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All the allergies




Last week's culinary challenge was posed by cooking dinner for a few colleagues, including the lovely LV. She is allergic to gluten, dairy, eggs, meat and chili. I KNOW. Luckily, I was sure that the others would be game - SF is a newly qualified Ayurvedic nutritionist cum yogi, and CB an even more recently qualified shaman. You say what? Exactly. Anyway, not a crowd that would be disgruntled by a little veganism. Even DS is starting to accept the idea, though he did rush out to buy a rotisserie chicken this weekend as soon as he was in charge of the market shop.

Of course on the day itself SF had to cancel because of a cold (he's obviously not following his own Ayurvedic principals closely enough), LV had to leave at 8.30pm for a salsa class, and CB didn't arrive till 9pm due to SNCF delays (someone was taken ill on his train and he claims he could do NOTHING to help). Just as well I hadn't chosen time sensitive dishes, as DS and I ended up waiting to eat with the late arrival, having hungrily watched LV enjoy her pre-salsa meal.

So, the menu. These stuffed roasted vegetables are hearty, earthy and tasty good. Sweet peppers are still available in the market for the moment, so I went for a mix of peppers and acorn squash, which are some of the prettiest for stuffing. The combination of lentils with wild rice gives a pleasingly chewy texture to the stuffing, while the dried mushrooms and their stock add plenty of flavour with minimal effort. A fresh, colourful salad of fennel, apple and pomegranate provides the necessary refreshing crunch. It's hard to go wrong with a crumble at this time of year. Here is a slight variation on my usual recipe to allow for a dairy free version, using coconut oil instead of butter. It is no less scrumptious.

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Stuffed roasted vegetables with mushrooms, wild rice and lentils

Serves 6, 40 minutes

main / autumn / winter / easy peasy / quietly smug / vegetarian / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / date night / party / detox / on a budget / baby

This is a good one to have up your sleeve. Warming and satisfying enough for plenty a carnivore.

* Red or yellow peppers - 3 large, deseeded and halved

* Acorn squash - 3, deseeded and halved

* Mixed dried mushrooms - 30g

* Olive oil - a couple of glugs

* Onion - 1, peeled and diced

* Leek - 1, sliced

* Cumin - 1 tbsp

* Thyme - a couple of sprigs

* Fresh mushrooms - 250g, sliced

* Garlic - 2 cloves, sliced

* Red rice - 1.5 cups

* Lentils - 1 cup

* Sun-dried tomatoes- a small handful, roughly chopped

* Parsley - a handful, chopped

* Lemon - juice of 1

Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C, 200 for fan assisted.

Soak the dried mushrooms in a large bowl with 5 cups boiled water.

On a large roasting tray, lay out the peppers and acorn squash. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season, and place in the oven for 30 minutes, or until tender.

In a large saucepan, fry the onion, leek, cumin and a spring of thyme over a medium heat in some olive oil until soft. Add a splash of water if things start to stick.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, fry the fresh mushrooms in a glug of olive oil with another sprig of thyme and plenty of salt and pepper over a high heat. Ideally you want them to get a little golden brown (you might need to pour away the excess liquid which comes out of the mushrooms).

Once the onions are soft, add the rice, lentils and liquid from dried mushrooms to the saucepan. Add a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and leave to cook for twenty minutes.

Once the fresh mushrooms are turning golden brown, add the garlic and the soaked mushrooms to the frying pan and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the mushrooms to the rice and lentils along with the sun-dried tomatoes. Stir to combine and recover for the rest of the cooking time.

Check that the rice and lentils are cooked. You might need to add a touch more water towards the end of the cooking time, but all of the liquid should have evaporated.

Add the fresh parsley and lemon juice to the rice and mix through. Check for seasoning.

You can either serve this dish straight away, spooning the rice and lentil mixture into the veggies at the table, or else you can return the vegetables, stuffed with the rice and lentils, to the oven for a few minutes. It's also lovely at room temperature.

Fennel, apple and pomegranate salad

Serves 6, takes 10 minutes

salad / side / autumn / winter / easy peasy / nothing fancy / vegetarian / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / date night / party / detox / on a budget / ready in a jiffy

Simple, crunchy and refreshing, this salad adds a textured contrast to the stuffed vegetables.

* Fennel - 2, base and stalks removed

* Cox or Braeburn apples - 3, quartered, cored

* Pomegranate - 1/2

* Fresh parsley or dill - a couple of handfuls, chopped

* Cider vinegar - 3 tbsp

* Whole grain mustard - 3 tbsp

* Honey - 1 tbsp

* Sunflower oil - 3 tbsp

Start by finely slicing the fennel. I use the fine slicing attachment on the magimix which means it's done in no time. Otherwise you could use a mandolin or a sharp knife.

Next finely slice the apples and place in a large serving bowl with the fennel. Add the seeds from the pomegranate along with the fresh herbs and mix to combine.

Whisk up the remaining ingredients in a glass with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dress the salad when you're ready to eat.

Cinnamon and oat plum crumble

Serves 6, takes 10 minutes plus oven time

dessert / autumn / winter / easy peasy / nothing fancy / vegetarian / vegan / dairy free / gluten free / refined sugar free / date night / on a budget / baking / ready in a jiffy

This crumble is fruit heavy so more guilt free than most. Of course try with apples, pears, blackberries,'ll need just over a kg of fruit for six.

* Plums - 12, stoned and quartered

* Sweet liqueur - a couple of glugs (cassis/amaretto/vin santo)

* Coconut oil - 1/3 cup

* Ground almonds - 1/3 cup

* Whole oats - 1 cup

* Runny honey - 1/4 cup

* Cinnamon - 2 tsp

* Salt - a couple of pinches

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Place the plums and a couple of dashes of booze into an oven dish.

With your fingertips, mix the remaining ingredients together in a mixing bowl until you have an even texture.

Sprinkle the crumble topping over the fruit and place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour (the cooking time will depend on the depth of your dish). The fruit should be quite soft and starting to bubble.

Serve with something cold and creamy. Coconut ice cream is great if you're sticking to the vegan theme.


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