No more risotto; tasty vegetarian recipes with a creative twist from the team behind Vanilla Black

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Tired of lacklustre veggie fare?

Michelin-recommended vegetarian restaurant Vanilla Black comes as a breath of fresh air for those who're frustrated with the unimaginative likes of mushroom risotto and pasta bake.

From the start, owners Andrew Dargue and  Donna Conroy were determined NOT to merely pay lip service to veggie cuisine and instead, created a ream of unusual and exciting meat-free options. 

From Marmite new potatoes to white wine and thyme pie, their intriguing and flavour-filled dishes have won plaudits from critics and customers alike.

Now this restaurant - which began in Yorkshire before relocating to London's Holborn in 2008 - is opening up its creative approach to a whole new audience, with the launch of a new cookbook.

Vanilla Black: Fresh Flavours for your Vegetarian Kitchen (Saltyard Books) by chef Dargue offers a delightful clutch of the restaurant's best-loved recipes, plus a few surprising new inventions thrown in for good measure.

We've selected five of our favourite recipes from the new book, below. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Baked beetroot with homemade curds and toasted sunflower seeds

Making curds and whey is a nostalgic practice, a very basic form of cheese-making that can be done at home quite easily. You can buy vegetarian rennet online, at some supermarkets and at specialist and health food shops; some people still use it to make junket, a sweet version of curds. Oh, and of course curds were made famous by a certain Little Miss Muffet. A nice variation to this recipe are garlic-flavoured curds: simply add a garlic clove to the milk before heating.  

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 6 golfball-sized beetroots
  • 400ml whole milk
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 20g sea salt
  • 40g rennet
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 50g toasted sunflower seeds


1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.

2. Tightly wrap the beetroots in foil and put on a baking tray. Bake for 50 minutes, turning them halfway through. Pierce one with a knife; there should be no resistance.

3. Meanwhile, make the curds: gently heat the milk, lemon juice and salt to 40°C (105°F) on a thermometer, or until it feels as if it is at blood temperature.If it gets too hot, it won't work.

4. Take off the heat and gently stir in the rennet in one direction. Allow to rest for 30 minutes; it will look a bit scrambled, as if it is separating, which of course it is.

5. Lay a muslin cloth or clean tea towel in a sieve set over a bowl and carefully pour the curds into the cloth. Let them sit for 20 minutes. Transfer the curds to a container and reserve the whey for another recipe.

6. Leave the beetroot until cool enough to handle, then peel it and slice into wedges (you may wish to wear plastic gloves for this, as it stains).

7. To serve, put the beetroot in a bowl, season, then add spoonfuls of curds and a sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds.

Charred asparagus and quail's eggs with peas and lime

Asparagus is a curious thing, it comes and goes so quickly.

The official season is 23 April until 21 June... but some people are a bit precious about this.

Asparagus does not suddenly become tasteless and woody on 22 June so, if it is still around afterwards, why not use it? It also gets cheaper as the season continues. Eggs and asparagus are a classical pairing but, as ever, we like to add a twist. Using quail's eggs makes the dish seem elegant and enticing - you could even eat it as a fancy starter - but of course you could always use hen's or duck's eggs. And you could poach the eggs instead of boiling them, if you fancy that.

If you can get hold of some pea shoots, sprinkle them on top; their taste shouts summer and they look pretty, too. The lime helps to balance the richness of the dish and is a nice change from lemon. Have an egg timer ready, or set the timer on your phone... times have changed. 

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the dressing

  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • ½ tsp caster sugar, plus more for the peas sprinkle of sea salt, plus more for the peas and to serve
  • 100ml sunflower oil (you can use olive oil, but we find it overpowering), plus more for the asparagus

For the rest

  • 2 packs of 12 quail's eggs (you only need 20, but if some break at least you will not run short)
  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • 250g frozen peas


1. First make the dressing to allow the sugar and salt time to dissolve. In a bowl, mix the lime zest and juice thoroughly with the sugar and salt. Whisk in the oil and set aside.  

