Smoked aubergine puree with tahini, garlic and lemon

Smoked aubergine purée

Smoked aubergine puree with tahini, garlic and lemon

THIS may look like a bowl of beige sludge but boy oh boy it packs a flavour punch.

There are lots of versions around, also known as Baba Ganoush, as it’s a staple of Mediterranean and North African cooking, and I have combined a few here but mostly the flavour bomb is the smoking of the aubergine.
Shortly before lockdown I invested in a smoker – it’s a small, table-top model (not much bigger than a backpack) that can be easily stored in the shed – and I’ve been experimenting with cold-smoking, which is a low and slow way to infuse meat, fish and vegetables with that deep, smokiness that doesn’t come from a bottle like so many ‘smoked’ goods.

The critical different between hot and cold smoking, unsurprisingly, is temperature.

You can hot smoke foods in any closed-lid barbecue – it’s a guaranteed side benefit of cooking over charcoal. With hot smoking you are cooking AND smoking at the same time – the smoke is generated by wood chips placed on top of the coals to make sure there’s enough smoke to permeat, and the temperature is high enough to cook the foodstuff quickly and safely.

Cold smoking is cooler (duh), because the intent is not to cook the food, but to keep it at a foodsafe temperature while the smoke infuses. So a cold smoke attachment is designed to keep a small amount of woodchips smouldering for hours without raising the temperature inside the cabinet. It’s clever!

I began with the obvious things like salmon, bacon, cheese, garlic and now I’m experimenting with veg, butter, nuts etc.

The conventional way to prepare aubergine for puree is to scorch it over a direct flame, often on a gas hob, until it softens and collapses. The alternative is to oven-bake on a relatively high heat to achieve the same effect but without the smokiness.

You will need:

  • 1 med-to-large aubergine, pricked all over
  • 1 green chilli, slit from top to toe
  • 1 bulb proper garlic from the greengrocer (not the tiny-cloved ones you get in supermarkets)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons good, full-fat Greek yoghurt (eg Total, Tim’s, Yeo Valley etc) – you can substitute a good dairy-free product if necessary
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Sea salt

For this recipe, I started the aubergine off whole in the oven to get it cooked – at 200C it takes around 45 minutes on a baking sheet – BE SURE TO PRICK IT WITH A KNIFE FIRST, to avoid explosions! I then cut it down the middle to expose the innards and placed it on the tray in the smoker where it rested for 3 hours while gentle puffs of beechwood drifted over, under and into it. On the shelf above it I placed a green chilli, sliced vertically, and a bulb of garlic.

If you don’t have a smoker, you can improvise using an old roasting tin, with wood shavings and any other aromatics you like (jasmine tea leaves, peppercorns) on a foil plate in the bottom, a rack placed in it to hold the food and a very good tent of tin foil around it (make sure you get a good seal). You want the lowest heat possible, just enough to ignite the wood chips, and it will be a lot quicker so probably only allow 30-45 minutes of smoking time. You definitely don’t want a fire or naked flame in your tin.

Method

  • In a blender (or a jug if you are using a stick blender), place 1-2 large smoked garlic cloves, the green chilli (deseeded and chopped), and scrape out the inside of the aubergine leaving behind the skin.
  • Add a tablespoon of tahini, a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, a heaped teaspoon of sea salt, the juice of half a lemon, and 3 tablespoons of green yoghurt. Blitz until you get a smooth puree, and check the seasoning as you may need more salt or lemon juice.
  • I love the green notes from the chilli, the bite of raw garlic and the mellowness of the aubergine and tahini. The smoke is foremost but not overpowering, although it will resonate for hours afterwards, and remind you, every time you open the fridge, to have another spoonful!
  • This dip is delicious on its own with bread, goes really well with cold roast chicken or fish, as part of a mezze platter with houmous or you could add a spoonful to salad dressing for a rich, smoky note.


Cheddar and Green Chilli Cornbread Daffodil Soup

Cheddar and Green Chilli Cornbread

Cheddar and Green Chilli Cornbread Daffodil Soup

Everyone’s cooking and baking again, and posting their stories online, which is lovely to see.
For professional chefs, this has been a stressful time, not being able to cook and feed people every day (it’s not just a day job, it’s basically a calling). With just two of us at home during lockdown, I’ve had to fight the urge to keep creating loads of dishes that we just can’t eat. The freezers are full, and there really is only so much one can eat in a day. (Trust me, we’ve tried.)

I’ve been making sourdough bread for decades with my starter called Elvis (and documenting the results endlessly on Insta) and once the strong flour issue was resolved I started baking bread for friends and neighbours, which has scratched the itch somewhat.

