Aubergines, Chickpeas, Walnuts & Dates

Ten days ago I was lucky enough to be given Diana Henry’s book Simple: Effortless food, big flavours, and I have been obsessively cooking my way through it ever since. It really lives up to the promise of the title: lots of recipes that are simple enough to tackle when you’re  tired after a busy day, yet taste good enough to revive you – or fool guests into thinking you have been slaving over a hot stove for hours. I’m also delighted to find that Diana Henry has lots of recipes on her website (as well as those behind the Telegraph’s paywall) if you want to check them out before you commit to buying a book.

This satisfying combination of aubergines, chickpeas, walnuts & dates has the most wonderful tahini dressing, which I am planning to use for lots of other grain-and-vegetable salads in the near future. Aleppo pepper is also known as Turkish pul biber, which I found in Waitrose, but you can substitute a mixture of cayenne and paprika if you can’t find it – or don’t want another container in your spice drawer. The original recipe had a little date syrup drizzled over the dish at the end, which I omitted (though I did wonder about using pomegranate molasses instead). This is a perfect recipe for the sunny but autumnal weather we’ve been having in London, when you want something warm and reasonably substantial yet with the flavours of warmer climes.

These are the quantities for 4. As I was cooking just for me, I made it using a third of the quantity and had enough for one generous portion, plus a side for the next day, when it was just as delicious. The first day I served it on a bed of rocket, and second time round with quinoa and salad – the quinoa was particularly good with it. Henry recommends serving it with couscous or alongside lamb or grilled mackerel.

3 aubergines (about 750g)
3 smallish onions
6 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp pul biber/Aleppo pepper
salt & pepper
400g can chickpeas
squeeze of lemon juice
half a small packet of coriander leaves
5 Medjool dates
15g walnuts

50ml tahini
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt (or Dairy-free alternative)
juice of ½ lemon

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Cut the aubergines across into fat slices and then halve the larger slices. Peel the onions and cut them vertically into wedges. Put both into a large roasting tin and mix together with all but 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the cumin, pul biber, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning everything about half way through.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small blender or a bowl with 50ml of water and either blitz or whisk until it’s thoroughly blended and the consistency of thick cream. Check the seasoning, adding more lemon if necessary.

Pit and chop the dates, roughly chop the walnuts and toast them for a few minutes in a hot frying pan if you have the energy (I didn’t). Pick the coriander leaves off the stems and chop.

Five minutes before the aubergines are ready heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and heat them through in the oil for a few minutes. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and tip onto a serving platter – over rocket, couscous or quinoa if you wish. Spoon the cumin-roast aubergines and onions on top, generously drizzle with the dressing, then scatter over the coriander, dates and walnuts.

And there you have a delicious, exotic dinner on the table in 45 minutes, of which at least half can be spent reading the paper or, in my case, doing your piano practice.

Roast vegetable salad with quinoa

This recipe evolved from Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad in Delia Smith’s Summer Collection, a book which was a sensation when it was published in 1993. Full of vibrant colours and flavours, the recipes seemed fresher than the rather traditional dishes of Delia’s previous books. Recipes like Piedmont Roasted Peppers, Salmon with Avocado and Crème Fraîche sauce and Oven-roast Ratatouille instantly became part of my regular repertoire.

IMG_4444As you can see from the state of the page, I have made this recipe a lot! Although the harissa-style dressing is nice, I have more often used a mustard or basalmic dressing instead, both of which work well. These days I am not so fond of couscous, so I thought I’d try it with quinoa instead, and added chick peas instead of goat’s cheese, to make a satisfying vegan salad. As tahini goes so well with chick peas, I thought I’d try a tahini dressing, and it went really well with both the vegetables and the chick peas. Feel free to revet to using couscous and goats cheese if you prefer, but however you make it, it is a perfect dish for this lovely summer weather. If it’s really hot, you can roast the vegetables in the cool of the evening or early morning and then quickly assemble it for a lazy lunch. And it looks so summery served in a large bowl, for everyone to serve themselves.

