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!

Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

Beetroot and yoghurt seem to be a match made in heaven. The sweetness of the beetroot complements the natural tartness of the yoghurt. Various combinations are found all over the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. For some reason it’s also very popular in Sweden. I’ve presented two recipes here: the absolute simplest and a delicious posh version that’s just scrumptious.

Simplest Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

Simplest Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

This is so simple that it hardly counts as a recipe, but it tastes delicious nonetheless. Reduced to its minimum, chop some peeled cooked beetroot into cubes or whatever shape you like, and then stir in just enough yoghurt to coat it all. Enjoy with crusty white bread. You can add a little crushed garlic but be careful as it can dominate the taste. I prefer keeping it simple.

Posh Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

Posh Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

This delicious recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. It’s a bit more work than the previous recipe but still pretty straightforward and can be done in stages. It adds dimensions with a great relish and lashings of dill. The relish can be used in other situations too, such as in chicken sandwiches. I’ve suggested using ready-cooked beetroot as this saves time and there are plenty of good suppliers out there.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 10 mins + 25 mins + 10mins

Ingredients

1kg
4 h.tbsp
1 small
160g
.
Relish
.
2
3 tbsp
1½ tsp
400g
2 cloves
1 tsp
4
2 tbsp
2 tbsp
Cooked beetroot (peeled)
Fresh dill
Red onion (very finely sliced) (optional)
Greek or thick natural yoghurt
.
.
.
Yellow peppers
Olive oil
Coriander seeds
Can of chopped tomatoes (with juices)
Garlic (crushed)
Sugar
Preserved lemons
Chopped flat leafed parsley
Chopped coriander
.
Salt
Pepper
.
Aluminium foil

Method

First, prepare the peppers for roasting. Preheat the grill. Carefully cut around the top of the peppers and pull on the stalk to take out the seeds. Place on the foil under the grill for about 20 minutes, turning as needed until nicely charred all over. Form a parcel around the peppers using the foil and let cool. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the coriander seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so. Add the tomatoes, garlic and sugar. Season with salt and pepper, but go easy on the salt as the preserved lemons are quite salty. Let this just come to the point of boiling, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. During this time you can prepare the preserved lemons. Cut each into four using the existing cuts as guides. Cut away and discard the flesh leaving just the skin. Cut this into small squares. Wash away the excess salt with cold water. Then add to the tomatoes and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the relish from the heat, stir in the parsley and coriander, and leave to cool completely.

When the peppers are cool, remove from the foil, peel and cut into strips and stir these into the relish. If you prepare the peppers a little ahead of time, you can add them to the relish at the same time as the parsley and coriander. In this case, the flavour is even better.

To assemble the salad, cut the beetroot into wedges and place in a mixing bowl. Add the relish, half of the dill, and onion, if using. Mix well but gently with a wooden spoon or spatula. Check the seasoning. Transfer to a large shallow serving bowl and spoon the yoghurt fairly evenly over the beetroot. Stir around just a little to create a marbled effect. Sprinke with the remaining dill.

Enjoy with some crusty white bread.

Gortnanain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm, Co. Cork

Some very good friends kindly gave us a voucher for Gortnanain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm, which we used last weekend. This guesthouse is situated in the rolling countryside just outside Kinsale in Co. Cork and consists of the small guesthouse itself and around 9 acres of land given over to growing a staggering array of vegetables and to a lesser, but increasing, extent fruit. The bulk of this produce is used to supply a handful of restaurants in Cork city, including one of the world’s great vegetarian restaurants – Dennis Cotter’s Cafe Paradiso.

Not only do Lucy and Ultan tend the crops, they also do a great job as hosts and chefs for dinner and breakfast. After arriving, we were given a nice cup of tea and had a great chat. We also got to meet the house’s other permanent residents, Snapple and Bramble – head rabbit catchers on the farm. There was one other couple staying that night: Michael and Lorna from NYC. Everyone – guests and hosts alike – sits around the big kitchen table for dinner.

The dinner menu is fixed, but Lucy did ask when we booked, whether we had any preferences or allergies; and they work out the menu based on that information and whatever is available in the garden. Gortnanain has no wine licence but provides a glass or two on the house and you can, of course, bring your own. Dinner was excellent, especially the tomato salad, which completely changed my views on the merits of beefsteak tomatoes. These were ripe to perfection and bursting with flavour. The conversation was great and continued after we retired to the lounge for tea and coffee. Lucy and Ultan’s take on organic was very refreshing. They are committed to local organic food because being near, it’s in peak condition, and organic farming is so much better for the environment. They made no claims that it’s necessarily better for you: for that they’d rather wait for conclusive scientific evidence. Mind you, I think it’s obvious that they believe it.

