Chef feature: Simon (Herbivore)
Hello, my name is Simon and I run a small food business called Herbivore. Until recently it’s been a moveable feast, operating out of the Embassy Café in Cathays, Cardiff at weekends and popping up around the city and beyond for unique six course, set menu vegan supper clubs. From June you’ll find me running the kitchen at Eartha Community Interest Company, on City Rd: a not-for-profit endeavour seeking to promote well-being through nature and seeking to support other Cardiff independents, growers and makers. Food and drink to take away only for the time being.
Although I run a vegetarian and vegan food business I don’t really consider myself a vegetarian or vegan chef. I’m just a chef that works mostly with vegetables. My starting point is always the ingredients: preferably locally grown, organic vegetables but in reality that’s not always the case. I’ll work with whatever is at hand and try to make the best of it. Obviously I’ll think about flavour but also texture, colour and shape, about highlighting the qualities of an ingredient, either looking to offset them with a contrast or compliment them with something that shares a flavour note, colour tone or texture. I’ll look to the classic ways of preparing something but also sometimes cross boundaries by pairing them with a spice or flavour or a style of cooking from elsewhere in the world. Local produce, global flavours is what I’m aiming for.
Cardoons are the often overlooked less glamorous sibling of the globe artichoke and have been almost forgotten about in this country. But they share the same subtle, nutty taste and almost meaty texture without requiring half as much work to prepare.
A Mediterranean member of the thistle family, in Italy they are eaten with a garlic laced anchovy dipping sauce, in Spain with saffron and almonds while in France they are often paired with cream and cheese and baked in a gratin. I’ve chosen to offset their inherent bitterness with the slight sweetness of a miso/walnut sauce, brightening the plate with a vivid green parsley puree.
If you want to taste cardoons simply cooked – and I think you should – just go as far as blanching them and try them as they are, seasoned with a little olive oil and lemon, or tossed into a salad.
Cardoon | miso & walnut | parsley
8 medium stems of cardoon
50g chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced.
1⁄2 green small green chilli, chopped fine.
75g walnuts, chopped.
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp soy sauce
75g white miso
juice of one lime
25g flat leaf parsley (a handful), large pieces of stalk removed
To prepare the cardoons chop away leaves and any root attached to the stems and cut them into even sized lengths.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and season with enough salt to make it as salty as the sea (taste it to check). Have another pan or bowl of cold water ready.
Drop the cardoon stalks in and cook on a rolling boil for 7 or 8 minutes – check one with the point of a knife to see if it is tender. Leave them for too long and they will be tasteless, but taken out too soon they can taste bitter and be tough. Once cooked, drain them and plunge straight into the cold water.
Take a sharp knife or vegetable peeler and remove any small thistle spikes you find on the stems and peel away the strings of tough flesh on the ridges, cutting down the stem away from you. It might feel like you are wasting too much of your valuable vegetable but the outer layers are very fibrous and not nice to chew through.
Toss the cooked cardoons with olive oil and a little salt and roast on a tray in an oven at 200c until they begin to brown – probably about 12 or 15 minutes but keep an eye on them and rely on your senses.
To make the sauce, saute the chopped onion in olive oil over a medium heat until it softens and begins to colour slightly.
Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a few minutes more, stirring often.
Add the walnuts, soy, mirin, water and miso and lower the heat.
Let it all cook together slowly for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Blend the sauce with a hand blender or in a food processor and season with the juice of the lime. This sauce can be made in advance and gently reheated with a splash more water when needed.
To make the parsley puree, blanch the leaves in boiling water as you did for the cardoon stalks (reserving a few leaves to chop as a garnish), cooking for a few minutes before refreshing in cold water.
Blend the cooked leaves with 2 table spoons olive oil and the lemon juice.
To serve, spoon some of the puree onto a plate in an attractive stripe, place four of the roasted cardoons along it and spoon over the heated miso sauce. Sprinkle a few of the reserved chopped parsley leaves over the miso sauce if your heart sinks at the thought of eating something so brown.
Cardoon is a perennial, so it will keep coming back for a good few years.
Sow cardoon seeds in moist soil.
Transplant into a larger pot when around 8cm. Keep well watered.
Plant out the following spring.