The past few weeks have been somewhat of a whirlwind - sister's wedding (thank goodness the cake J and I made was a moist success), followed by a quick jaunt over to Paris and then to the Charantes (bonjour maman et papa) and then back to London and a day at the gee-gees (or Royal Ascot to give it it's right and proper title). All of which is a protracted explanation for the recent dearth of blogging. And cooking.
The summer is J's busiest period with work and so I often have days and nights on my own whilst he is running shows, doing deals, glad-handing celebs etc. Although I adore cooking for others, for some reason I never seem to create anything exciting for just me. A couple of weeks away from my pans, pots and spatulas however have left me itching to don my apron, wield a knife and to get cracking. And the dishes of choice? J being out is the perfect excuse to resort to my natural veggie inclinations and to revel in the sumptuous sensations of aubergines, the zingy flavours of lemons and the climactic crunch of carrots (note to self - must get out more).
For me aubergines will forever conjure up images of exotic lands, air heavy with the smell of spices and the sun pricking at one's skin. Difficult to imagine when one is in the local greengrocer I grant you, but there is something of an indulgence about this fantastic vegetable. When roasted, its smoky character and silky texture make the aubergine an earthy pleasure.
So my Friday night of vegetable pleasure consisted of my version of moutabal (aubergine dip from the Lebanon) and a zingy carrot and courgette salad. Eaten with nothing other than chicory leaves, a glass of crisp white Burgundy and accompanied by the soothing tones of Jack Johnson.
pinch of saffron stems
1 clove of garlic in its skin
1 dsp light tahini
glug of olive oil
Infuse the saffron in a little hot water and leave whilst you prepare the aubergine.
Prick the skin of the aubergine to avoid any explosions and hold over a gas flame with tongs or put under a very hot grill, turning often until the skin is charred and the vegetable feels soft to the touch (about 25-30 minutes). This gives a wonderful, smoky flavour so don't be afraid to let it really char.
If using the grill, pop the clove of garlic under the grill at the same time and allow to soften.
Leave the aubergine to cool then strip the skin away and place the soft flesh into a blender. Squeeze the garlic from its skin into the blender and add the tahini, zest of the whole lemon and the juice of half of it along with a drizzle of oil. Add the saffron with its water, season and blitz until a smooth paste is formed. In the absence of a blender, mash everything with a fork.
The addition of saffron is not authentic by any means but I find it adds to the earthy character of the dish and also adds a certain jolly colour.
Carrot and Courgette Salad
1 courgette, grated
2 large carrots, peeled and grated
approx 50g pack of fresh peas
pine nuts (approx 2tbsp depending on how much you like them)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/2 - 1tsp orange blossom water
juice 1/2 lemon
bunch of mint leaves, chopped
Mix the courgette and carrots in a bowl. Briefly cook the peas in simmering water until just tender but retain a bite (approx 3-4 minutes). Drain, cool and add to the vegetables.
Toast the pine nuts and cumin seeds in a non-stick pan, taking care that they don't burn. Sprinkle over the carrot mixture.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together, season to taste and then pour over the salad.
Both recipes make enough for a starter or side dish for two to three people.
A simple, healthy and flavoursome meal perfect for a summer evening of self-indulgence. Talking of which, these are the cute green shoes that sang to me today so I just had to give them a new home. I like my shoes like I like my meals - green.