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. 

Mexican rice

I have no idea if this recipe is Mexican at all. I got it from my friend Kay, who I think got it from a book called the Vegetarian Epicure which I have never chased down yet.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 floz olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 cups of white rice
  • 1 1/2 pints of tomato puree (I use canned chopped tomatoes which I blend, or you could use passata)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 14 floz water

METHOD:

  • Chop the onions and garlic and lightly fry in the oil.
  • Add the ginger, coriander, cloves and pepper, and stir for 30 seconds
  • Add the rice and stir, cooking until the rice seems to be turning clear and beginning to brown
  • Add the tomato puree, salt and water, and simmer for 25 minutes

Potato scones

A good recipe for left-over mashed potato.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Mashed potato, seasoned well with salt and pepper – around 250g
  • 50g plain flour
  • butter

METHOD:

  • Add the flour to the mashed potato, stirring it at first and then pulling the mixture together to form a dough the consistency of pastry. It doesn’t look like it is going to work at first
  • Roll the pastry out very thin, and cut into portion-sized triangles
  • Fry in hot butter, turn with a fish-slice to ensure each side is cooked to crispy brown. We used dripping this morning, in place of the butter.

Serve as part of a very ill-advised and delicious fried breakfast.

Apple and Date Chutney

Dear Angela. Here is the original recipe for the chutney. I got this from Christina at the surgery, whose mother got it from a friend. The quantities are quite ‘loose’ and depend on what is in the store cupboard.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2  lb cooking apples
  • as much garlic as you like
  • 1 3/4 pints malt vinegar
  • 1 lb dates, stones out and chopped
  • 1 lb raisins
  • 1 lb brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • ginger, peeled and grated, if wished

METHOD:

  • Chop the unpeeled apples, garlic and ginger, and simmer in a pan with the vinegar, until soft.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring regularly.

Makes about 6 jars. The recorder of the recipe advises keeping your fingers crossed; I suspect because she is free and easy with the quantities.

Spinach and Feta Pie

Spinach grows well in the Uists, and it is also often available in the co-op.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1kg spinach
  • 1 small onion finely chopped, or six spring onions
  • 50g butter
  • 125g Feta Cheese
  • 1 dsp chopped fresh fennel or dill
  • 100ml cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • flaky pastry
  • Small grating of nutmeg

METHOD:

  • Gently fry the onion in the butter until soft, then add all the spinach, and cook until it has all wilted down
  • Mash the cream, herbs, and cheese together
  • Mix the cheese and the spinach together, and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • Put the spinach and cheese mixture in a pie dish, and use the flaky pastry to cover
  • Bake in a medium hot oven for 30-45 minutes until the top is crisp and golden.

If you were going to be really authentic, this would be made with filo pastry to create little triangular packets. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQITqEJ-TvQ shows you the technique.

Nettle risotto

A recipe from the spring.

I know that nettles are supposed to be tasty and nutritious and free, but I’ve always struggled with the recipes that I’ve tried, usually ending up with something that looks wrong. But the scent of blanched nettles suggests an affinity with gooseberries, elderflowers, mackerel, and a wonderful hint of spring. I was out foraging for seaweed on the day I made this. At the end of the walk, I scrambled up a bank of dried kelp and pebbles, then silverweed, and then a great abundance of freshly sprouting spring nettles. 

When I got home, I blanched my pickings of nettle tops, and found I had 75g, enough to make myself a tasty wee risotto for one. You could easily multiply up for more.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/4 mild onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lovage sprig, finely chopped (leaves not the stem)
  • 25g butter
  • 75-100g blanched nettle tops, finely chopped
  • 100g arborio rice
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 300ml hot vegetable stock (I used marigold bouillon)
  • 1 oz parmesan, grated
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD:

  • Fry the onion in the butter until it is soft and nearly browning.
  • Add the chopped nettles and chopped lovage, and stir in, frying, for a minute.
  • Add the rice, keep stirring and frying, until the rice looks glazed and shiny.
  • Pour in a glass of wine, and bring to the boil.
  • Slowly add the stock, bringing to the boil and waiting until the stock is absorbed before adding more.
  • Once the rice is tender, but still a little firm, add the salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Stir in, cover, and leave to stand for 3 minutes before serving.