1 aubergine
2 courgettes
2 red or yellow peppers
1 large or 2 small red onions
4 large tomatoes (or equivalent in cherry tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic
Olive oil
120g quinoa
1 can chick peas
1 lemon (optional)
mixed salad leaves
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp warm water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
handful of flat-leaf parsley

Start by heating the oven to 200 C Fan/Gas 7. Peel the onion(s), cut in half and the. Each piece into 4-6 wedges. Put into a roasting tin large enough to take all the vegetables.  Trim the top and bottom of the courgettes, slice them in half lengthwise (unless they are small, in which case you may need a couple more) and then slice diagonally into chunks. Add to the tin. Cut the stem off the aubergine, cut it in half lengthwise, each half into three wedges and then across into chunks. Add to the pan, season and drizzle the whole lot with some olive oil.

IMG_4445By now the oven should be up to temperature, so put the tray into the oven and set the pinger for 10 minutes while you prepare the peppers and tomatoes. Core and desired the peppers and cut into small chunks. Delia skins the tomatoes, which is an improvement, though I often don’t get round to it. Her recipe has the instructions. If using large tomatoes cut each into 6 or 8 pieces. Squash the garlic cloves with the side of the knife.

When the timer goes add the peppers and garlic to the roasting tin, giving everything a good stir. Set the timer for a further 10 minutes. Wash the salad if necessary. Measure the quinoa and rinse it under running water. Tip it into a pan, add 360ml of cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for 12-15 minutes until each little seed has unfurled like a comma. When the 10 minutes is up, stir the vegetables again and add the tomatoes for a final 10 minutes. I do this because I prefer the tomatoes to be soft and juicy – you can of course add them earlier if you prefer them more roasted.

IMG_4448Take the vegetables out of the oven and allow to cool a little – I think this salad tastes best when the grain and vegetables are still lukewarm (definitely not fridge cold, so if you are cooking this ahead, do get the vegetables out of the fridge an hour ahead so they can come up to room temperature).

When the quinoa is cooked I usually turn off the heat and let it sit to dry in the pan on the warm hot plate for a few minutes, before tipping it into a sieve to cool.

IMG_4447Drain and rinse the chick peas and mix with the quinoa in a large serving dish. I added some pieces of lemon to the quinoa, following a favourite Ottolenghi recipe. It does make the salad quite sharp, which I like. If you want to do likewise, cut off the top and bottom of the lemon, then stand it on a board and carefully cut away the peel and white pith using a sharp knife (preferably serrated). Then cut between the membranes to release the individual segments of lemon, discarding any pips as you go. Chop the parsley and mix it in.

Drizzle over a little of the dressing, then spoon over the still warm vegetables. Top with the salad leaves, drizzle over more of the dressing and serve with the rest of the desssing on the side.


Escalivada or Catalan roasted vegetables

Eating Escalivada reminds me of long holiday lunches while staying with my friend who has a flat by the beach in Llançà in Catalonia. It is so simple to make, yet the combination of roasted vegetables is just right, making a delicious starter, light lunch or a side dish that seems to go with everything.

Yesterday we had it with a dish of warm lentils, rocket salad and an oozingly ripe goat’s cheese. The only thing it demands is a bit of advance planning, as the vegetables need to cook quite slowly in the oven. This quantity serves 4 as a starter or part of a main course. It keeps well in the fridge, so it’s worth doing more than you need,  providing an instant hit of sunshine for supper later in the week.

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium onion
1 aubergine
olive oil
2 tsp sherry vinegar

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5 – though if you were cooking something else at 180ºC/Gas mark 4 that would be fine too; they would just take a bit longer to cook. Wash the peppers and aubergine. Cut out the stems of the peppers and pull out the fibrous inside and seeds. Slice off the top of the aubergine, and pierce it a few times with a knife (to avoid explosions in the oven). Cut the onion into two (or four if it is fat) – no need to peel it.

Put all the vegetables into an oven dish and rub them with olive oil (except for the onion skin). Sprinkle with a little salt and cover tightly with foil. If you prefer you can wrap the vegetables individually in foil, but this strikes me as more trouble than is necessary. Roast for an hour, then check how they are doing – you need to roast them until they are really soft and starting to collapse. They will probably need another 30 minutes, and I took the foil off for the last 15 minutes to speed things up.

