Spelt Risotto with Roasted Vegetables and Paneer Croutons

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This recipe is incredibly simple. And endlessly configurable. Its base is a grain: I’m currently in love with spelt rice that we get from our lovely friends, the Mays (more on that shortly). It has a wonderful texture and a great bite and I find I need a lot less than regular rice to fill up. However, quinoa, basmati, brown or wild rice, bulgur or even couscous could be the grain you use, depending on what you have at hand. To that you add plenty of cooked vegetables: I used pan-roasted fennel and zucchini; this would be delicious with sweet potatoes, leeks and spinach; roasted peppers and sweet potato; roasted cauliflower and spinach—you get the idea! A sort of dressing made with peanut butter and a dash of tamari adds flavour, the whole thing is topped off with some crispy pan-fried paneer (substitute with feta, or firm tofu or tempeh for a vegan version) and something to add crunch and freshness: my choices were toasted sesame seeds and some fresh cress. Other versions could be toasted peanuts or pumpkin seeds, use coriander or basil to finish things off. And if you have your grain already cooked, the rest comes together in a flash: you’ll have a delicious bowl of fresh food on the table in under 30 minutes.

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The spelt rice I use comes from an organic farm in Germany's Rhön region. It’s a family-run farm in the fourth generation—our friends the Mays recently moved back from the city to take it over. They’re just getting started and already have so many fantastic ideas for the farm and the region and we’ve been so lucky to have access to their amazing produce. It’s quite special to prepare dishes with ingredients straight from a farm, especially when its things grown or raised by close friends! Our eggs come from the May farm as well, and are so delicious. Please leave me a comment if you’d like to buy their products and would like to know more. They have a whole range of things, including pasta handmade from their organic spelt flour—it’s delicious!

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Spelt Risotto with Roasted Vegetables and Paneer Croutons
Serves two

1 cup cooked spelt rice
1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon ghee or sunflower oil
1 medium zucchini, halved vertically and sliced thickly on the diagonal
1 medium fennel bulb, finely sliced
1 level teaspoon grated ginger
250 grams fresh paneer, cut into 1.5 cm cubes
1/2 - 1 teaspoon shichimi togarashi, chili powder or paprika, to taste
Salt to taste

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons peanut mousse (without added sugar)
A splash of tamari or soya sauce
3 tablespoons hot water

To garnish:
Fresh cress
Toasted sesame seeds
2 teaspoons sesame oil

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Heat 1 teaspoon of ghee in a medium-sized non-stick pan. Once hot, add the sliced fennel and stir. Cook on a medium flame for about 3 - 4 minutes, then add the zucchini and the grated ginger. Mix well and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are done, about 8 - 10 minutes. Flavour with some salt to taste.

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Meanwhile, heat the tablespoon of ghee in a small pan over a high flame. Once hot, add the paneer cubes, sprinkle with the shichimi and fry until golden and crisp on all sides. This should take about 6 - 7 minutes. Once done, turn the cubes onto a plate covered with paper towels and allow to drain.

Add the cooked spelt to the pan with the roasted vegetables and mix together gently to combine. Add the dressing and mix again, tasting to see if the flavours are fine. You could add a dash of tamari or salt to if necessary. Divide the risotto between two bowls, top with the paneer cubes and finish off with some fresh cress, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a drizzle of sesame oil. Enjoy hot!

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Images: Vatsala Murthy

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