spiced, sweet stuffed eggplants

I originally had planned to write a post on eggplant steaks but then I found this recipe and it seemed like a way better idea.

I recently bought myself a copy of Ghillie Başan’s book, Flavours of the Middle East – two-for-one deals always get the better of me – and it is filled with beautiful dishes, vibrant colours and interesting stories. Stuffed eggplants was my first dish, in a long list that I wanted to experiment with. They are a great combination of savoury aubergines, sweet dried fruit and a good kick of subtle spice.

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To begin, I mixed a diced onion with 150grams of minced beef – Ghillie’s recipe uses lamb but I wanted something a little leaner. I also added a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon each of cumin and nutmeg and a few teaspoons of brown sugar. I also added two tablespoons of dried cranberries for sweetness, two chopped dates for a caramel undertone and two tablespoons of pine nuts for a little crunch. I mixed it all together with half a can of diced tomatoes, a big grind of pepper and a pinch of dried thyme, and set it aside so the flavours could meld together.

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After bathing three partially peel aubergines in salt water for 15 minutes, I gently pan fried them in equal parts oil and butter until the skin was glossy and the flesh changed to a pale shade of yellow.

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I slit each aubergine down the middle lengthways, through as much of the flesh as possible, without puncturing the skin on the other side. With a tremendous balance of delicacy and might, I prised the eggplants open and compactly filled them with the meat mixture.

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I transported my eggplant boats into a bright red oven tray and doused them in the juice of a lemon, a healthy gulp of olive oil, a crack of sugar and a bit of water mixed with a teaspoon of sugar.

I baked at 200°C for 50 minutes – the first 25 minutes with a layer of foil overtop, the rest of the time uncovered. I basted each of them with the juices once I removed the foil just to insure they were nice and moist.

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Perfect hot or cold, this dish doesn’t require any sides or special garnishes – they are delicious (both visually and to the tastebuds) just as they are!

 

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lentil, fennel and mushroom salad

SAM_3508Salads are a great way of experimenting with food; much of the planning can be done in your head during the day and they are often quick and easy to throw together, plus the trial and error process is always an interesting way of finding a great flavour combination.

As summer approaches, I have seen fennel salads popping up on menus all over the place, and even though the ones I have sampled have been delicious, they haven’t exactly been substantial enough to work as a standalone meal.

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The obvious solution to this problem was to make my own and see what I could string together.

A fennel bulb looks like a beautifully ridiculous onion, with fine green feathers sprouting from the top. Its flavour is sweeter and more subtle than onion or leek and coats anything it touches in a faint liquorish scent – I find the seeds a little overpowering but the bulb makes a great base to a salad; it even works as a substitute for lettuce!

Slice one fennel bulb as thinly as you can and combine with the zest and juice of one lemon. I diced a couple of black olives and mixed them through too, with a bit of the olive brine for saltiness and a dash of cider vinegar for tartness.

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Peel and half about six mushrooms, coat them in egg wash and roll them in breadcrumbs, I used panko because the pieces are larger; meaning they crisp up better and aren’t so prone to burning.

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Fry the mushrooms in butter at a low heat – you want them to cook through without burning! Transfer the mushrooms, and any dislodged crumbs to a plate and add a few of your favourite spices to the leftover butter. I used cinnamon and chilli powder. Add a can of drained lentils and stir so the spices are evenly distributed. You only want to heat the lentils for a few minutes; just enough to warm them slightly and get rid of any excess water. It goes without saying, but dried lentils that you have cooked yourself will always be better as they hold their shape better and tend not to go mushy.

Distribute the fennel between two plates and top with a mound of lentils. Balance the mushrooms on top and sprinkle with some diced red bell pepper and chopped parsley for a bit of colour.

bunny ears and easter buns

Fact: Hot cross buns are the best. When I think about it, they are not the kind of thing that I ever particularly crave, but I do enjoy them so much every time Easter rolls around. The great thing about Easter is that, no matter which continent you’re on, the weather is usually nice and crisp, making these such a moorish treat. I was recently faced with a rather large pile of hot cross buns and I was astounded by the variety of flavours, no longer just your standard spiced fruit, no; Nutella, salted caramel, chocolate chip, gingernut, on and on and on.

Unfortunately, none of this massive pile of yeasty goodness was for me. Even more unfortunate is the fact that come the morning of Easter Sunday, I realised we had completely forgotten to get any and due to all of the shops being closed we feared that we may have to go without.

Instead I decided to make some myself.

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I am not sure why, but the idea of baking bread-based products fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread. I am always convinced that it is going to be a complete disaster due to the yeast not rising, or the fact that I am not very good at properly measuring the ingredients ever.

However, it went of mainly without a hitch. And you can do it too! Here is what you will need: 200mls of milk (full fat- duh!) 50mls of water 55grams of butter 14grams of yeast 455grams of flour 55grams of sugar 1teaspoon of salt 1 egg

Here is what I added but is in no way essential for them turning out so it is really up to you: 6 cloves a dash of vanilla 1teaspoon of mixed spice 1teaspoon of cinnamon ½ a teaspoon of nutmeg ½ a teaspoon of ginger ½ a teaspoon of paprika 120grams of dried fruit, almond slivers and chocolate drops.

