MasterChef winners Karena and Kasey Bird write a fortnightly food column in Living.

Kasey and Karena: Vege out (+recipes)

Fragrant pumpkin curry.
Fragrant pumpkin curry.

As we grow as cooks we become more aware of just how important vegetables are. Not only because of their health benefits but because of the nourishing feeling we get from cooking and eating them. We cook many meals that don't contain meat. If you treat vegetables with care and respect you can indulge in tasty and fulfilling meals.

We especially love eating veges in the winter, adding lots of warm spices to create truly comforting dishes.

We relish thinking of new ways to reinvent a staple vegetable we have grown up. The pumpkin curry is a new household favourite.

Pumpkin adds a beautiful sweetness that is balanced with warming spices. One of our all-time favourites is this mushroom and leek tart. It is super simple to whip up and it is great for lunch and dinner.

Pumpkin curry

Serves 4

5 Tbsp oil or ghee
1 small pumpkin, deseeded and cut into 2cm cubes
Salt and pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
3 stalks curry leaves, leaves removed (optional)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4cm ginger, peeled and chopped
1 red chilli, chopped and deseeded
1 bunch coriander stalks
1 cup vegetable stock
¼ cup coconut cream
Fresh coriander to serve
White rice to serve

Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium heat and add the pumpkin, season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or until the pumpkin has softened but not completely cooked through. Remove from the oil.

Place the cumin, fennel, mustard seeds, coriander seeds and curry leaves in the oil and fry for two minutes or until the spices become more aromatic. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Return the pumpkin to the pan.

In a small food processor place the garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander stalks. Blend until it becomes a coarse paste.

Add this to the pumpkin and spices. Cook for 5 minutes or until the paste changes colour. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the coconut cream and cook for another 2 minutes. Serve with fresh coriander leaves and a side of hot rice.

Leek and mushroom tart

Serves 4

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves
2 small leeks, washed and sliced thinly (white part only)
Salt and pepper
250g button mushrooms, sliced
2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
¼ cup feta
Handful pinenuts
450g pre-rolled flaky pastry
1 egg beaten for glazing pastry

Preheat the oven to 200C. Heat a large fry pan over a medium heat. Add the oil and butter. Add the garlic and leeks, season and cook for 5-8 minutes or until the leeks start to become soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook for 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Line an oven tray with baking paper and place the puff pastry sheet on top. Place the leek and mushrooms in the middle, leaving a 3cm border. Crumble over the feta and pinenuts. Season. Fold the pastry edges towards the filling. Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is puffed and golden.

- Spy.co.nz

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