Aubergines with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

I came across this Lebanese dish (Mussaka’A Menazzaleh) in Claudia Roden’s excellent Arabesque. I had actually intended making Ratatouille but discovered that I had forgotten to buy courgettes. Also, the preparation looked like more work than I wanted and the amount of olive oil involved would definitely have alerted the ‘fat police’. So I thought this recipe looked tasty, fairly straightforward and importantly I had all the ingredients to hand.

It turned out to be absolutely delicious, with a delicate sweet-and-sour flavour, and it tasted even better the next day eaten at room temperature. So give it a try!

Summary

Makes: 6 portions
Preparation: 15 mins
Cooking: 15 mins + 40 mins

Ingredients

2
2 or 3
500g
2 tbsp
2 tsp
1½ tbsp
400g 1 tin
Aubergines (about 750g total)
Cloves of garlic (crushed)
Tomatoes (skinned, seeded and chopped)
Tomato juice (optional but gives nice consistency)
Sugar
Pomegranate molasses
Chickpeas (drained)
Good olive oil
Salt
Fresh black pepper
Flat-leafed parsley (chopped)

Method

Trim the end of the aubergines, slice in half lengthways and then across into half-rounds about as thick as your finger. Arrange on an oven rack, brush each side with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Grill until golden on both sides: about 15 minutes altogether.

Place a tablespoon of oil into a good-sized saucepan and add the crushed garlic. Put onto a low-medium heat. As soon as the garlic starts to colour, add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and juice if using. Cook gently for 15 minutes or so. Then stir in the pomegranate molasses and carefully fold in the aubergine slices. Continue to simmer for 25 minutes or so, at which stage the aubergine should be very soft. Add the chickpeas about 10 minutes before the end to heat through.

Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the parsley. Goes really well with grilled white meats such as chicken.

Aubergine Slices with Walnuts and Garlic

Aubergine Slices with Walnuts and Garlic

This Georgian-influenced meze is known as Cevizli Patlican in Turkey. It is simple to make and tastes delicious, despite the prodigious amounts of garlic involved. You certainly won’t be bothered by vampires after this dish, but gently frying the garlic and mixing it with walnuts mellows the flavour a lot. Try to get hold of walnuts that have not been stored for too long as they can taste bitter, but this can be compensated by blanching briefly and drying well in a very low oven.

Summary

Makes: 4 starter portions
Total Time: about 40 mins

Ingredients

2
60g
6 cloves
.
.
1 handful
Decent-sized aubergines
Shelled walnut halves
Garlic (more or less depending on tastes)
Good olive oil
Nice wine vinegar
Chopped parsley
Salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 240°C. Wash and dry the aubergines. Chop off the stalk and cut lengthways into slices about as thick as your finger. You should easily get 4 proper slices from each aubergine. Wrap a baking sheet with foil and oil well. Arrange the aubergine slices on the sheet and brush well with olive olive. Turn over and brush the other side too. Place in the oven on an upper shelf. Bake for about half an hour until golden on both sides, turning over once.

Meanwhile, chop the walnuts using a food processor or herb chopper. Aim for finely chopped but don’t let them become a paste. Crush the garlic and put into a cold pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Put over a lowish heat and let the garlic release its aroma and start to sizzle, but don’t let it colour. Mix the chopped walnuts and parsley in a small bowl, then stir in the the garlic and oil. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to bring everything together and to give consistency you can spread.

When the aubergines are ready, generously brush the upper surface of each slice with wine vinegar and sprinkle with a little salt. Divide the walnut, garlic and parsley mix evenly between the slices and spread.

Let cool before serving. Enjoy!

Dressed Puy Lentils

Dressed Puy Lentils

Lentils are tasty and high in protein. They form an important part of a vegetarian diet, and indeed the largely vegetarian Indian diet has resulted in many delicious recipes, such as tarka dal,  for all sorts of lentils. In France the bluey-greeny Puy Lentils are a common accompaniment to lamb and other dishes. Puy lentils cook quite quickly without the need for presoaking. This is a considerable advantage. A very simple dish is to chop a shallot very finely and fry gently in butter or oil for a few minutes in a saucepan until soft. Then add 1 cup of puy lentils, which you have picked over to catch any pebbles etc. Stir the lentils carefully to coat with the oil. Then add 3 cups of water. Don’t add any salt at this stage as it can make the skins tough. Bring to a boil and simmer gently, partially covered, until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain off any excess liquid. Add a dressing of 1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar to 3 tablespoons of good olive oil. Do this while the lentils are still warm. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature. There is easily enough for six side portions. Any leftovers can be kept for several days in the fridge.

Spaghetti Squash

I recently came across something that I hadn’t eaten since living in the States many, many moons ago: spaghetti squash. You probably won’t find this in Irish or UK supermarkets, but should come across it in farmers’ markets. It is a dark yellow winter squash, a little smaller than a rugby ball and not as pointy. From the outside, it gives no clue to the surprise waiting inside: a myriad of golden spaghetti-like strands. These are fragrant, slightly sweet and nutty in taste. And provided you have not cooked the living bejasus out of the squash, still have a little bite!

Seeing as it was so long since I had cooked the stuff, I had to do a little web research to see how. I found a good video at Dani Spies’ website. I was in a bit of a hurry, so followed the suggestion of microwaving it, turning it over once after half the cooking time. In my case, it seemed to need about 12mins per kg at 1000 Watt, but it probably depends on how ripe the squash is and your microwave. Be sure to puncture the squash through to the core about a dozen times with a heavy knive to minimise the chances of the whole thing exploding in the microwave.