Then, seeing the lovely cheese and chilli cornbread recipe posted by Rosalind, the founder of Cookery School at Little Portland Street reminded me that I have a savoury muffin recipe which I used to bake as a loaf for corporate lunches. The best way to describe it is an all-in-one quiche, with the pastry ingredients incorporated into the mix.

It makes a super savoury flavoured bread, and the options for personalising it are endless. It’s great served with cheese and salad, with an egg on top or as a sandwich.

Many quick bakes use a raising agent such as baking powder or bicarbonate of soda and some acidic dairy – buttermilk, yoghurt or sour cream, or even a thimbleful of cider vinegar – which react together to make the mix rise beautifully in the oven.

There are two golden rules to this method, both of which work to the advantage of the impatient cook and hungry hordes:

  1. Don’t overmix the batter (5 or 6 quick folds and twists to combine the wet and dry ingredients);
  2. Get it into the oven pronto, as the reaction begins the minute the acid and alkali meet.

Best eaten warm, this won’t hang around on the bread board for long, although in the unlikely event that there is some left it is also great toasted. See below for ideas to switch it up.

This can also be baked as a tray of muffins and popped in the freezer for defrosting as required.

In this instance I am following the Cookery School recipe but with substitutions as we’re all having to raid lockdown larder ingredients and not dash to the corner shop for top-ups.

I had a block of mature cheddar from a recent meat delivery (Doug and John Ashby, my lovely wholesale butchers – a family business established in Bermondsey in 1950 – is now delivering to residential addresses in London and also does cheese, eggs and charcuterie) which was perfect for the cheesy element, but any strong cheese would work.

We had a big bunch of parsley from my local Highbury greengrocers, so much more satisfying than a sweaty 70g plastic pouch from the supermarket, and some chives and fresh green chilli. The original recipe suggests smoked paprika and dried chilli flakes, as well as halved cherry tomatoes to decorate the top. I substituted a heaped teaspoon of English mustard powder and saved the tomatoes for another day.

I toyed with the idea of adding some smoked lardons from my home-made bacon stash (the subject of a future post) but resisted. Maybe next time? (It can always be served on the side.)

Other great combinations using the base wet/dry recipe: feta, sun-dried tomato and olive / Parmesan and spinach (steamed and squeezed to remove all the moisture) / half a jar of pesto and roasted red peppers / caramelised onion, thyme and goat cheese.

Cheddar and Green Chilli Cornbread Daffodil Soup
Cheddar and Green Chilli Cornbread Daffodil Soup

Cheddar and chilli cornbread

(Makes 10 muffins or 10 generous slices)

Ingredients

  • 170g plain flour (you can substitute gluten-free if required)
  • 170g fine cornmeal
  • 3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
  • .5 teaspoon salt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon English mustard powder
  • 2 green chillis, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup of chopped green herbs – I used parsley and chives, but you could use oregano, thyme etc (if using dried herbs then just a teaspoon of each)
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g (roughly 1 cup) grated mature cheddar cheese
  • 200ml whole milk
  • 200ml Greek yoghurt or buttermilk
  • 50ml sunflower or rapeseed oil

The Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C.
  2. Grease and flour 10 holes in a 12-hole muffin tin or a 2lb (900g) loaf tin, or line with paper cases.
  3. Place the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Add the mustard powder, chopped chilli, herbs and cheese to the dry ingredients. Mix well.
  5. Place the milk and yoghurt, oil and eggs in another bowl and beat together.
  6. Pour the wet mixture over the dry ingredients and mix as quickly as possible. Do not over-mix.
  7. Divide the mixture between the prepared muffin or loaf tin.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 15-18 minutes (muffins) or 30-40 minutes (loaf) until golden brown.I started my loaf at 200C for 20 minutes and then turned it down to 180C for another 20.Test with a skewer to see if it’s done, or knock the base which should sound hollow.

My serving suggestion is a thick, warm slice with a couple of rashers of bacon and a poached egg.

Or you could soak a slice or two in beaten egg and fry in butter, as a version of French toast (maple syrup optional).

It would also make a fab toasted sandwich with sliced tomato and cheese.

Bon appetit!


Fabulous fritters

THIS is a repost from 2018 when I had the pop-up at Honeymoon in Hackney.
I keep a container of the dry mix for this recipe in my cupboard for spontaneous fritter making – everyone should. Most of these ingredients should be in your store cupboard, and if not your nearest corner shop will have them all.

These delicious fritters were one of the most popular dishes on our menu. They happen to be vegan and gluten free but that was incidental, as they pack a palate-pleasing punch, are satisfyingly crunchy and, when topped with a simple tahini dressing and some toasted seeds, would not be out of place at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.

