Thursday, 20 October 2011

Baharat chicken with roasted aubergines

I'm a big fan of just chucking ingredients into a roasting tin and seeing what happens. Partly because I like roasts and as someone who lives alone, it's a good substitute for a Sunday roast with everyone gathered round the table. But also because if you have the time to cook something for an hour, it's a very simple way to cook - once you've prepped everything you have a spare hour to spend on other things while your home fills with cooking fragrances. I'm fortunate that working from home means I can cook this way on a week night - if I were a commuter arriving home starving at the end of a long day, I'd almost certainly want something on the table within half an hour.

This dish is so ridiculously simple, and tasty, that there's almost nothing to do once it's in the oven apart from check it occasionally.

What you need: 
A couple of small chicken joints (thighs or drumsticks)
2 shallots
1 bell pepper deseeded and quartered
A handful of baby aubergines
Olive oil
1/2 lemon (optional)

What to do:
Heat the oven to 190C. In a roasting tin coat the chicken, peeled shallots, pepper and aubergines in the olive oil and mix well. Sprinkle over a light dusting of baharat. Pop in the oven for about an hour. Halfway through, turn the ingredients over to brown them evenly.

Cook's tips:
Baharat is a wonderfully fragrant spice mix used across the Middle East. The ingredients can vary but it usually contains coriander, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, cumin and cardamom. Sometimes it will also have nutmeg, chilli or cayenne pepper. You can find it in some supermarkets or ethnic grocers. Beware - it can be pungent and strong so go easy with it until you've got used to cooking with it. If you can't find it, the Moroccan ras el hanout is easier to find in the shops and makes a good, slightly less hot substitute.

Baby aubergines are easiest and cheapest to find in an ethnic greengrocer's. The flavour, in my opinion, is more concentrated than in the full-size variety, and roasting them whole or halved is a really delicious way to appreciate their taste. The skins will crisp up somewhat, while the flesh inside will melt into a creamy mush. If you opt for the larger type, one medium one will be plenty - cut it into generous chunks and go easy on the oil as aubergines will soak up everything you throw at them.

I often add a couple of lemon quarters to this kind of roasted dish because I like the tartness, but roasting lemons also brings out a concentrated sweetness that goes well with most kinds of meat and the kind of Mediterranean vegetables I like to use.