Next day, after a delicious breakfast, Ultan gave a tour of the farm. It was quite astonishing, what could be produced from a small plot. As we wandered up and and down drills of various vegetables in glorious sunshine, with Ultan weeding as we went, it was quite obvious the amount of work that goes into producing such great vegetables. You must need huge commitment to be doing this on the many rainy days we have.

I can’t recommend Gortnanain highly enough and would urge you to spend a night or two if you’re ever in the area. I know we’re looking forward to our next visit.

Caramelised Garlic and Goat’s Cheese Tart

Caramelised Garlic Goats Cheese Tart

I recently posted a recipe for a fantastic quiche using fresh garlic. This was delicious but unfortunately the season for fresh garlic is pretty short. So, I was on the lookout for a similar recipe that I could make all year round. While perusing the Irish Times a few weeks ago, I came across this tart/quiche in Domini Kemp’s column. She presents a recipe adapted from one by Yotam Ottolenghi, which I, in turn, have adapted slightly to suit the flan dishes I had available. The results were great and I look forward to being able to enjoy this tart throughout the year. Ottolenghi’s recipe uses less balsamic, which I would do next time too, as it keeps the garlic more golden than dark.

This recipe is for a 20cm dish. Just double the quantities for 28cm. You can of course make your own puff pastry if you’re that way inclined but I used Jus-Rol. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use shortcrust, in which case there’s less excuse not to make it yourself!

There’s a little bit of work involved but you can do each stage separately; so don’t let that put you off trying this great dish.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 10 mins + 20 mins
Cooking: 30 mins + 20 mins + 30 mins

Ingredients

250g
2-3 heads
2 tbsp
2 tbsp
200ml
1 tbsp
1 tbsp
120g
2
100g
Puff pastry (defrosted but still cold)
Garlic (cloves separated and peeled)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Water
Caster sugar
Chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, etc)
Goat’s cheese (mix hard and soft if you can)
Large eggs (the best you can get)
Crème fraîche
Salt
Pepper
.
20cm quiche dish about 3cm deep
Baking beans or similar

Method

First we need to make the pastry base, which can be be done ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface so that it is big enough to line the base and sides of the quiche dish with a margin to allow for shrinkage. Prick the base all over with a fork. If you have time place in the fridge for 20 minutes of so. Trim the excess pastry. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and pour in the baking beans. Use as many as will fit, as otherwise the base will rise. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and continue to bake for a further 5 minutes to let the base crisp up. Set aside to cool. Don’t worry if the base has risen a little: you can carefully trim around the edge and press it down gently later.

When you’re ready to finish off the dish, set the oven to warm at 160°C. Put the olive oil in a small frying pan over a low heat and add the garlic cloves. Let them gently sweat for about 10 minutes. Move them around the pan to stop them colouring. Then add the sugar, balsamic and water. Increase the heat and let the mixture reduce. After about 10 minutes add the chopped herbs and season with a little salt and pepper. When the liquid has turned syrupy, the garlic should be soft and have a nice dark colour from the balsamic. In the meantime, dice the cheese and sprinkle over the pastry base. Crack the eggs and mix with the crème fraîche to form a sort of custard. Sprinkle the garlic cloves evenly over the cheese along with a little of the pan syrup. Move the dish to near the oven and pour in the eggs and crème fraîche. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the custard has set.

Let cool a little before serving, as this gives the flavour a chance to develop. Enjoy with a green salad.

Pimientos de Padron

Pimientos de Padron

Pimientos de Padron are a delicious speciality from Galicia. These thumb-sized chillies are completely without the usual fire. To prepare just fry, with the stalks still attached, in hot olive oil until blistered, use kitchen towel to remove excess oil and sprinkle liberally with flakes of sea salt. They may not make the world’s most attractive dish but they are absolutely scrumptious. If you find these in your local greengrocer’s, I urge you to give them a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Broad Bean Pilaf

Broad Bean Pilaf

This pilaf turns up in both Turkish and Persian cooking. Pilaf or pilav is present in one form or another from Turkey to India to Kazakhstan, where they call it plov. I got this recipe from Sam Clark’s Moro cookbook.  It tastes great, is good for you and is simple to make. The only slight drawback is that it requires a little advance planning to soak the rice and broad beans, if using dried ones. The rest is child’s play only takes about 20 minutes. You can eat on its own, in which case this recipe should be enough for four good portions. As a side dish you can reckon with six to eight portions.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 15mins + 3 hours soaking
Cooking: 25mins

