium. Although rice is lower in protein than other cereal grains, its protein quality is good because it contains relatively high levels of the amino acid lysine. Brown rice has had only its husk removed during milling With the bran intact, it retains more fiber, folacin, iron, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and trace minerals such as copper and manganese, than other types of rice. Moreover, brown rice is the only form of the grain that contains vitamin E.
The fiber in brown rice reduces the time cancer-causing substances spend in the colon.  Selenium has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of colon cancer. Eating whole grains with lots of fiber, like brown rice has been shown to assist in weight reduction plus the ability to keep the weight off! Refined grains are now being linked not only to weight gain but to diabetes (type two) and metabolic syndrome
Brown rice has:
twice the manganese and phosphorus of white.
2.5 times the iron.
3 times the vitamin B3.
4 times the vitamin B1.
10 times the vitamin B6.
It is a great source of manganese, essential for energy production, antioxidant activity, and sex hormone production.
It may take a bit longer to cook then white arborio rice but the health benefit far out way the tradition of using arborio rice to make risotto and the end result is nutritious, creamy, and delicious!

Please note: if you have left over brown rice then this meal can just make it into the 20 minute meal series. Otherwise this recipe takes 1 1/4 -1 1/2 hours to make. 
1 cups Brown rice (short grain rice is more glutinous than long grain rice but you can use either)
1 cup shelled peas, keep shells for making pea stock
200gm spinach, washed 
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
water or vegetable stock
1/4 cup finely shredded mint (roughly 1/2 a bunch)
1-2 tsp good salt, to your taste
3 tbs olive oil
1 tsp vegan stock powder*optional
2 dsp lemon juice
1/4 cup pine-nuts, toasted
freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup coconut milk*optional for a more creamy and fatty flavor

1/4 cup peas
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tbs pine-nuts, toasted
a little shredded mint
lemon zest

Cooking the risotto
Place the rice in a medium to large saucepan with 2 cups of water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a medium heat and simmer until all the water has evaporated. Then add more water or vegetable stock if you have some. See below for a basic vegetable stock. Start with 1/2 a cup and once again evaporate and cook the rice further. You'll notice the rice grain swelling and soften as it continues to drink up the water or vegetable stock. The trick to risotto is to slowly allow the rice grain to absorb the liquid. Too much water and it may become too runny and not enough water it may become dry and stiff. So it is best to add a little, stir, and allow it fully absorb the liquid. Keep doing this until the rice is creamy and the rice grain is very soft and mushy! 

While this process is going on you can prepare the pea and onion mixture.
Saute the onions on a medium heat, bringing our their sweet caramelized flavors. Then add the garlic and gently brown but not burn it. Add the peas and some freshly cracked pepper and a pinch of salt. Roughly mash one 1/2 of the mixture with a potato masher, to bring out some flavors.  Place aside until you are ready to combine it all. 

Once the rice is all creamy and the rice grains are soft, spoon the pea and onion mixture into the saucepan of creamy rice and stir. Add the remaining ingredients including the spinach and allow all the flavors to mingle on a low to medium heat. Once the spinach has wilted, taste for seasoning and re-season if needs be. 
Pea and/or basic vegetable stock
Using the pea shells to make some vegetable stock is a great way of intensifying the pea flavor. You can add any vegetable scraps you may have. Celery leaves and inner heart of the celery is great as well as carrot peelings or tops, parsley or other fresh herb storks and pretty much anything else except beetroot for obvious reasons! While you are cooking the rice or before if you have the time, place the water and vegetable and pea shells into a pot and bring to the boil. Then reduce heat to a medium simmer. Use warm stock when the recipe requires, see above. 
Please note: the longer you cook the vegetables in water and richer and more fuller flavor but if you don't have the time, even cooking it for the duration of the rice cooking, is gently flavoring the water and is better than nothing and is only using up vegetable scraps anyway.  
Lightly stir-fry the peas in a fry-pan with a splash of water to slightly steam the peas. The water will evaporate so then add the garlic and a drizzle of olive oil and saute gently for a further minute. Be care not to burn the garlic. Add salt and pepper to season and set aside to garnish.

When ready to garnish, scatter a spoon or two on top of the risotto then sprinkle some shredded mint and freshly zest some lemon over the top.

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