When I lived in Ireland many (many) years ago I lived on the northwest coast, and at that stage it wasn’t very veg friendly. If I went out to eat there was the option of pasta with a bland tomato sauce or maybe a dry stir-fry on overcooked rice, if I was lucky. So when we would go to Dublin my shining light of veggie joy was a little restaurant called Cornucopia.
This restaurant holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first dedicated vegetarian restaurant I had experienced, and it was what kept me inspired that there were people like me out there who thought that veggie food was worthy in its own right – enough to fill a restaurant day in day out. And when I lived in Ireland it was a very meat and potatoes type of place, so to see so many people eating there confirmed to me that if you are dedicated to serving good quality food that is respectful to the earth (i.e. biodynamic, organic or spray free, in season and local where possible) and tastes good, all types of people will support it and enjoy it immensely.
This cosy establishment still serves quite old-school veg food in that the dishes are often made with vegetables that are cut large, use a lot of potato and are served in thick, rich sauces or wrapped in pastry. But they are always delicious and suit the weather perfectly. They also use quite a bit of dairy, but there are always vegan options and they have a wonderful range of crunchy salads that come with each meal.
And they’ve grown – how they’ve grown! When I was going there regularly there was one long room where you ducked and weaved and begged a table. Now a table is still at a premium, but there is little ducking and only a small amount of weaving now that they have a cute second room and an upstairs area that’s full of light. There’s a nice buzz inside, and in the times before and after lunch it’s a lovely place to sit with a book and a cuppa and inhale the aromas of cooking that drift up from their kitchen.
If you are in Dublin, go enjoy a meal at this local institution. They even have a beautiful cookbook to flip through. http://www.cornucopia.ie/
Pumpkin, mushroom and puy lentil pie with a mustard and dill mash
This dish from the Cornucopia at Home cookbook has a number of stages, so it’s best not started at 7pm at night. That said, you can prepare the pumpkin, potato and lentils beforehand to save time if you wish. This meal is hearty with a capital H, but the pumpkin and spinach cut through its earthy depth to balance the flavours with a tinge of sweetness. It is rich and delicious on a cold winter’s eve, and you can just feel the nourishment seeping through your body as you eat it.
For the base
2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ medium pumpkin or butternut (about 700g)
450g mushrooms, roughly chopped*
1 bunch of spinach, washed*
300g puy or green lentils
4 bay leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp of dried)
2 heaped tsp paprika
150ml red wine (vegan)
2 tbsp tomato paste
300ml vegetable stock
4 tbsp tamari
For the mash
6 large potatoes
25g fresh dill, roughly chopped
1-2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
pinch of nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- heat the oven to 200°C
- chop the pumpkin into smallish cubes, coat in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for around 30 minutes or until soft. Reduce oven to 180°C and set pumpkin aside
- while the pumpkin is roasting, bring a pot of salted water to the boil and add the lentils and 2 bay leaves. Cook until tender but not mushy. Drain, rinse and set aside, removing the bay leaves
- in a large pan, heat a generous amount of oil over a medium heat and add the onions. Cook until they start to become translucent then stir in the carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaves and thyme
- cover with a lid and leave to cook for 15 minutes. At this stage, boil the water for the potatoes (see steps below)
- add the paprika and red wine then reduce until almost all the liquid has cooked off
- add the tomato paste, tamari and vegetable stock and simmer the sauce until it is well reduced and all the vegetables are cooked (around 15 minutes)
- when the sauce is ready, stir in the pumpkin, lentils and spinach (or any other veggies you may be using if not mushrooms or spinach)
- check the seasoning then set aside (I found the mix to taste quite strong at this point but the flavours melded nicely by the time it came out of the oven).
For the potatoes
- Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Add the peeled and diced potatoes and cook until tender
- Drain well in a colander then mash
- Put the oil, mustard, dill and nutmeg in a dish and whisk together well (or blend with a stick blender until smooth)
- Mix this into the mash and season with salt and pepper.
- Place the lentil sauce into a large, deep ovenproof dish
- Spoon the mash on top and smooth over with the back of a spatula (or form peaks to produce crunchy bits)
- Cook the pie at 180°C for around 30 minutes or until golden
- Serve with wilted greens.
*The original recipe called for three zucchini (courgettes) instead of mushrooms and no spinach. If using zucchini, brown it separately in a pan and set aside before cooking the onions. Other variations are spinach and cauliflower, mushroom and leek – or any veg combination you’d like really.