Roden’s spinach and chickpea soup revisited

When I went to make this much loved recipe, I discovered that I had a couple of issues. Firstly, the only vinegar I had was so woosy that one could scarcely tell it was vinegar at all. It was a Coriole sweet aged red wine vinegar, to be precise. Secondly, I had no stock, either chicken or vegetable, so water had to do.

I thought I had free rein at this point to vary it as I pleased, and instead of cumin and paprika, I added ras el hahout.

Worked a treat!

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Baba Ghanouj

We took a picnic lunch on a boat cruise recently, including various carefully-made-by-my-own-hands dishes. The Baba Ghanouj, however, was not one of them. The difference between making it yourself and not, really is worth the trouble. This is my preferred method.

Ingredients from Greg Malouf, part of the incredible dynasty in Melbourne that has taken Lebanese cuisine to fanciful heights while never forgetting its roots.

2 large eggplants
1/2 clove garlic
Salt
3 tbsp tahini
Juice of 1 lemon – to taste, at any rate
200g yoghurt

I try to pick eggplants that aren’t too fat as you want to cook them right through. There is no point even thinking about making this dish unless you have gas hotplates – and gas hotplates you are willing to ruin. You may wish to try putting alfoil around the rings. I’ve never found that helps. A charcoal or wood bbq would also do. NOT one of those oven-outdoors-bbqs.

Get a long metal kebab skewer, one for each eggplant and, well, skewer the buggers. Adjust heat on the gas hotplates so that the flames are the right size for the eggplants. You are going to stand and guard these…turn and turn and turn. You want the flesh to collapse, so that the eggplants are all but falling off the skewers, the skin will be blistered and burnt.

Remove, put on a cake cooling wire and then in a plastic bag. You want to collect juices as it sweats which you will discard.

Take the eggplant out of the bag and take off the skin with a knife or fingers. A recipe might urge you that the least bit of charred skin will ruin the end dish, but I don’t think that is true.

Chop the eggplant rather than puree it, you want it to be a little ‘chunky’, not machine made smooth.

Now you can do one of two things:

(1) Add the other ingredients. Put in fridge until you are eating…

(2) Divide into portions. I like to use some of the eggplant for b.g. and use some for other things. Eg kheema – a fantastic way to flavour kheema. And I make it part of a spaghetti sauce. I imagine there are innumerable great things you could do with it.

On flavouring with garlic and lemon. The usual holds: you can add these things but you can’t subtract, so do it slowly, tasting along the way. You know that thing computer scientists do? They look like they are just having fun but they have their excuse all ready ‘compiling’. Well, you get to do that in the kitchen? Eating? Pigging out? No way. Just testing. I noticed a really lovely way of describing what garlic and lemon are to this dish at The Food Blog… as part of the ‘perfect’ baba ghanouj recipe, different from this one, by the way.

And the juice of half a lemon to give some fire
But remember that lemon juice is only there
To compliment the creaminess of the tahini affair
The taste of lemon juice should not be intrusive
Its existence must remain elusive
Crush a bit of garlic with a teaspoon of salt
Before you use too much, you really must halt
In the same way the lemon’s used discretely
The garlic’s existence should almost completely
Be hidden, it’s there just to balance the fruit
A heavy hand and garlic turns into a brute

Middle Eastern Meatballs hot or cold

These can be served hot, eg with toothpicks, as a starter. They are also great cold, so another picnic food.

Middle Eastern meatballs

Ingredients

500g finely minced lamb
pinch of salt
1 onion, finely chopped
2 teasp cumin
1 teasp allspice
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup of coarsely chopped coriander leaves
olive oil

Method

Mix everything every well except the oil. You can wet your hands before rolling the mixture into little balls – no more than one mouthful at a time – or roll in flour. Heat oil in a frying pan and fry meatballs until cooked.

Recipe from Stephanie Alexander The Cook’s Companion

Lebanese and probably Turks and a few others please leave the room….

….

I suspect I have done something profane. The recipe said ‘lamb’ and lamb is horribly expensive here and the beef was on sale and what can I say?

So, we start off with a Malouf recipe. How lucky was this, picking up Saha for a song at a Geneva book market when I’d been looking that very day at buying it for lots.

My eye was taken by ma’ahani Spicy Sausages with Pine Nuts.

1 teasp cinnamon
” ground ginger
” sweet paprika
” nutmeg
” ground black pepper
half teasp ground cloves
1/2 teasp mahlab (crushed cherry seeds)
splash of red wine
salt
40 gms pine nuts
500g minced lamb shoulder neither too lean, nor too fat
oilve oil for frying
lemon juice to squeeze
lemon wedges

In essence you mix everything together up to and including the lamb. Leave in fridge overnight. Form into little sausage shapes and fry in olive oil.

Okay. I thought mine were rubbish. I’m not saying that isn’t because I used beef – and beef of highly dubious provenance, I imagine…10CHF a kg. Well, it isn’t really going to be beef, I guess. And I’m not saying it’s because the mahlab was missing. But even if I’d done what the recipe required, I suspect these would have been on the bland side.

Take two:

Little Lebanesey Pies by me.

Take the mixture from above. Add dried sultanas, freshly chopped mint, some yoghurt for moisture and to bind. Mix thoroughly.

Get some premade pastry from the supermarket as it is much better than mine.

Make lots of little pies, eating as you go along. Mmmm. Much improved in my opinion!

To me, this is just a couple of hours out of my life when I potter about while doing this. If that’s going to make you huff and puff, does this make it worth it: I’m going to freeze most of them after they are cooked, I’m going to take them out just a tad early before they are too brown. At the drop of a hat, I have a lovely starter for any meal, serve with a little chutney or a yoghurt and mint dip. Or take them on a picnic. I’ve got guests coming for dinner next Sunday and these will be perfect.

my Lebanesey pies