Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Evolution May - Aubergines everywhere

This month Kira has taken the evolution idea to another level!

"I guess evolution had its dead ends and abandoned experiments, organisms that shifted and drifted into various and variable embodiments before environment and circumstances rendered obsolete, extinct and no more. I’m intrigued by the possible short term species that didn’t become more, longer and established. And that’s kind of how my May cooking evolution has been.

I was inspired to take the aubergine forward, but to find it a new circumstance and context, and likewise the ricotta. I fantasized about ricotta pudding, custards and pana cotta, and all kinds of recombinant aubergine/tomato type things but really I wanted to depart from that combo. It’s sturdy presence in cooking all over the world is there for a really good reason, it adapts to multiple favours and environmental factors, but I wanted another thematic to intrigue into June. Perhaps.

So my final dish was Aubergine, halloumi and asparagus, with lemon/oil dressing. Accompanied by Ricotta and dill Bread, and here are a couple of the species that also evolved along the way.

Baba Ghanoush
the aubergine/tahini combo – which was utterly divine with a crunchy green salad wrapped in a warm chapatti.

Here is a version slightly adapted (amounts scaled down) from Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett, an excellent info/cook book on nutrition according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

1 Aubergine
1/3 cup light tahini
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons of water
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 paprika

Cook aubergines under grill or in a hot oven until soft.
Scoop out the insides and mash.
Combine with tahini, garlic, water, and lemon and stir well.
Add salt and pepper.
Drizzle olive oil over and garnish with paprika and coriander.

I found it was even better after a night in the fridge, the flavours combined wonderfully.

Baked aubergines with coriander yogurt dressing

Adapted from

I didn’t have cous cous so I used quinoa which worked fine.
I also scored the aubergine too deeply so I wasn’t able to preserve the skin to refill with the final mixture, so my presentation was not so pretty. It was an OK meal, again somewhat better once the ingredients could sit and combine. Interesting that.

1 medium aubergine
2 tsp olive oil
juice 1 and zest 1/2 lemon
100g couscous
300ml/1/2 pt boiling vegetable stock
85g ready-to-eat dried apricots, roughly chopped
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
25g pine nuts, toasted
pinch ground cinnamon

For the dressing
4 heaped tbsp Greek-style natural yogurt
2 tsp lemon juice
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
small knob ginger, finely chopped
small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.
Leaving the stem on, cut the aubergine in half lengthways and score the flesh deeply with a sharp knife in a criss-cross fashion.
Place in a shallow baking dish.
Mix the olive oil and lemon juice then brush over the scored surface of the aubergine.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and bake uncovered for 25-30 mins, until the flesh is tender.

Meanwhile, put the couscous in a large bowl, pour over the boiling stock and leave to soak for 10 mins until all the stock is absorbed. Fluff up with a fork, then stir the apricots, tomatoes, spring onions and pine nuts into the couscous. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and toss well together.

Remove the aubergine from the oven and scoop out the flesh, taking care to keep the skins intact.
Chop the flesh and toss into the couscous mixture. Place the aubergine skins back in the baking dish and spoon the couscous mix into them, piling it up to
hold a generous amount in each.
Scatter any left over couscous mix around the edge of the dish.

Return to the oven for 10 mins to heat through while you mix all the dressing ingredients together - add a drop of water if the dressing is too thick. To serve, heap the loose couscous mix under the stuffed aubergines so they're propped up on a slant.
Drizzle over dressing and serve with mixed leaf salad.

Ricotta and Dill Bread (adapted from The Art of Handmade Bread by Dan Leopard)

1 1/4 cups (300 g) water at 68 degrees
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 c (125 g) ricotta cheese
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups (250 g) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping T very finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp olive or vegetable oil

1. In a bowl or pitcher, beat together the water and yeast. Wait for the yeast to get bubbly, and then stir in the ricotta cheese. In a large bowl, combine the two flours, salt, and dill. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir to form a soft, sticky dough.

2. Rub 1 tsp oil on the work surface (I used a big cutting board) and knead the dough 10 seconds, ending with the dough in a smooth, round ball. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and leave for 10 minutes. Remove and knead once more on the oiled surface, returning the shape to a smooth, round ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover, and leave 1 hour in a warm place.

3. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Shape the loaf into a baton and lower it neatly into the prepared pan. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until almost doubled in height.

4. Preheat the oven to 410 degrees. Dust the top of the loaf with flour and bake 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is a shiny dark brown and the loaf has come away from the sides of the pan. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Aubergine, halloumi and asparagus, with lemon/oil dressing.

This is so simple but I really enjoyed the combination.
As it’s asparagus season, the bite of the fresh green worked well with the stodginess of the other ingredients. But it would also work with rocket or something equally green and zingy.

Amounts variable depending on how many and ones love of asparagus and halloumi.

Aubergine, 1/2 per person.
Halloumi cheese, 1/3 – 1/4 block per person.
Asparagus tips, as many as you can eat.
Olive oil
Freshly squeezed lemon.

For the dressing:
Olive oil.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice.
2 cloves garlic at least.
Chilli flakes.
Whole grain mustard.

What to do:

Make up the dressing: I do it by taste, adding lemon juice to the oil, then adjusting, then adding a tiny bit of honey and mustard and a pinch of chilli, salt and pepper. I let it stand for a while to allow the flavours to meld.

Cut an aubergine in half and cut into long slices.
Paint each slice on both sides with a mixture of olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice with seasoning added.
Add halved cherry tomatoes.
Bake for 10 – 15 mins in oven at 180, turn half way though.
Alternative do on a griddle if you’ve got one, or fry.
Slice the halloumi cheese and fry in olive oil, remove to kitchen towel to soak up oil when done.

Steam the asparagus shoots for 3 minutes until tender but with some bite!

Wrap asparagus shoot and halloumi cheese in a slice of aubergine, add tomatoes, drizzle with dressing, soak up oils and flavours with a thick cut of bread.


Sunday, May 24, 2009


Last week I went to Milan for work and had a fabulous time eating all sorts of new things. I had a panzerotti for lunch - a sort of pasty thing filled with spinach and brie, the pastry was very light and almost tasted of doughnuts. Then for dinner we went to t Garba, sole with courgette flowers and pistachio cake for pud!! Very delicious.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vanilla Oil and Peas shoots

I keep forgetting to blog about the weekend we spent in Newark - we were very decadent and in between painting and decorating we went out for lunch at Ann et Vin and for dinner at Cafe Bleu. Both were lovely - I quite fancy going back to try the tapas at Ann et Vin, though the pate I had for lunch was scrummy - Nick had to restrain me from licking the plate! We were lucky to get in to Cafe Blue - apparently they normally have a 3 week waiting list but managed to squeeze us in at 6.30. I now can't remember everything we had to eat but Nick's starter came with vanilla oil to dip his asparagus in and pea shoots. These were so pretty and very tasty, unusual for me and dedicated pea hater!! I may have to start growing some to put in my summer salads.

Friday, May 08, 2009

1696 - Chocolate was good for you then too!

I have been leafing through William Salmon's 1696 New London Dispensatory and found this entry on cacao and chocolate - it seems that even then it was known to 'fortify nature' and 'preserve health'....and boys - 'create sperm'!
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