Could you serve fish with this? Not sure. It was very good on its own.

Squat lobster risotto

We had the usual debate through the late afternoon about what we might do for a meal, when the spouse mentioned that we had some squats, and I said that I liked risotto. We used Valentina Harris’s book, Risotto Risotto to give us the technical details. This is what we did.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 an onion, finely chopped
  • A lovage leaf (or a little bit of celery)
  • 50g butter
  • 200g arborio rice
  • 1/4 bottle vinho verde (or any dry white wine)
  • 500ml boiling hot vegetable stock
  • 500g squats, cut in half (peeled weight)
  • 25g freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped flatleaf parsley
  • Salt and pepper

My rule of thumb, for a good sized portion per person I allow 75g rice and 225ml liquid. For a starter, 50g. This recipe depended on how much weight of squats we had, and we got three servings.

METHOD:

  • Fry the onion in half the butter until soft, then stir in the risotto rice and lovage.
  • If you are using celery, chop it finely and fry it with the onion.
  • Stir the rice into the frying onion until it looks opaque and is hot. Then stir in the wine, then start adding the stock a little bit at a time, allowing each bit of stock to be absorbed before adding the next.
  • With the last little bit of stock, add the squats. When the stock is fully soaked in, remove the risotto from the heat, and add the parsley, the rest of the butter and the parmesan, add any salt and pepper that is needed, and then cover. Leave the risotto to rest for a couple of minutes before serving.

Grilled grapefruit

One of my mother’s recipes from the 1970s.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 tsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

METHOD:

  • Cut the grapefruit in half, remove the pips and loosen the segments with a grapefruit knife.
  • Mix the butter, sugar and spice together, and spread onto the grapfruit halves.
  • Place under a hot grill for five minutes, to caramelise the sugar.

Aubergine sauce for pasta

This sauce is good mixed with small pasta, or layered with lasagne and a bechamel sauce and baked. In fact, I bet you could mix it with small pasta and bake it. I have tried it two ways, once using some mystery chilli and herb seasoning that a relative bought back from Italy for me. I made a small quantity suitable for two or three people, so double this would be a really good lot of sauce sufficient to serve around six people.

Top tip discovered whilst doing this: One handful of small pasta weighs a good ounce. Three handfuls is one good-size portion of pasta. There are other versions of this classic sauce around: I found one in The Pasta Bible, and another on Allrecipes website

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tsbs olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • A handful of fresh parsley (I used fresh flat-leaf parsley from the garden)
  • 1 medium aubergine, diced
  • 1/2 handful fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 tsp ground chilli (or use a small fresh chilli and add it with the garlic)
  • 1/2 cup of boiling water
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 tsp marigold stock powder
  • 1 tin chopped organic tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • (If you are using the mystery Italian seasoning from the holiday pack of pasta, use this in place of the parsley, chilli, basil and paprika, and add with the aubergines: I would suggests a heaped teaspoonful)

METHOD:

  • Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, and add the garlic and parsley.
  • Turn the heat to very low, squish the garlic with a wooden spoon, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes while you chop the aubergine. I got nervous about this, it seemed a long time, so I checked every so often, and took it off the heat once the garlic looked cooked.
  • If you used a small whole fresh chilli, remove this now. Add the aubergines, chilli powder, basil, half the water, and cover to simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • I put the marigold stock powder into the remaining hot water, along with the saffron and sugar and allowed this to infuse.
  • After the 10 minutes is up, add the water, saffron, sugar, stock powder, wine and tomatoes, along with the paprika. Season to taste, cover and settle it to simmer for another 30 minutes.
  • Once the sauce is cooked, put it somewhere safe, boil up the pasta of your choice, drain and then stir in the sauce.
  • If you are using this for a baked pasta dish, stir in the cooked pasta, put it into an ovenproof dish, top with mozzarella, and bake for 20 minutes in a hot oven.