Saturday, 3 March 2012

Bird in a Bird in a Bird

I'm not really sure what the official name for the inspiration behind this dish is, and to be honest, the whole idea makes me feel a little queasy - the traditional Christmas practice of stuffing a small bird inside a bigger bird, inside another big bird. But I did think that it would be a good idea to try making something that spectacular, using vegan ingredients. In my opinion, this looks a lot more appealing than its namesake as when you cut it you get rainbow slices on your plate - delicious!

Bird in a Bird in a Bird
with potato wedges and hot tomato gravy
(serves 4)

1 large butternut squash
2 red peppers
1 medium-sized aubergine
couple of handfuls of spinach, washed
1 large courgette
1 cup red camargue rice
tsp cumin
olive oil
sea salt

For the simple bechamel sauce:
1 tblsp spoon olive oil
3 tsp plain flour
3 tblsp soya milk
very scanty pinch nutmeg

For the hot tomato gravy:
1 tin tomatoes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 Scotch bonnet chilli, very finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed or very finely chopped
10 olives
pinch pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celcius. Chop the butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place the squash cut-side down on a baking tray, with about 1cm of hot water in it. Pop in the oven for 20-30 minues until the flesh is tender.

2. Meanwhile, cook the rice on the hob in the usual way. I use 2 cups of water for 1 cup of rice, boil it rapidly for 3-5 minues, then turn off the heat and leave the pan there with the lid on for 20 minutes. Perfect results every time.

3. Slice the aubergine into thin slices and either grill, griddle or fry until soft and ever so slightly charred, then set aside. Whilst you are doing this, submerge your peppers in a jug of water for about 5 minutes, then remove them and pat dry. This makes the skin nice and tender.  

4. Your butternut squash and rice should now both be ready. Remove the squash from the oven, and turn the oven up to 220 degrees celcius. Use a spoon to scoop out most of the flesh from the middle, leaving about 1cm of flesh around it so that the skin doesn't fall apart. Mix the flesh into the rice, adding salt and pepper to taste. Stuff some of the rice mixture well into the prepared red peppers (you will probably need just over half of it), brush the outside of them with a little olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Cut the courgette in half, brush the outside with oil and sprinkle with salt. Pop the peppers and the courgette in the oven for 10 mins for the peppers to brown off the outside andt the courgette to start to cook.

5. Whilst they are in the oven, make a very simple bechamel sauce, by heating the oil and flour over a gentle heat, stirring continuously. Then add the milk, stirring continuously. Add the nutmeg at the last minute and stirr well. There won't be much sauce, but it should be pretty thick.

6. Line the cavity of the butternut squash with the slices of aubergine so that there are no gaps, but the lining is quite flat and neat. Spoon half of the bechamel sauce into each half of the squash, and spread evenly so that all of the aubergine is covered.

7. Remove the peppers and courgettes from the oven, and reduce the temperature to 200 degrees celcius. Pop the stuffed peppers into on half of the butternut squash. You may have to manipulate them a little to make them fit, but this is fine. Put the squash back together, brush the outside with a little olive oil, some sea salt and pepper, and pop back on your baking tray.

8. Scoop the very centre from your courgette,discard any seeds, and mix the rest of the flesh in with the remainder of the rice mixture. Line the cavity of your courgette with the spinach.

9. Add the cumin to the rice and mix in well. Use this to stuff the two halves of the courgette. There will probably more than you need, but this can be frozen for a lunchbox at a later stage. Once the courgette is stuffed, put it back together, cover the outside in a thing brushing of olive oil, sea salt and black pepper then put back on the baking tray. Pop both of the stuffed 'birds' back in the oven for around 40mins.

10. Meanwhile, make the tomato gravy. Gently fry off the onion in a little olive oil until it starts to go soft, then add in the garlic, chilli and  tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then simmer very gently for about 40 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken and mature. You might want to open a window at this point, as the chilli fumes can be quite intoxicating!

11. You can now prepare the potato wedges to serve with the meal. Take three large potatoes and chop each in half length-ways, then cut each half lengthways into three or four equal segments. Put these on another baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop them in the oven when the 'birds' have been in for about 20 minutes, so that they are ready at the same time. You will need to give the wedges a good shake around about ten minutes into their cooking time.

12. When you put the wedges in the oven, you can add the olives to the tomato gravy. You can cut them in half if you like, or keep them whole for texture - whichever you prefer.

Slice the 'birds' at the table for best effect!
When everything is ready, dish up the wedges, but leave the 'birds' for carving at the table for some added excitement. Serve the sauce in a jug, so that guests can decide how brave they want to be! Although the sauce is pretty hot, it's actually shockingly more-ish...


  1. As a vegetarian I would relish this vegan version of the meaty bird dish.

    The hot tomato gravy sounds good too and I can imagine it good as a dip.

  2. Thanks very much, Shaheen! It looks a lot more complicated than it actually is, so it's worth a go. I fed it to a meat-eating friend and he was blown away. I think you're right about the hot tomato gravy, too. I can imagine it with going down well with some wholemeal pittas... yum!