Meera Sodha’s recipe for asparagus, fennel and pea pilau

The new vegan A simple rice dish that brings spring vegetables together beautifully

In the cut-and-thrust of spring and summer, it can feel that all the vegetables have turned up to the party at once. So the question is not so much which one to eat, but how to hang a few together so they make sense on the same plate. In this simple pilau, the fennel softens and melts into the background, joining the onion and garlic to form a deep base flavour, while the asparagus, peas, broad beans and herbs take a front seat, to keep things light, fresh and sweet.

Asparagus, fennel and pea pilau

In my experience, our supermarkets make decent garam masalas (although I prefer homemade, or the Bart or Steenbergs brands). Whichever you use, just make sure it’s fresh and doesn’t taste like sawdust. Feel free to add more peas and skip the broad beans if you don’t have the stamina to peel them.

Prep 10 min
Soak 20 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 4

350g basmati rice
750ml vegetable stock
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 red onions,peeled and finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 green finger chillies,veryfinely sliced
1 medium fennel bulb (about 250g),trimmed and thinly sliced
250g asparagus,woody ends trimmed and cut into 4cm-long pieces
100g frozen petit pois,defrosted
100g broad beans, podded and peeled
1½ tsp ground cumin
1½ tsp garam masala
¾ tsp salt
1 big handful mint leaves,chopped
1 big handful dill,chopped
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

Wash the rice in cold water until it runs clear, then leave to soak for 20 minutes. Put the rice in a large saucepan for which you have a lid and pour over the stock. Cover the pan, bring to a boil, boil for two minutes, then turn down the heat to a whisper and leave to cook for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the rice, still covered, to steam through until needed.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, lidded pan on a medium flame. Once hot, add the onions and cook for six to eight minutes, until translucent and softening, but not yet coloured. Add the garlic and chillies, cook for another two minutes, then stir in the fennel and a couple of tablespoons of water, and cover the pan. Leave to cook for eight minutes, until soft, then add the asparagus, peas, broad beans, cumin, garam masala and salt. Stir, cover again, cook for three to five minutes more, then take off the heat.

Fold the herbs and rice into the vegetable mixture – you might need to break up any clumps of rice delicately with your hands – then transfer to a serving dish and serve with wedges of lemon on the side.

  • Food styling: Aya Nishimura

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