Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Aubergine Howard

Many years ago I cooked professionally at a long-gone restaurant in Leeds - the Wharfe Street Vegetarian Café. Before it closed, the owners published a cookbook of the same name, full of many of the recipes they'd served up over the years. I lost my copy only a couple of years later after lending it to someone and, inevitably, it went out of print. I spent a couple of decades looking for a replacement but a friend recently tracked a copy down for me, so I've had a delightful trip down memory lane.

This original recipe, Aubergine Jamaica, was an exotic sort of moussaka, with the sliced aubergines layered with potatoes, celery and mushrooms and the spicy coconut sauce inspired by both Caribbean and Sri Lankan food. I've stripped it right back, ousting the potatoes and the rest and substituting peppers. I've tinkered quite a lot with the sauce too, changing most of the spices. I've renamed this incarnation for my book-hunting friend.

What you need:
About 250g baby aubergines
A large red pepper
Half a block creamed coconut (about 100g)
Tahini
1 small red chilli, finely chopped, or 2tsp "lazy" chillies from a jar
1/2 inch grated fresh ginger root
1 heaped tsp allspice
1/4tsp paprika
1/4tsp celery salt
Flaked almonds

What to do: 
Trim the stalks off the aubergines then halve, or even quarter them depending on their size. Put them in a small casserole dish. Deseed the pepper and dice it. Scatter over the aubergines.

Make the sauce. Put the creamed coconut in a pan with 1/2 pint (300ml) boiling water, a heaped tablespoon of tahini and all the spices. Warm it over a low hob, stirring while everything blends together and creamed coconut has fully melted. Don't let it boil. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust the spices and salt to suit. Pour the sauce over the aubergines, cover it with a lid and bake for 45 minutes at 200C. Check it during cooking to ensure it's not drying out - top it up with a little boiling water if you need to.

Take the lid off and scatter over some flaked almonds then pop back in the oven for 15 minutes more.

Cook's tips: 
Don't be alarmed at the amount of aubergines - they will shrink right down during cooking.

Do add more heat with chilli and ginger if you like things hotter - the coconut and tahini can absorb quite a lot of spices before their flavours become masked. Check for salt too - aubergines love salt and this is one dish where I'd add more than I usually do. Just add a pinch at a time and taste in between.

For a less calorific sauce, use half a can of low-fat coconut milk instead of creamed coconut.

If you want carbs alongside, rice is the best partner.