Aubergine and Yoghurt Dip

This is a very easy Persian version of a common middle-eastern dip. Be prepared to get a bit messy for the best results. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 tbsp very good quality olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 200ml plain full-fat greek yoghurt
  • 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice

METHOD:

  • Preheat the oven to 180C. Rinse the aubergines and prick them with a fork in a few places. Put them in the centre of the oven on a rack with a baking tray underneath. Bake for one hour. 
  • Remove the aubergines from the oven, let them cool until you can handle them. Peel off the skin and chop the flesh. 
  • Put all the chopped aubergine into a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. I used my bare hands to squish the aubergine well, before beating with a fork. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
  • Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with saffron water, a tablespoonful of plain yoghurt and mint leaves. 
  • This recipe is best made 24 hours in advance, and stored in the fridge. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before serving. This is good served with bread. 

Yoghurt and Cucumber Salad

Some of you will know that I spent some time living in Teheran when I was a child. Zara used to work for our family as a housekeeper, and she used to cook wonderful Persian home-cooking for us. Our favourite was a dish called Loubia Pollow, made with rice, beans, tomatoes and lamb. We also used to eat the most delicious barbari bread and thick plain yoghurt sold in blue earthenware bowls. 

I have sought to recreate the flavours of the food we ate there, and have never managed to get it quite right. Persian food is very complex and sophisticated, from ancient civilisations, combining the herbs and spices of east and west. 

There are a few sites online where you can look up Persian recipes, but the flavours and end-results are unfamiliar to most. I have one recipe book, A Taste of Persia which is aimed at the US market, and has all the ingredients in cups. I’ve been working my way through the recipes and re-jigging them to suit local ingredients and UK directions. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 500g tub of full-fat plain Greek Yoghurt
  • A bunch of spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill or fennel leaf, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tbsp chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • Garnish of fresh mint, rose petals, dill leaf, chive flowers, chopped walnuts, chopped radishes etcetera

METHOD:

  • Combine all the ingredients, mix well and adjust the seasoning. 
  • Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to four hours before serving. Take out of the fridge ten minutes before serving and garnish. 

Simple baked shoulder of lamb

We rarely buy meat, and when we do, we buy locally slaughtered meat. We focus on food producers whose animals have minimal supplementation wherever possible. These are often Hebridean sheep, sheep that have grazed on the hill, or on off-shore islands. When I say ‘lamb’ we are really talking about hoggets, or mutton. This is darker meat with a stronger, more delicious flavour than New Zealand lamb. It is firmer, and requires different cooking techniques.

I have friends in Shetland, and they face a similar choice. Local meat requires a specific approach if it is to be enjoyed at its best. Home-kill cuts are not boned, and many of my recipe books start with ‘ask the butcher to bone…’ so I stop right there.

This weekend past, I dived again into James and Tom Morton’s book, Shetland. Shetland has similar issues – small weather-proof animals producing well-flavoured meat. They came up with the simplest recipe yet for cooking a shoulder of local lamb. It has features of all recipes that have worked well for me, but pared right back to the basics, ready for experimentation down the line. I recommend you buy the book for more classics.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 shoulder of local lamb
  • Vegetable oil, for example olive oil
  • Salt
  • Herbs, such as thyme, rosemary

METHOD:

  • Set the oven to high – around 240C, and let it heat up fully.
  • Coat the meat with a sparing amount of oil, and season well with salt, and scatter with herbs. Place it in a well-fitting roasting dish.
  • Roast the meat for 30 minutes, to produce a crust, and then turn the heat down to 150C and add a glass of water.
  • Continue to cook at the lower temperature for a further 3 hours, cover with foil if it is looking a little too crispy.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes or more before serving.

Of course, you could add garlic and white wine, or a shot of brandy. You could add rose-water, and rub the meat with ras-el-hanout. However, this was splendid as it came.