Fanny Cradock has been guiding me, teaching me and frankly scolding me for a few years now as I twist and turn her bonkers creations into meat-free celebrations, but until now she has never even muttered the V word. Not even under her breath. Not even as she wallops me with a perfectly ordinary spatula. However, today she has gone all out and labelled an entire section in the partwork as 'Vegetarian Rice Dishes'. It's all come as a huge surprise to me. Were there many vegetarians around in the 1970's? What were they eating? Was Fanny responsible for shaping restaurant menus up and down the land with that one, solitary veggie option that would stare out at us?
Ask most veggies what they hate to see on a menu and the answer invariably is Risotto. I never know why, I love it, I make it a lot and even enjoy it from time to time when out. Okay, I don't want to see it all the time, and it really is a lazy option for most restaurants, but done well can be magnificent. Fanny's first trio of vegetarian dishes is a Mushroom Risotto. Found on menus everywhere to this day. She makes it in a very traditional way, just as we all would. No strange colourings or additions at all. Perhaps Fanny wasn't so bonkers after all?
For her second dish, which she particularly recommends as a 'super dish for Facto-Vegetarians' (what had she taken?) is a mix of cooked marrow, cheese, eggs and rice in a mound and covered in butter and breadcrumbs. She calls it inelegantly 'Filling Rice and Vegetable Dish' and notes that it tastes a great deal better than it's rather ordinary and pale appearance would suggest. Or its name. Thankfully never to be seen on any menu ever. Not to worry, it's Fanny's third choice that grabs my attention. Firstly, yes, because it's another veggie cliché but then because I remember just how much I like and yet mostly forget about lentils.
Fanny refers to this dish as Pakistani Khichdi, and of course calls the lentils Dhan Dhal. She never misses an opportunity to teach us in her worldly-lingual ways. She leaves the authenticity here I think, preferring her own method of cooking the rice to the classic Pakistani way, which she says is much easier. If only everyone would just do as she says, these peskily traditional women from Pakistan included. Sweat it out. The rice technique that is. Fanny washes the rice and lentils together, then swirls them in a heavy, roomy pan of water with sliced onion, salt and turmeric. She then 'sweats until tender', which I presume is instruction for the rice (4 minutes on the stove and then finished off in the oven) and not me?
It emerges light, fluffy and smelling tremendous. It's all just the one 'turmeric' colour now. Fanny finishes it off with a slosh of vegetable oil mixed in to make it glossy and serves with her favourite sweet and hot chutneys. My favourite is not a chutney, but Chilli Burns from the ever lovely Galloway Chillis, which adds a real kick to this simple but delicious dish. I managed to scrape just enough from the bottom of my jar to drizzle, must buy some more! Who knew Fanny was aware we vegetarians even existed? Well almost, she decorates hers with borders of Prawn Toast. Small steps, we clearly can't expect miracles.