When the vegetables are all really soft take them out of the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Then peel the skin off the peppers and aubergine – it should just pull away really easily. Extract any remaining seeds or fibres from the peppers – the only remotely fiddly part of the recipe. Slice the vegetables into long pieces about 2-3 cm wide and arrange on a platter. Pull the pieces of onion out of their skin, cutting them away from the root, and slicing them in half lengthways if they are too large to fit on a fork. Add them to the platter. Drizzle with olive oil and sherry vinegar, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Escalivada is a great accompaniment to fish or lamb or chicken, or you can simply eat it with some good bread and a glass of wine. And pretend you are by the sea in Catalonia…

Roasted Butternut Squash with Aubergine Sauce

imageThis is a favourite Ottolenghi recipe, particularly when I am cooking for a crowd. It can all be prepared ahead, avoiding any last minute panic. I tend to omit the sliced almonds from the garnish in the original recipe, as I don’t think they add a great deal (and I don’t generally keep them in the cupboard). I compensate by toasting the seeds, which gives them a lovely crunch – it is a good idea not to add them until you’re about to serve the dish so that they don’t soften.

The aubergine is most quickly prepared over a gas hob, which produces the best, smokiest taste. I am still mourning the excellent gas cooker that I inherited from my mother (which outlasted her by 20 years) and, even more, its eye-level grill. I am now confined to an electric hob, so don’t have this option. However, I comfort myself with the thought that it must make a terrible mess of your hob (if Ottolenghi’s suggestion to protect it with foil first is anything to go by). And the aubergine can also be done under the grill or, I have discovered, in the oven. The pomegranate molasses is important to the flavour of the sauce. We were given a bottle by an Iranian friend, but you can now buy it in some supermarkets, as well as in middle-eastern food shops. The aubergine sauce is also delicious on its own as a dip, or served with roast lamb.

I find that 1 large butternut squash will serve about 10 people as part of a buffet or as a side dish (rather than the 2-4 people suggested in Ottolenghi’s cookbook – which once resulted in spectacular over-catering!). As a main course, served with, say, kale and quinoa salad I reckon it would feed 6. I served it with Chicken baked with fennel and Spiced chickpeas with fresh vegetable salad, both recipes from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi, with Orange and Almond cake to follow.

1 large butternut squash
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
a good handful of basil leaves

1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt, at room temperature
2 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tsp pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 220 C/Gas 7. Trim the tops and bottoms of the squash and cut it in half lengthwise. Peel the squash (the original recipe keeps the skin on, but I prefer it peeled, particularly if people are going to be eating it with a fork) and scrape out all the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half into wedges about 2-3 cm wide and 6cm long: I cut each squash half in half again lengthwise and got three or four long wedges from each piece, which I then cut across into four. If serving as the centrepiece of a meal I would probably leave the pieces a little larger.

imageArrange in a large roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil, turning them to ensure the pieces are coated and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes (and see below about cooking the aubergine) until the squash is tender and starting to brown at the edges. Leave to cool.

To prepare the sauce, prick the aubergine and put it under a hot grill, unless you have a gas hob in which case you can put the aubergine directly on the gas flame, turning it occasionally with metal tongs. You want the aubergine to be shrivelled and the skin to look flaky and cracking. This should take 12-15 mins over gas, and Ottolenghi says 1 hour under a hot grill. However, I am reluctant to run my grill for an hour to cook one aubergine and have found that you can get a pretty good result by putting the aubergine directly on the top shelf of the oven, as near to the top element as possible, while you’re cooking the squash (and don’t forget to prick it or you will end up with exploded aubergine all over the inside of your oven). Turn the aubergine once or twice, and it will probably need another 10-15 minutes after the squash has come out – a lot easier and cheaper than having the grill on for an hour.

When the aubergine is cool enough to handle, cut it in half and scoop out the flesh, avoiding the burnt skin. Drain in a colander for 10 minutes before chopping roughly to a puree on a large chopping board. Scoop into a bowl and mix in all the other ingredients, except the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley when you’re nearly ready to serve, reserving a small scatter of leaves for garnish. The sauce is best at room temperature, so if you have made it ahead and kept it in the fridge (covered tightly so that the fridge doesn’t smell of garlic), get it out a couple of hours ahead to come to temperature.

Toast the seeds briefly (no more than 3 minutes) in a dry frying pan over medium hot heat, stirring once or twice.

When you are ready to serve, arrange the roasted squash on a platter, scatter with the seeds and whole basil leaves, and serve the aubergine sauce alongside.