Need some inspo for dinner tonight? Try these hearty vegie-forward meals

Karen Hardy
June 19 2024 - 5:30am

Around Our Table is Sara Forte's third and most personal cookbook. It comes from years of work on the Sprouted Kitchen Cooking Club, which has provided insights into how people actually want to cook and what obstacles they face.

Roasted butternut orzo bake. Picture by Hugh Forte
Roasted butternut orzo bake. Picture by Hugh Forte

In Around Our Table, Forte shares her honest and unfussy insights from heavy-lifting sauces that can work for multiple meals, to truly flexible meals (accommodating picky kids, dietary restrictions, and time limitation), tips on which dinners will travel well, feed a group, and freeze well.

  • Around Our Table: Wholesome recipes to feed your family and friends, by Sara Forte. Hardie Grant Books. $55. Photography by Hugh Forte

Broccoli, caramelised onion and white cheddar quiche

Broccoli, caramelised onion and white cheddar quiche. Picture by Hugh Forte
Broccoli, caramelised onion and white cheddar quiche. Picture by Hugh Forte

I have found that a quiche is a great item to deliver to friends with a new baby because you can enjoy it at all times of the day, and with one hand if you're cradling a baby in the other. It's also a go-to for a brunch or holiday as it can be made completely in advance. I often use a premade pie crust, and there are great gluten-free ones available, but when I have the time, this hash-brown option is my favourite.


For the crust:

  • 2 large russet potatoes, peeled
  • 15ml avocado or olive oil
  • 30g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

For the onions:

  • 15ml avocado oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 300g broccoli florets, steamed and well chopped

For the filling:

  • 5 large eggs
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • tiny pinch of turmeric (for colour)
  • 170g grated white cheddar
  • mixed greens
  • double mustard maple dressing (below)


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 25cm ovenproof skillet or cast-iron pan.

2. Grate the potatoes on the large holes of a box grater. Collect them in a tea towel and wring out all the excess moisture. You should have about three to four cups of grated potatoes. In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, oil, flour and salt and stir until the flour is evenly distributed. Press the grated potatoes into the prepared skillet to make your own crust, down the bottom and up the sides, pressing into the elbows of the pan. It will shrink as it bakes. Bake for 35 minutes until golden on the edges.

3. Remove to cool. Leave the oven on.

4. While the crust cooks, start the onions. Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and saute until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 20 minutes. When the pan starts to dry up and the onions are getting too dark, add a splash of water. Once the onions are caramelised, set them aside to cool.

5. Chop the cooled broccoli florets into tiny pieces.

6. Whisk the eggs. Add the milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, turmeric, and half the cheese and whisk again.

7. Sprinkle a layer of cheese on the bottom of the crust. Distribute the chopped broccoli and caramelised onions and pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Bake on the middle rack for 35 minutes or until the centre is mostly set (it will be tender and will continue to set as it cools!). Let sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

8. Serve with greens dressed with double mustard maple dressing.

Change it up: You can add 225g cooked and crumbled bacon, change the cheese, make two and freeze or gift one, but always serve it with some dressed greens on the side for freshness and crunch.

Make ahead: This can be made up to two days in advance and covered and reheated in a 150C oven. To freeze, wrap tightly in plastic wrap after it is cooked and cooled, and store in the freezer for up to three months.

Serves 6.

Double mustard maple dressing


  • 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 2 tbsp minced shallot
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 60ml champagne vinegar
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 45ml lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
  • pinch of dried Italian herbs
  • 120ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a jar or blender. Shake or blend them up until combined. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one week.

Note: The shallots and garlic will get more pungent over time.

Makes 1 cup.

Everyday lentil soup

Everyday lentil soup. Picture by Hugh Forte
Everyday lentil soup. Picture by Hugh Forte

This soup is almost entirely pantry staples, comes together quickly, is stewy enough that it is easy for the kids to eat with bread, and it reheats beautifully for lunch the following day (which any soup maker will tell you is when the soup shines). I call for two kinds of lentils not to complicate things but because the red lentils break down and add heartiness to the broth while the green lentils hold shape and give the soup some texture.

