To round off National Vegetarian Week here's a recipe from one of the most inspiring vegetarian cookery books I've come across: Sally Butcher's charming, idiosyncratic Veggiestan.. Sally runs an Iranian food store called Persepolis in south-east London so the recipes - which are terrific - all have an middle-eastern slant. It's also a cracking read!
This is how she introduces it:
Now I’m a bit cross about this dish. ‘Cos I sort of invented it. And then a friend of mine in Oz said she’d read a similar recipe in the Melbourne Times or some such. And then the divine Nigella came out with another version of it.
Anyway, this is my recipe. Completely unauthentic but drawing upon the very finest ingredients of the Middle East. And the perfect conclusion to a Middle Eastern feast.
Eton Mess has to be the easiest sweet in the world to prepare. And, as this recipe shows, it is so easy to tart up.
Rose syrup is easy to find in Greek shops – ask for ‘triandafilou’.
2 egg whites
100g/3½oz/½ cup caster sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
(or replace the above 3 ingredients with 4–5 shop-bought meringue nests)
2 medium pomegranates
250ml/9fl oz/1 cup whipping/double cream
2 tablespoons rose syrup
handful of rose petals (optional decoration)
Meringues first. Preheat your oven to 160˚C/325˚F/Gas mark 3. Whip the egg whites until they start to peak, and then fold in the sugar little by little, followed by the baking powder. Line a baking tray with baking parchment, and then spoon the mixture on to it in random blobs – the finished product is to be broken up anyway, and so appearance and uniformity are irrelevant.
Turn the oven down to 120˚C/250˚F/Gas mark ½, and pop the tray in there for 2 hours. If you have time on your side, and the luxury of an airing cupboard at home, take the meringues out of the oven a little earlier, cover them lightly with a cloth and leave them in the airing cupboard overnight – this will get you the perfect, light finish.
Next to the pomegranates. Take one in both hands and gently knead it all around with your thumbs: you will be able to feel the seeds inside popping as you go. Do not do this too vigorously, as you may burst the skin, which will at the very least splatter you with largely indelible red juice. After a couple of minutes, make a small incision in the skin of the pomegranate, and invert it over a glass: you should now be able to squeeze out the juice from all the seeds you have burst. Now that the tension in the skin has been eased, it will be easy to pry the fruit open, and you will be able to crumble all the intact seeds into a bowl. Repeat this exercise with the other pomegranate.
Next, whip the cream together with the rose syrup and the pomegranate juice. Such a pretty pink, no?
Assembly time. Don’t do this until just before you want to serve – the whole thing will sink slowly if you do it too early. Break the meringue roughly into the rose cream, and then stir in most of the pomegranate seeds. Arrange a few rose petals around your chosen serving dish, pile the Eton mess into the centre, and strew with the reserved pom seeds.
Never choose a pom because it will look good in your fruit bowl; generally speaking the ones with the tauter, drier skins and the slightly angular shape are best. Size is immaterial – the smaller ones are often the sweetest.
What to drink:
You need a fresh-tasting young dessert wine with good acidity for this. A late harvest Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling would be ideal or, echoing the rose syrup, a vendange tardive Gewurztraminer
Recipe from Sally Butcher’s Veggiestan, published by Pavilion. Recipe photography by Yuki Sugiura.