2. Set a pan of water on to boil - about 1 litre should do it. Put all the eggs on a couple of large spoons, to make sure you can get them into the pan quickly instead of one by one. Have a bowl of cold water ready.  When the water comes to the boil, carefully add the eggs and boil for exactly 2 minutes 45 seconds. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. If the water becomes warm because of the hot eggs, drain and add more cold water. When the eggs are cold, carefully peel them.  

3. Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan 100°C/ gas mark ½.

4. Slice off the bottom 2cm of each asparagus spear, as this can be woody. Heat a large dry frying pan or griddle pan. Making sure the pan is very hot, add the asparagus in a single layer (you may have to do this in batches) and shake it around so it becomes scorched. Be careful, it can catch quickly. When all the spears are charred, put in a shallow baking tray, sprinkle with a little sunflower oil and place in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes.  

5. Meanwhile, place the peas straight from the freezer into a bowl with a sprinkle of salt and sugar to lift their natural sweetness. Boil a kettle of water and use this to cover the peas generously. Frozen peas are already slightly cooked and this method ensures they still have a fresh flavour. Leave the peas in the water until ready to serve.  

6. To serve, drain the peas and divide between four plates, arranging the asparagus on top. Give the dressing a good stir to emulsify, then spoon it over the vegetables. Add 5 quail's eggs to each plate... unless you were quite a successful peeler and there were no casualties, in which case add the rest. Now sprinkle with sea salt to season the eggs and asparagus.  You may want some bread alongside to mop up the good bits.  

Heritage tomatoes and Yorkshire Fettle on toast

If you can get hold of heritage tomatoes, they make this simple dish more interesting.

Yorkshire Fettle is a cheese which is really an English feta and is less salty than the Greek version. It was initially called Yorkshire feta but there is a story/myth/legend/fib that the European Union had to intervene and inform the cheese company that it could not use the name 'feta' as it was not made in Greece. They came up with the name Yorkshire Fettle, fettle being an old English term referring to something or someone who is in good shape. This recipe uses homemade Herbed soda bread, but if you don't have time some thick granary will do.  

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 50ml olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • small bunch of curly parsley
  • 2 shallots, or 1 small red onion
  • 4 large heritage tomatoes (if you cannot find them try to get the best you can)
  • caster sugar
  • 4 thick slices of Herbed soda bread
  • 250g Yorkshire Fettle, crumbled


1. First, marinate the shallots. In a shallow bowl, put the olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Now chop the parsley, not too fine; keep some texture, as it is a main element here and you want to distinguish it at the end. Add it to the oil.  

2. Next peel and slice the shallots or onion very finely, then add to the parsley oil and mix. Leave to marinate while you do the rest.  

3. Slice the tomatoes around 5mm thick. Lay on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and a little sugar; this will heighten the sweetness and help to soften the tomatoes a little.  

4. Heat the grill and toast the slices of bread on one side - you will smell the herbs as it gets hot. Turn over, add the cheese and put it back under the grill. The cheese will not melt but will soften; this is part of the charm.  

5. When it has softened, remove from the grill and top with slices of tomato, then the shallots and parsley. Add a spoon of the oil as well, as it will have picked up lots of flavour, then serve. If you are lucky the sun will be shining and you can enjoy this with a glass of pale ale.  

Flourless chocolate and raspberry cakes with rose cream

These cakes are outrageously rich. Buy the best chocolate you can afford, as it will make a huge difference to the flavour. A word of warning: do make sure that your microwave is on the lowest setting and that you stir the chocolate every 10 seconds, as it can burn so easily. For a good presentation, when the cakes are cold, carefully slice off the domed tops and turn each one upside down so that you have a neat little tower. You can even sprinkle rose petals around, if you wish.  

Ingredients (serves 10)

For the cake

  • 300g 70% cocoa solids chocolate, chopped
  • ​125g unsalted butter, chopped, plus more for the moulds
  • ​6 eggs
  • 175g granulated sugar
  • 100g raspberries, halved

For the rose cream

  • 4 tbsp rose water
  • ​1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted​
  • 100ml double cream, cold

To decorate

  • 10 raspberries
  • icing sugar, to dust
  • 10 unsprayed rose petals, washed (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C/ gas mark 3½.  