Ingredients

150g
500g
75g
1
6
Pinch
Md bunch
Sm. bunch
Basmati rice
Podded broad beans (or 150g dried broad beans)
Butter (plus splash of oil)
Shallot or small onion
Scallions
Allspice
Dill
Flat leaved parsley
Salt
Pepper 

25cm frying and lid

Method

First wash the rice several times in cold water until it runs clear. Then cover in lukewarm water and add a tablespoon of sea salt. Don’t worry if it seems a lot, it will be washed off later. The salt helps stop the rice from splitting during cooking. Soaking the rice for this long (3 hours) helps match the cooking time to that of the broad beans. If you are using dried broad beans you can soak these at this time too, in fact an hour earlier is even better. For fresh beans, unless you’ve got early specimens, you’ll probably need to remove the outer skin, which can be a bit indigestible. The easiest way to do this is blanch the beans for a minute or two to loosen the skin and then peel them.

When it’s time to cook, slice the shallot finely and chop the scallions using all the green. Chop the dill and parsley coarsely. Put the pan over a medium heat and add the butter with a small spash of oil. When foaming add the shallot, scallions and allspice. Fry until soft and the shallot is starting to colour (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile drain the rice and rinse off the excess salt. Drain the beans.

Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat with butter. Add the beans and two-thirds of the dill and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and mix everything gently together. Add enough water (or stock) to cover by about 5mm. Cover with damp greaseproof paper and turn up the heat. When it starts to boil, put a lid on the pan, and leave to cook for about 5 minutes, then turn the heat to low and leave for another 5 minutes. At this stage, the water should be fully absorbed and the rice quite fluffy.

Spoon the pilaf on to a warmed platter and sprinke with the remaining dill and parsley. Serve with a little [[link entry=”13″ text=”yoghurt”]].

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.

Zucchini Parmigiana

 

Lovely lasagne-type dish but with zucchini playing the role of the pasta. Can also be made with aubergine (melanzana). This dish can be prepared well ahead of time and then assembled and finished in the oven to make a delicious dinner!

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 30mins
Cooking: 30mins + 30mins

Ingredients

Sugo

6
500g
1
1 sm. clove
1 tsp
Tomatoes
Passata
Onion
Garlic
Good olive oil
Dried basil
Salt
Pepper

The Rest

2 maybe 3

2



200g
50g
Zucchini
Flour
Eggs
Salt
Pepper
Sunflower oil
Mozarella
Pecorino or parmesan

Method

This dish can be made in several stages, a considerable time in advance. I will describe frying the egged and floured zucchini first, as this is the messiest stage, followed by making the sugo and then finally assembling the dish. You can of course make the sugo in parallel with frying the zucchini if you run a well organised kitchen!

As you need to slice the zucchini thinly lengthwise, life becomes much easier if you can use some sort of mandolin. Failing that you’ll need a large chef’s knife and a steady hand. Slice the zucchini thinly (2-3mm), discarding the outer slice or two, and pat dry using some kitchen paper. You need to be organised for the frying stage. Assuming you’re right handed (apologies to any citeogs!), set up the following assembly line from right to left: plate containing zucchini; plate with lightly beaten eggs; plate next to stove with seasoned flour; large frying pan containing sunflower oil to allow a certain degree of deep-frying; and a plate with kitchen paper to receive the fried zucchini.

Proceed as follows. First dip the zucchini slice in the egg, then lightly in the flour and place in the pan. Repeat until the pan is comfortably full but not crowded. Turn each slice once and transfer to the plate with the kitchen paper when golden. Repeat until all zucchini is used up. You may need to change the oil during the process. If you’re really adventurous, you can have two pans on the go!

For the sugo, chop the onion finely and fry over a medium heat in a little olive oil in a medium saucepan. Crush the garlic clove and add to the onion. Chop the tomatoes and remove the seeds. When the onion is soft, add the tomatoes, passata and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Depending on the sweetness of your tomatoes, you may want to add a teaspoon of sugar. Once the mixture has come to the boil, reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes or so to let the flavours integrate.

When you’re ready to make dinner, preheat the oven to 180°C, grate the cheeses and mix together. Smear a little olive oil around the inside of an ovenproof shallow dish. Spread a small amount of the sugo on the bottom. Next lay out a layer of zucchini. Cover this with sugo and then a little cheese. Place another layer of zucchini running perpindicular to the first and again cover with sugo and cheese. Repeat until the zucchini used up. Finish with a thin layer of sugo and cheese. Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is starting to turn golden, about 25 minutes.

Enjoy!