The most time-consuming element is making up the seasoned chickpea flour, which can be done well in advance. The rest is a work of minutes.

Also, if courgettes aren’t your thing, you can substitute sweetcorn,  grated carrot, parsnip, potato or cauliflower florets.

 

The Ingredients

(Serves 4)

500g chickpea (gram) flour 

2tsp salt

1tsp freshly ground black pepper

1tbsp ground coriander

2tsp ground cumin

1tsp coriander seeds

1tsp cumin seeds

1tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

pinch of chilli flakes

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda 

2 large courgettes

Oil for frying

 

To serve

1tbsp each of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds, 

2 butter lettuce (or baby gem, or a bag of washed salad leaves)

4 pita bread or flatbread

 

Vinaigrette

25ml red wine vinegar

100ml olive oil

1tsp Dijon mustard

1tsp honey or agave syrup (if you are strictly vegan)

1tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Tahini dressing

2 cloves garlic

1tsp salt

200ml tahini

Juice of 1 lemon

Hot water

 

You will need

Mixing bowls, 1 frying pan, 2 oven trays, 1 Chopping Board, 1 Grater, Teaspoons for measuring, Lemon juicer, Paper towel

 

The Method

1. Make the tahini dressing. Grind the garlic clove and salt together on a chopping board using the blade of a knife, to create a paste. Scrape that into a bowl, add half the lemon juice and tahini, and whisk.Use a few tablespoons of hot water to thin down the dressing to a pourable consistency. Taste and check the seasoning – add more salt and lemon juice if necessary. Set aside.

2. Make the vinaigrette. In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until well combined,  and check the seasoning. It may need a touch more honey or salt.

3. Preheat the oven to 160C.

4. In a dry frying pan, toast the whole and ground spices until they start to smoke. Remove from the pan and grind the spices in a blender (or pound in a pestle and mortar). Add the spice mix to to the gram flour, add the bicarbonate of soda and mix well to combine.  This spice mix can be kept – labelled – in a sealed container for up to a month.

5. Use the same frying pan to toast the seeds over a low heat, being careful not to scorch them. Set the seed mix aside to cool.

6. Preheat a frying pan with a shallow covering of vegetable oil. While the oil is heating, coarsely grate the courgettes (I don’t advising doing this ahead of time, as they leach water. If you do grate ahead,  then give the courgette a squeeze before adding it to the batter.)

7. In a large mixing bowl, place 1 big serving spoon of the flour mix per person, and use a drizzle of water to mix to a thick paste, like a clay mask. Add the grated courgette and mix well to combine. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil, allow to colour, and flip them over. Once evenly browned, drain on kitchen paper, pop them on an oven tray and finish in the oven for 8-10 minutes to ensure they are cooked through. I usually serve 4 or 5 fritters as a main course.

8. While you are frying the fritters in batches, put the flatbreads or pita in the oven to warm through.

To serve,  place a flatbread or pita on each plate, dress the salad leaves with the vinaigrette and place a handful of leaves on  top of the bread. Arrange the fritters on top, use a spoon to drizzle over the tahini dressing, and top with the toasted seeds.


Quinoa, green bean and almond salad

With my corporate caterer hat on, I am always devising new salads for lunch deliveries as my regular clients appreciate variety.  As a chef I need to keep innovating, because I am adding value with (and selling) my skill and experience.

This combination of colours, textures and flavours was a big hit and became known as The Famous Quinoa Salad. It’s also vegan, wheat and dairy free.

Ingredients

(Serves 6 with leftovers)

200g quinoa
100g green beans
100g flaked almonds
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
1 garlic clove, grated
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Put the quinoa in a saucepan, add plenty of water to cover and a pinch of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the grains have swollen and absorbed most of the water. Drain and cover while it cools, to allow the quinoa to steam so the grains separate. It should be soft to the bite but not gluey.
Next, top and tail and finely slice the green beans in rounds. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and simmer the sliced beans for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately refresh under cold water to keep the colour.
Heat the oven to 160C and toast the flaked almonds for 10 minutes on a baking tray until golden (you can do this in a frying pan but watch they don’t burn!).
Finally, make the dressing that will bring the whole thing together.
Grate the garlic clove in to a jug, add the chopped parsely, lemon juice and olive oil and whisk to combine. Season to taste – the dressing should be salty, to season the other, unseasoned ingredients.
In a big bowl, toss together the quinoa, nuts, beans and dressing. This will hold for a couple of days in a sealed container in the fridge – it’s great for lunchboxes, as a healthy side dish with chicken or fish, and of course for a midnight snack.