cayenne-infused aubergine fries

One of the (many) perks of living in Europe, is how easily accessible such a wide range of fruits and vegetables are. Because of New Zealand’s geographical isolation, the cost of importing out of season produce is hardly economically viable, and vegetables that are grown in greenhouses, like tomatoes, lack that fresh, powerful flavour that real sunshine gives them.

Aubergine is one of my favourite vegetables; no doubt I have harped on about it numerous times already and I love that in Europe I can eat them basically all year round for almost the same price in any month; back home winter price can be at least three times the price in summer- sometimes even more!

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Even though I am the first to sing the eggplant’s praise, I am not in a hurry to admit that it isn’t the perfect vegetable – it does have one to two faults. One of those being that it has to be cooked. Well. Unlike many a vegetable that we find one our tables and plates during the warmer months, we cannot toss it through a salad like cucumbers or carrots, nor can we barbeque or pan-fry them; relishing the soft crunch as we sink our teeth into them. Eggplant requires a relatively lengthy cooking time – the kitchen isn’t exactly my ideal summer destination.

This recipe is something I picked up in el país vasco – the Basque country of northern Spain. Not only are they delicious, but they need hardly any prep time and can be left in the oven to cook while you do something a bit more fun!

I love the crunch that thinly sliced aubergine gets when it is baked in a hot oven. I find the nutty flavour of the eggplant is a real showpiece of this dish; subtle and savoury in contrast to the spicy seasoning I added.

While your oven is heating to 180°C, slice your eggplant in half, then into thin fingers about 1cm in width. The taller sections can be sliced in half, or even thirds. The fleshy centre isn’t going to crisp up as well as the firm outer layer; you can discard it if you want but I don’t like waste and it is delicious all the same.

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Now for the pièce-de-résistance; the spices are what really bring this dish to life. As I am not one for carefully measuring anything out, I will leave the proportions up to you. Place you eggplant fingers in a large bowl and liberally drizzle them with olive oil. Along with a dash of salt and pepper, sprinkle with cayenne pepper, chilli powder, a hint of ginger and cinnamon. While neither the ginger nor cinnamon are traditionally used in this tapa, the sweet, whispering undertones really enhance the flavour.

Toss the contents of the bowl until they are well combined, adding additional oil or seasoning as you see fit, before roasting for 25-30 minutes.

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Serve with a simple yoghurt sauce, like the one I used here, and some chopped parsley for a bit of freshness to cut through the spice. I think many people don’t see the benefits of eating spicy food in hot weather like this because it makes you sweat more; but sweating is actually a good way for your body to regulate its temperature and excrete toxins. The yoghurt sauce will cool your mouth while the spices warm your body – especially the cayenne pepper and ginger which are good for circulation. So, putting two and two together, I think what I am saying is that by eating my spicy eggplant fries every day, not only am I creating a delicious meal, but I am also doing wonders for my body! Oh, très fantastique!

did someone say satay?

My post a few weeks back about the markets of Marseille made me think about a couple of things. The reminder of the amazing range of spices, flavours and smells; so foreign to the traditional French style of cooking, made me think about the flavours of my childhood.

I grew up with an eclectic mix of flavours and cooking styles – like most of New Zealand, and trying new dishes from exotic cultures was not an uncommon occurrence. There is one dish that does stand out in my memory particularly, and that is peanut satay. Until last week, I didn’t realise how much I missed this mildly spicy, nutty sauce with its rich, dark-yellow, turmeric-induced colour.

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So I decided to make some, for this instalment of Chippie Tuesday.

The French are not known for their tolerance of spicy food – far from it in fact, and when the nation has a love affair with sweetness that runs as deeply as it does here, the thought of eating salty peanut butter for breakfast is so unimaginable that it is almost impossible to find decent peanut butter anywhere. So I sacrificed a tablespoon of my dwindling stock for this recipe.

Mix a teaspoon of turmeric, a tablespoon of peanut butter and a tablespoon of red curry paste with a healthy drizzle of olive oil and another drizzle of warm water. Briskly mix until you have a consistently smooth paste – the only lumps should be the bits of peanuts… unless you’re using smooth peanut butter, which you shouldn’t be doing, because crunchy is where it’s at.

Peel and hollow out half of a small pumpkin, half it and slice into thin slices, as thin as you can get them – a mandolin with make easy work of it, or a sharp knife will suffice. As you may have noticed recently, I am a bit addicted to pumpkin, obviously any root veg will do; potato, sweet potato or even carrot.

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Toss the veges through your sauce until they are all nice and coated, distribute them evenly over a baking tray and bake at 180°C until crisp and golden, rotating every once in a while; this will take about 30 minutes.

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The beauty of this recipe is that you don’t really need to prepare any sauce to go with them – they are baked in the sauce! However, if you are like me and didn’t judge the levels of spiciness too well, you might want to prepare a little yoghurt sauce or cucumber dip to cool things off a little!

chippie tuesday

On several occasions I have entered into the debate of whether or not polenta is an ingredient that should be celebrated or scorned; usually debating on the celebratory side. While today’s recipe is not exactly directly linked with polenta, there are definitely some polenta-inspired elements to it.

Like the majority of human beings who have ever eaten polenta chips, I am a fan. Simple as that. In fact, I am a fan of almost every kind of chip; which is why I have a whole series of chip-orientated posts in the pipeline- stay tuned! I might even go as far as saying I could devour a sizzling bowl of polenta chips faster than their French fry equivalents.

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During one of my many episodes of craving, fantasising and googling unique food combinations, my mind drifted to roast pumpkin, then to polenta fries, and then back to pumpkin. Before I knew it, my brain had fused the two together and right in front of me was a scribbled and makeshift recipe for pumpkin polenta fries.

This recipe is an expansion of a simple pot of pumpkin puree, I had no real idea about what I was doing, or if it was going to work out- but that is how most of my creations begin! I added half a cup of milk and half a cup of polenta to the mashed equivalent of a small pumpkin, along with a knob of butter, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. I wanted to harness the milk’s creaminess and the polenta’s absorption to create a firm mixture, the nutty flavour and texture was an added bonus!

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Spread into a thick slab on a cling-filmed baking tray, I resisted the urge to eat the mixture then and there, instead, enjoying the sweet scented steam while it cooled. The next day dragged on; all I could think about was the bright orange mixture chilling in my refrigerator. Alas, I knew that this was a necessary step for the mixture to hold its shape.

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That night, I sliced the mixture into thick fingers and carefully removed them from the tray. I coated them in flour with a hint of cayenne pepper, which I love because of the tingly warmth that it gives you.

Not one to ever deep fry anything, I oven baked them like my churros, at 180°C for 45 minutes, rotating them every 10 minutes. The timing on one oven is always going to differ from the next, so it is best to keep an eye on them and leave them until they are a shade that you find most desirable.

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Unlike your average Kiwi, I detest tomato sauce, so instead I served mine with a quick Greek yoghurt sauce- yoghurt, lemon juice and ground cumin. And then I ate them in bed; paradise.