Since arriving in Hong Kong I have been struggling, largely in vain, to get to grips with the Cantonese language. It’s a tonal language with nine different tones, so if you pronounce a word with wrong intonation then it completely changes the meaning. My teacher agrees with my assessment that nine tones are a bit unnecessary, and has only taught me six. After weeks of practice, I can now say the tones more-or-less adequately when pronouncing words in isolation – trying to put them together in a sentence is a different matter. Before embarking on the sentence I plot it out in my head, thinking about where I need to adjust the tone, then I run through it mentally a few times in the hope that it will come out fluently. Then I open my mouth, get about two words in and have to stop for about 5 minutes to reassess and try to hit the right tone on the next word. It’s ridiculous! I’m ploughing on regardless, and today is the day when my incredibly patient teacher is going to teach me some expressions for talking about food (she has already taught me “tasty” and “delicious” – the essentials!), so that I can explain my dietary requirements in shops and restaurants.
This is pretty important, as it can be quite difficult being a vegetarian abroad, trying to ensure that the food you order is completely meat-free. This is especially a problem in China, where even dishes that sound vegetarian and consist only of tofu and vegetables are likely to have been cooked using some kind of meat stock or sauce. I have a lot of respect for vegetarians who travel off the beaten track, where it becomes more difficult to find tourist-friendly veggie options or English menus. That’s one of the reasons I love The World Food Cafe, a recipe book written by a veggie couple who travelled the world taking pictures and collecting recipes along the way. Wherever they went, they managed to find someone to whip them up a local veggie dish, thus experiencing the delights of every exotic new cuisine without compromising their diet. This recipe book is one of my all time favourites, not only because of the wealth of recipes but also because of the breath-taking photos and engaging tales of their journey. Some of the ingredients required can be a little difficult to come by, but there are lots of really tasty curries and stews, as well as soups, salads, dips and accompaniments.
This recipe, a stew from Peru, is one of my favourites. It’s a simple to make, healthy and substantial meal, with a good kick to it too. For the veg I generally use butternut squash, and the only place I ever tracked down Lima beans was, oddly enough, in Vietnam, so I stick with butterbeans.
Lima Bean Stew (adapted from The World Food Cafe)
450g potatoes, peeled and cubed
450g pumpkin/squash, peeled and cubed
4tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 chilli, finely chopped
tin chopped tomatoes
handful chopped thyme
2tsp ground cumin
410g tin Lima beans/butterbeans
425g tin sweetcorn
handful chopped parsley
1. Parboil the potatoes and pumpkin in a pan of salted water, then drain and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onions, garlic, chilli and cumin until soft (about 7 minutes). Add the thyme, tinned tomatoes and parboiled potato and pumpkin. Cook for a couple of minutes on medium heat.
3. Add the beans and corn and cook for 10minutes, seasoning to taste.
4. Serve garnished with fresh parsley, with feta crumbled on top if you like. Serve with rice or a nice bit of crusty bread.