inspiration & plenty of zest | ottolenghi

red chillies

The latest addition to my cookbook collection is Ottolenghi, a book packed with recipes from the gourmet haven in London by the same name.  Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi opened the doors to their Notting Hill food shop, restaurant, deli, patisserie and bakery in 2002.  The menu is inspired by their respective childhoods in West and East Jeruselum, but draws on numerous culinary traditions, ranging from Persia to California.  The Ottolenghi cookbook came into existence through popular customer demand and the recipes ‘are all typical Ottolenghi: vibrant, bold and honest’.  I can’t wait to visit the shop on my London trip at the end of the year!

I’m looking forward to working my way through the packed, colourful cookbook with relish and these two dishes are my first dip.  They made excellent accompaniments to a shared family dinner with a Middle Eastern theme.

aubergines

Marinated Aubergines with Coriander and Chilli Dressing

2-3 aubergines
Olive oil for brushing
Sea salt
Black pepper

Marinade
1 mild red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
4 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 tbsp dried oregano (the original recipe calls for fresh but as I was out, I used dried instead)
1 garlic clove, chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C.  Trim the stalk end off the aubergines, then cut each aubergine in two widthways.  Cut the fat lower piece lengthways in half and then cut each half into four wedges.  Do the same with the thinner piece but cut each half into three wedges.  You should end up with similar-sized pieces with skin on their curved side.

Place the aubergine pieces on a large roasting tray.  Brush all sides with plenty of olive oil and season with salt and pepper (if you want to get nice chargrill marks on the aubergines, place them on a very hot ridged griddle pan at this stage and grill for three minutes on each side; return them to the baking tray and continue with the next step).  Place the roasting pan in the hot oven and bake the aubergines for 15-20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and totally soft inside.

aubergines

While the aubergines are roasting, prepare the marinade.  Simply put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

dressing, fresh coriander & red chillies

As soon as the aubergines come out of the oven, spoon the marinade over and gently combine to make sure each piece is coated.  Leave them at room temperature for up to two hours before serving.    Aubergines are like giant sponges so the longer you leave them to soak up the dressing, the tastier they’ll be.  You can store them in the fridge overnight but make sure you don’t serve them cold – leave them out of the fridge for an hour at least.

marinated aubergines

The following salad continues my recent love of pomegranate seeds.  We actually grew up with a pomegranate tree hanging over the back fence and used to crack them open and eat the seeds straight from the casing.  It’s only lately that I’ve started to use them in cooking though and they make such beautiful additions to dishes – like little bright ruby jewels that burst with acidic sweetness when you bite into them.

Fennel and Feta with Pomegranates and Sumac

1/2 pomegranate
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sumac
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp tarragon leaves
2 tbsp fennel fronds
70g feta cheese, crumbled

fennel, feta & pomegranate salad

Start by releasing the pomegranate seeds.  The best way to do this is to halve the pomegranate and hold the half firmly in your hand with the seeds facing your palm.  Over a large bowl, start bashing the back of the fruit with a wooden spoon (don’t hit too hard or you’ll bruise the seeds and break the skin).  The seeds should easily fall out but make sure you pick out any white membrane as this is very bitter.

tarragon

Remove and chop the fennel fronds.  Finely slice the fennel and in a bowl toss with the fronds and crumbled feta.  For the dressing, mix olive oil, one teaspoon of the sumac, lemon juice and herbs, reserving half the tarragon leaves to garnish.  Season to taste (remembering that the feta will add saltiness) and toss through the fennel slices.

fennel, lemons & sumac

Layer the fennel and feta on a serving platter, scattering over pomegranate seeds, the rest of the tarragon leaves and sumac.  Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

fennel, feta & pomegranate salad

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