When cooked, leave to cool for 5 minutes, chop off the stalk end and split lengthways. Remove the seeds and then pull the strands of ‘spaghetti’ with a fork. The are lots of things you could then do with said ‘spaghetti’ but since I was in a hurry, I just dressed it with some butter, grated parmesan, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and some salt and pepper. A squash of 1.5kg will easily give enough for 4 side portions or 2 main portions. It was really delish and I urge you to try it, as well as the other delicious squashes currently in season.

Tortilla

Tortilla

Tortilla, or Spanish omelette, is a staple in any decent tapas bar. The egg and potato mix flavoured with the sweet onions is one of my favourite foods. As so often, the simple things are best. There is a little bit of work involved but effort is worth it and the omelette can be kept for several days in the fridge, if you can resist the temptation to scoff it all in one sitting. Practically every Spaniard will have an opinion on how to make the perfect tortilla. Opinon is split on the role of the onions. Some use only the onion-flavoured oil: others incorporate the onions in the omelette. I fall into the latter camp. The Spanish say floury potatoes are best but I can only assume they have something very different in mind when they say floury than we Irish do. I find any potato that would boil on the dry side suitable and most often use a variety such as Exquisa, which are also small. The amount of potato might seem excessive, but as long as they fit in the pan that’s OK: the egg really serves to bind everthing together.

Summary

Makes: 6 tapas portions
Preparation: 10mins
Cooking: 20mins + 10mins + 10mins

Ingredients

50ml
2
500g
4
Good olive oil
Onions
Potatoes
Eggs
Salt
Pepper
Sunflower oil for deep frying

Method

Half the peeled onions lengthways and then slice quite thinly and evenly. Put the olive oil to heat over a medium ring. When the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until golden, stirring every now and then. Don’t let them burn. When ready separate the onions from the oil using a sieve and reserve the oil. Next on to the potatoes. Depending on your potatoes you may need to peel them. Then cut into small pieces about the size of the end of your thumb and about 5mm thick. Deep fry the potato pieces at a medium temperature (about 140ºC), lifting them out just as they start to turn golden along the edges. Don’t turn them into French fries! Remove the excess oil with some kitchen paper.

We’re now ready to make the tortilla. The amounts in this recipe are intended for a 20cm frying pan, which should be heavy-based and well seasoned or non-stick. If you use a 25cm pan you’ll need to add 50% to all the ingredients. You have to get the pan quite hot to start and then reduce the heat. This can be tricky if you have an electric hob, so it’s probably easiest to use two rings, one hot, one low to medium. The tortilla also needs to be turned during cooking and you will need a flat plate comfortably bigger than pan for this. It pays to be organised for this dish.

Crack the eggs into a clean bowl. Add the potatoes and onions, if using, along with salt and pepper. Mix well using a fork. Place the pan on the hotter ring and add enough of the reserved olive oil to coat the pan. When the pan is hot, mix the eggs again with the fork and tip into the pan. Move the pan to the low ring. After 3 or 4 minutes the underside should be cooked nicely. Take a peek and it should be golden. The top will still be a little runny. The tortilla is now ready to be turned. This is the only tricky part of the dish. Keep your strong hand for the pan. Place the plate upside down on the pan, with the rim of the plate near where the handle joins the pan. Hold the pan with your strong hand and press gently but firmly on the plate. Lift the pan up from the stove. Now, in one quick movement turn the assembly upside down and lift away the pan. The tortilla should now be sitting on the plate along with a little uncooked egg mixture.

Wipe out the pan and return to the hotter ring, adding enough oil to coat. When hot, slide the tortilla from the plate back into the pan, letting the uncooked egg in first. Move the pan to the low ring and let the tortilla finish cooking. Wipe the dinner plate clean and turn out the finished tortilla as before. Tortilla tastes best when eaten at room temperature.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Moroccan Carrot Salad

The unusual thing about Moroccan and other North African salads is that the ingredients are cooked first, allowed to cool and then assembled into a salad. This probably has to do with climate. However, once the initial reluctance has been overcome, one quickly realises that this preparation method allows more complex flavours to be achieved. The Germans also have quite a few salads based on cooked vegetables such as french beans and of course their fantastic potato salads. This carrot salad is delicious and the lemon juice in the dressing acts as the perfect foil to the sweetness of the carrots.

Summary

Makes: 4 good portions
Preparation: 20mins
Cooking: 20 mins

Ingredients

500g
2/3 tsp
1 clove
1
1/3 tsp
1 tbsp
1 tbsp
Good quality carrots
Cumin seeds
Garlic
Small lemon
Caster sugar
Good olive oil
Coriander (chopped)
Sea salt

Method

Boil the carrots whole in lightly salted water until tender, which should take about 20 minutes. Try to use nice sweet carrots but if you’re having difficulty finding these, you can add a teaspoon of sugar to the water. When cooked, drain the carrots and leave to cool.

Meanwhile roast the cumin seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes over a low heat. You can tell they’re ready by the fragrance and the start of a colour change. Remove from the pan and grind in a mortar and pestle. Peel the garlic and chop very roughly. Add to the cumin with about ½ teaspoon of salt. Pound and grind until a paste is formed. Add the lemon juice, sugar and olive oil and mix.

When the carrots are cool, slice thinly, discarding the tops and tails. Add the dressing and coriander. Toss the mixture and add a litttle salt if needed. Leave to stand for few minutes to let the flavours integrate. You can make the salad ahead of time and store in the fridge but it shoud be served at room temperature.