Add a seeded, chopped jalapeo along with the other vegetables if you'd like more of a kick. I call for turmeric but a mild curry powder is a great substitute. Skip it if those aren't your favourite flavours. Unsweetened coconut cream is called for, but a large pat of butter will do the trick for a creamy finish.


  • 1 brown onion
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled
  • 2 stalks of celery, trimmed
  • 35ml olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp Italian herbs
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
  • 100g green or Puy lentils
  • 100g split red lentils
  • 960ml vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 x 400g can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric or mild curry powder, optional
  • 60ml coconut cream or full-fat coconut milk
  • 65g roughly chopped kale
  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • 15g chopped parsley
  • grated Parmesan or plain Greek yogurt, optional
  • toasted baguette


1. Finely chop the onion, carrot, sweet potato, and celery. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add all the vegetables, including the garlic, to the warm pot. Add the sea salt and saute until the onions are translucent, about five to eight minutes. Stir in the pepper, Italian herbs, red pepper, and both lentils. Add the broth and tomatoes and stir. Bring the soup up to a gentle boil, then turn the heat to a low simmer, leave the cover ajar, and cook for 30 minutes until everything is tender but not mushy.

2. Using a stick blender, give the soup a few pulses just to give it some texture, but nothing near a puree. You want the texture of the vegetables to come through while giving the broth a bit more body. Same can be done by blending one-third of the soup in a standard blender. Turn off the heat. Stir in the turmeric, coconut cream, kale, and lemon juice and cook until the greens start to just soften into the soup, about two minutes. Season with more salt and pepper, to taste. Add more broth as needed for your desired thickness.

3. Serve each bowl with a sprinkle of parsley and Parmesan or yogurt. Best served with a crusty baguette on the side.

Note: Soup texture is a personal preference. I like my lentil soups on the looser side, but know it is always easier to add liquid than to take it away. Use more broth to reheat leftovers as it thickens with time.

Serves 4.

Roasted butternut orzo bake

Roasted butternut orzo bake. Picture by Hugh Forte
Roasted butternut orzo bake. Picture by Hugh Forte

Hands down my favourite meal to deliver. With a little bit of heat from the jalapeno against the natural sweetness of the pumpkin, and topped with a crispy panko topping, it is an elevated version of ... a casserole. That word doesn't do it justice! We like orzo here because it's different and bakes up easily, but you can get away with a shell pasta or short rigatoni.


  • 900g butternut pumpkin, cut into 2.5cm cubes
  • 30ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

For the pesto:

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 jalapeo, partially seeded and chopped
  • 40g packed green herbs (any combination of parsley, coriander, chives and/or basil)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 30g toasted pistachio nuts, plus more for garnish
  • 80ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 25g grated Parmesan

For the orzo:

  • 15ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 of a brown onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 225g orzo
  • 120ml dry white wine
  • 475ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 15g lemon zest
  • 35g kale, roughly chopped
  • 85g panko
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 15ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 40g grated fontina cheese, divided


1. Preheat the oven to 200C.

2. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the butternut pumpkin, olive oil, paprika, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and tender. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, make the pistachio pesto. In a food processor or high-speed blender, pulse the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and jalapeno until well chopped. Add the herbs, salt, pepper, and pistachios. Pulse again. With the motor going, drizzle in the oil and Parmesan until desired texture is reached (I like mine a little rough). Set aside until ready to use.

4. Make the orzo. Heat a 30cm ovenproof frypan over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Once warm, add the onion, shallots, salt, and pepper. Saute until the onions are translucent, about three minutes. Add the orzo and stir to combine, until the orzo is coated in oil. Pour in the wine and cook until half of the wine is absorbed, about two minutes. Turn the heat down to low and stir in the stock, butter, lemon zest, and kale. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan and transfer to the oven, and bake for 15 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the panko, half of the Parmesan, and olive oil and stir to combine.

6. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and stir in half of the pistachio pesto (reserving the rest for serving). Stir in the roasted pumpkin, half of the fontina, and the rest of the Parmesan. Sprinkle the remaining fontina over the top, along with the Parmesan panko. Transfer it back to the oven, uncovered, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Turn the oven to grill, and grill until the top is just golden, another one to two minutes.