2. Melt 225g of the chocolate- the rest we will use soon - and all the butter in the microwave on a low heat, stirring every 10 seconds. Or melt it in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water (don't let the bowl touch the water). Set aside to cool a little.  

3. Whisk the eggs, gradually adding the sugar until you have a frothy, glossy mix. Add the cooled chocolate and butter, mixing thoroughly, then fold in most of the remaining chocolate (saving 10 pieces) and the raspberries.  

4. Lightly butter 10 muffin moulds and divide the batter evenly between them. Stick one piece of chocolate in the middle of each and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cakes have risen and are firm, but still a bit gooey in the middle. Leave to cool in the moulds on a wire rack while you make the cream.  

5. Whip together the rose water, icing sugar and cream to soft peaks. Cover and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.  

6. Decorate each cake with a dollop of rose cream, a raspberry and a dusting of icing sugar. Add a single rose petal, if you want.

Baked pineapple with crispy rice and roasted white chocolate

This is an amazing dessert; however, with this recipe you are entering a chef's world: using caramel and roasting  white chocolate.

Those of you who have worked  with chocolate  before will know that it does not like extreme heat. However, the results are quite interesting,  so get stuck in. A little advice: buy yourself some really good baking parchment - that cheap stuff just will not do. Interesting  information: pineapples do not ripen once they are cut from the plant, they just rot, so if a pineapple is under-ripe  when you buy it, that's  how it will stay.   

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 600g good-quality white chocolate
  • 1 ripe pineapple
  • 50g demerara  sugar
  • 120g granulated sugar
  • good pinch of sea salt
  • 80g popped  rice cereal- that's  right, breakfast  cereal
  • 20g unsalted  butter


1. Let's do the technical  bit first. Preheat the oven to 150°C/fan 130°C/gas  mark 2, no more, no less.

2. Chop the chocolate with a sharp knife; don't  be too particular,  it's going to melt anyway. Place good-quality baking parchment on a baking tray, then add the chocolate. Spread it around so it is in an even layer, but keep it close together, you don't want stray pieces because they burn.  

3. Set a timer for 10 minutes, then place the chocolate  on the middle shelf. At 10 minutes remove from the oven, stir, then pop back in for two minutes. Remove and cool. When cold, chop roughly and store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

4. Increase the oven temperature  to 220°C/ fan 200°C/gas mark 7. Slice off the top and bottom  of the pineapple, stand it upright and, from the top to the bottom, slice off the skin. Then, using a sharp  knife, hold the pineapple in your hand and slice 'V' shapes along the lines of the eyes to remove them. Stand the pineapple  upright  and cut it in half, then cut each half into three wedges and slice off the core (the firmer bit on the sharp side). Well done.  

5. Put the wedges in a high-sided tin. Sprinkle with the demerara  sugar, then bake for 15 minutes, turning  once to coat in the sugar. Remove and allow to cool.  

6. Finally the rice. Place a strip of good  baking parchment on a work top as you will not have time later - about  50cm long should  do. Using the largest frying pan you have, add 40g of water, the granulated sugar and salt and bring to a simmer. Do not stir, otherwise you run the risk of crystallising  the sugar.  When the sugar is just beginning to colour at the edges, add the popped  rice cereal and stir constantly until the pieces are a golden brown.  Be careful, this will be very hot.  

7. Remove from the heat, then fold in the butter  until melted and immediately  turn out on to the baking parchment, flattening it out a little to help it to cool, then leave to completely cool and set. When set, smash with a rolling pin. Be careful though, you don't  want it all over the kitchen and you want to keep some texture  and some shards. Store in an airtight  container until needed, or for up to 4 days.  

8. To serve, carve the pineapple wedges into thin slices, add a line of white chocolate crumbles  along the plate and top with the pineapple,  then sprinkle  on the crispy rice. This should  be enough  but, if you wish, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream... better still, white chocolate  ice cream, if you can find some.  

Vanilla Black: Fresh Flavours for your Vegetarian Kitchen by Andrew Dargue comes out on 7 May (Saltyard Books, £25)

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