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I used about 70grams of raisins, 20grams of almonds and 30grams of chocolate. The almonds add a nice crunch which emphasises the plump, juicy raisins. I added paprika because I think it gives a good kick to the mildness of the mixed spice, and with the addition of chocolate it is reminiscent of chilli chocolate which is up the on the list of faves.

Combine the milk, water, butter, cloves and spices in a saucepan and gently heat until the butter has melted. Remove it from the heat and while you are waiting for it to cool, combine the flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

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Once the milk mixture has reached blood temperature (that’s 34°C), mix in the egg, vanilla and yeast and mix in with the dry ingredients. If you are fancy and want to use a vanilla pod instead of vanilla essence like I did, add it to the milk before you heat it so it has time to infuse and take it out at this point… also take out the cloves… if you want, I didn’t because I thought they would be a fun little surprise to find when eating them, no one else thought this. I know that it says 14grams of yeast, that is because most sachets of yeast are 7grams, if yours are 8 then just use 16grams, or if you don’t have sachets, there is nothing wrong with 15grams.

From my extensive research before starting this recipe, there are so many different ways the above steps can go. Some melt the butter and heat the milk separately, other add the egg and yeast to the flour instead of the milk. I can’t speak for how this affects the end product, I did it this way because it meant less dishes afterwards.

Once you have mixed the milk and flour together, knead the dough for a good ten minutes, place back in the mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to proof for an hour.

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Once it has doubled in size, take it out of the bowl and sprinkle/dump the fruit and/or nuts and/or chocolate on top and knead to combine.

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Divide and roll into 12 equal sized balls and leave to rise for another 30minutes. While you’re waiting, mix 2tablespoons each of flour and water together to make the paste for the crosses. Coat the buns with eggwash and pipe the crosses on top.

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Bake at 190°C for 20minutes, glaze with warm apricot jam, warm caramel or just rip them open and enjoy with a knob of butter!

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Happy Easter, everyone!

loubieh bi zeit

Summer is my favourite season, for many reasons. Not only because I hate the cold and wish that I could spend my life lying on the beach, but also because of the variety of vegetables that are available during Summer; the other day I found green beans at the market that were so cheap they were almost giving them away. Green beans are my absolute favourite, I will them whenever I can, often even just raw as a little snack. When I was six years old, one of my birthday presents was a ginormous bag of green beans and it remains one of my favourite presents of all time.

So I left the market with a 500gram bag of beans which cost me all of 27cents, I was ecstatic! However, I got home and realised that I had half a kilo of beans all for myself and they did not look like they were going to last very long so I had to find a way of using them ASAP.

This is an adapted recipe of loubieh bi zeit, a Middle Eastern dish that I discovered a couple of months back (as you might be able to guess, it is basically entirely beans). This is so quick and easy that I think it makes a perfect lunchtime meal, as a side salad for dinner or as a dish to take and serve cold at barbeque or picnic at the beach.

For this recipe you will need:
a large quantity of beans (I probably used between 200 and 250grams)
half a green capsicum
half a red capsicum
a clove of garlic
half a diced onion
a can of tomatoes or a fresh tomato
a decent collection of herbs and spices

However this is completely a guide; I added the capsicum because they were other things that I had which I thought would go nicely, I didn’t use the tomatoes because I didn’t have them, so you can add or subtract anything you want.

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Firstly, thinly slice the capsicums and break off the ends of the beans. Place the beans in a pot of boiling water, after five minutes add the capsicum and boil for a further five minutes before draining and setting to the side. I added the capsicum later than the beans because I wanted them to retain their a firmer texture to contrast the soft beans.

While they are cooking sauté the onions and garlic in a dash of olive oil, by the time they are nice and soft and slightly translucent the other vegetables should be done. Turn the heat of the pan up and add the vegetables; they should sizzle! This is what is going to help make the beans to get a little bit fried and crispy which is what I like so much about this dish, beans that are both soft and crunchy.

After a couple of minutes add whatever spices and herbs you have.
I combined a teaspoon of curry powder
a teaspoon of paprika
a teaspoon of cumin
a teaspoon of sweet red pepper powder
a teaspoon of herbs de Provence
a dash of salt and pepper
I know this sounds like a lot but it needs to be in order to coat the beans well.

I also added some sesame seeds and some ‘Orgasmic Buddha’, I have no idea what this actually is, I found it in the cupboard and thought that I was hilarious.

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Add the spice mix and turn the heat down, you don’t want to burn the spices or your smoke detector will not be too pleased. Stir constantly for a few minutes and it’s done! If you are using the version with to tomatoes add you still have a bit to do; add them and bring to the boil before leaving to simmer for about 10 minutes. Now you’re done.

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This dish is so simple, and so delicious. Perfect for any time of year, the spices will warm you up on a cold evening or get you sweating to cool off in the middle of Summer!