7. Allow the pan to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve portions with a bit of extra pesto, a sprinkle of pistachios, and a fresh green salad.

Change it up: If you are looking to add more protein, add 225g browned Italian sausage or crispy cooked bacon pieces when you add the squash.

Make ahead: Both the pesto and the roasted squash can be made in advance.

Freezer tip: Make it through the first covered baking step all the way to topping with remaining fontina and Parmesan panko. Cool to room temperature, cover tightly with foil, then freeze. From the freezer, let it sit out as you preheat the oven, bake it for 30 minutes, then broil until the top is just golden, another one to two minutes.

Serves 4-6.

Peppermint brownies with ganache

Peppermint brownies with ganache. Picture by Hugh Forte
Peppermint brownies with ganache. Picture by Hugh Forte

These are classic, rich, and hands down my favourite dessert when topped with a scoop of ice cream. We crown them with one more layer of rich chocolate ganache and some crushed peppermint lillies (as in candy canes or the red-and-white swirly ones) to take these over the top.

You'll be tempted to cut into them straight out of the oven, but they really need to settle into themselves. Allow them to cool entirely before trying to slice them. A sharp knife, run under warm water and wiped clean between cuts, always helps get clean edges.


  • 70g salted butter
  • 100g dark or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 28g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 113g sugar
  • 110g light brown sugar or muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 60ml avocado or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 62g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 85g semisweet chocolate chips

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 100g dark or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 30ml thick cream or coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 65g crushed peppermint candies, optional
  • flaky sea salt


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 20cm square pan with a baking paper sling, covering the bottom and also providing overhang over the sides for easy removal. Set aside.

2. In a medium glass bowl over a pot of simmering water, melt the butter. Once melted, add the chopped chocolate and gently stir together until smooth and glossy. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the cocoa powder. Set aside to cool.

3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and eggs. Whisk well to get some good volume in there, at least two minutes. Add the oil and vanilla and peppermint extracts. Whisk again. To test, lift your whisk out of the mixture and ensure a thick ribbon streams down. This helps with texture and a good crackly top.

4. To the egg mixture, slowly mix in the chocolate-and-butter mixture. Whisk well until totally combined with no streaks.

5. Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir gently until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and give it one more stir.

6. Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and bake on the middle rack for 22 to 24 minutes, until just set in the centre (they will continue to set as they cool).

7. While they cool, make your ganache. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chopped chocolate, cream or coconut oil, and peppermint. Microwave on medium power, in 30-second increments, stirring well each time, until just melted and smooth. (This can also be done in a glass bowl over simmering water.)

8. Once the brownies are cool, pour the ganache over them. Sprinkle the peppermint candies and flaky salt over the top and let them cool to set (speed this up by placing them in the fridge for one hour).

9. Remove the parchment sling from the pan. Cut the brownies into small squares with a clean, sharp knife.

10. Brownies will keep covered at room temperature for three days.

Change it up: If mint is not your favourite, eliminate the extract and add two teaspoons finely ground coffee or instant espresso. Or add 80g walnut pieces or crushed up Oreo cookies. Chopped peanut butter cups or a swirl of peanut butter on top is another favourite.

Dairy free: Replace the butter with a vegan alternative or coconut oil. Be sure your dark chocolate does not contain milk solids.

Gluten free: Replace the flour with oat flour and 30g of arrowroot powder or a 1:1 gluten-free all-purpose blend.

Makes 1 x 20cm pan.

Around Our Table: Wholesome recipes to feed your family and friends, by Sara Forte. Hardie Grant Books. $55. Photography by Hugh Forte
Around Our Table: Wholesome recipes to feed your family and friends, by Sara Forte. Hardie Grant Books. $55. Photography by Hugh Forte
Karen Hardy

Karen Hardy

Canberra Times lifestyle reporter

I've covered a few things here at The Canberra Times over the years, from sport to education. But now I get to write about the fun stuff - where to eat, what to do, places to go, people to see. Let me know about your favourite things. Email: