The secret to a great veggie barbecue, by Rukmini Iyer
The former MasterChef contestant and caterer to the stars shares recipes from her new book
Rukmini Iyer, author of The Green Barbecue
Most aspiring cooks on MasterChef dream of opening a restaurant, but for Rukmini Iyer, who made the final five in 2013, the attraction was the behind-the-scenes action. Which makes sense, when you hear that her most recent job was feeding Ralph Fiennes on the set of The Forgiven in Morocco.
“We finished our last shot, a big dinner party scene, and we flew home, and three or four days later, they had to stop filming because of Covid,” she says. “It was very sad, because they only had a week left.”
Iyer, who had been tasked with food styling and continuity in the food scenes, reports that Fiennes was indeed lovely. “I had to reset his plate, and my hands were almost shaking. He looked me right in the eye and he said, ‘you’re doing really well, a really good job’. He was so kind. A lot of actors don’t take any notice of the people around them.”
MasterChef kick-started Iyer’s dream career. That and her mother, who promised to support her change of direction if she completed her training as a lawyer. She had just quit her job and sent off her deposit for cookery school when she got the call to audition.
Her work ethic has stood to her. After writing four cookery books in her Roasting Tin series, which have sold more than half a million copies, she has just released her fifth cookery book, The Green Barbecue. Her latest book is packed with delicious recipes for vegetarian and vegan snacks, main courses and desserts, which can be cooked on the barbecue, with options for cooking indoors.
There is none of the hipster bro stuff that we’ve come to expect around barbecue. No lengthy discussion of beech wood versus oak, but neither is it too lightweight. Nigella is a fan, and it’s easy to see why. Iyer has a fluid, highly descriptive writing style that paints a picture and makes you want to cook each dish.
When it comes to tips, she says, pay attention, keep an eye on what you’re cooking and it’s probably going to be fine. And in inimitable Iyer style, she has one last piece of wisdom: “Don’t stand too near a barbecue in floaty clothes if it’s a windy day. It’s a bad idea, I found this out to my detriment. You will end up with a hole burned into your favourite frock. That’s my top barbecuing tip.”
CRISPY GNOCCHI – ON A STICK! – WITH CHARRED PEPPERS AND BASIL PESTO
Could I write a book without featuring crispy gnocchi? Of course not. So I give you my proudest barbecue creation. Forget about threading just plain old vegetables on a stick – here, you intersperse veg of your choice (I’ve done peppers here, but see note below) on skewers with just-blanched gnocchi. The result is crisp perfection like you wouldn’t believe.
1 500g packet of gnocchi
3 mixed peppers, chopped into gnocchi-size pieces (don’t use green peppers)
2tbs vegan basil pesto
3tbs olive oil, plus more for brushing
A pinch of sea salt flakes
A good amount of freshly ground black peppercorns
8–12 skewers, soaked if wooden
For the dressing:
½ a lemon, juice only
4tbs vegan basil pesto
2tbs extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of sea salt flakes
1 Tip the gnocchi into a bowl of just-boiled water, and leave to blanch for two minutes, then drain and run under cold water to cool.
2 Put the gnocchi into a large bowl with the chopped peppers, vegan pesto, olive oil, sea salt flakes and freshly ground black peppercorns, and mix well to coat. At this point you could refrigerate the gnocchi until you’re ready to barbecue.
3 Thread the gnocchi and pepper alternately on to the skewers. Once your barbecue is good and hot, brush one side of the skewers with oil, then lay them over the barbecue at a slight angle (this stops them falling through) and cook for 4–5 minutes, until the gnocchi are crisp and brown. Brush the tops with oil, then turn over and repeat with the other side.
4 Meanwhile, mix the lemon juice, pesto and extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of sea salt flakes to taste. Once the skewers are cooked through, serve immediately, with the basil dressing alongside.
Tip: There’s really no limit to the number of things you could pair with gnocchi on a stick – try cherry tomatoes and halloumi or tofu, or cubes of fresh fennel and halved figs. And you could use red pesto or harissa or mustard mixed through with olive oil as a marinade.
CHIPOTLE MUSHROOM & BLACK BEAN BURGERS WITH PEANUTS AND LIME
These burgers are ridiculously moreish – I like to serve them in buns with mayonnaise and pickles. Make life easier for yourself by cooking them in the oven first, then finishing them off with a quick warm-through on the barbecue before serving.
50g smooth peanut butter
1 400g tin of black beans, drained, but not rinsed
2 small cloves of garlic, peeled
2tsp chipotle chilli flakes
1tsp ground cumin
1tbs olive oil
1 heaped tbs rye flour
1 lime, zest only
1tsp sea salt flakes
250g chestnut mushrooms
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
A handful of chopped salted peanuts
A handful of chopped fresh coriander
4 burger buns
1 Put the peanut butter into a food processor with 60g of the black beans, the garlic, chilli flakes, cumin, olive oil, rye flour, lime zest and sea salt flakes, and blitz until you have a very thick paste. Tip it into a large bowl and stir in the rest of the black beans.
2 Tip the mushrooms into the processor – no need to wash it – and pulse until you have a dry mushroom mince. Stir this into the black bean mixture. With damp hands, form it into four thick burgers and arrange them on a lined baking sheet.
3 Bake in the oven at 200 degrees/gas 6 for 25-30 minutes. When they’ve got 10 minutes left, gently flip them over so they can crisp up on the other side.
4 They’re ready to serve straight from the oven, but for a nice bit of smokiness you can let them cool down, then finish them on a medium barbecue for a couple of minutes per side.
5 Squeeze over the lime wedges and top with a handful of chopped peanuts and coriander, then sandwich them into lightly grilled burger buns.
SUMMER PUDDING PACKETS: VANILLA ROASTED BERRIES WITH BRIOCHE, MASCARPONE AND ALMONDS
This deconstructed spin on a summer pudding (where deconstructed is code for much, much easier) lets you gently cook your fruit in a packet on the barbecue, and toast your brioche alongside. Replace the chilled mascarpone with ice cream, if you wish.
225g blueberries or grapes
2tsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split
8 slices of brioche
4tbs chilled mascarpone
A handful of toasted almonds and fresh mint leaves, to serve
1 Take a large piece of foil and place the blackberries, raspberries and blueberries or grapes in the middle. Scatter over the caster sugar, lay the vanilla pod on top, then fold the foil into a neat parcel, with the seams at the top.
2 Once your barbecue is medium hot, place the foil packet on one side of the barbecue, and let the berries cook for 10–15 minutes. Meanwhile, toast your sliced brioche in batches on the other side of the barbecue, cutting them into triangles once toasted.
3 Divide the lightly cooked fruit between four plates, with the toasted brioche. Add a tablespoon of mascarpone, scatter over the toasted almonds and mint leaves, and serve hot.
Recipes from: The Green Barbecue (Vegan & Vegetarian Recipes to Cook Outdoors & In) by Rukmini Iyer (Square Peg), hardback, photography by David Loftus