When I want a new idea for the relatively mundane, I turn to Ottolenghi. Whether the chef, the restaurant or the cookbooks, it is, for me, a name synonymous with reinvention, particularly of vegetables. There is no limp lettuce or cotton-wool tomato in an Ottolenghi salad, no flat textures or dull flavours: the Ottolenghi effect is to take something well known, like asparagus, cucumber, or cauliflower and turn it into something completely unknown and almost always delicious (well, I’ve not had a dud yet). So, to take those three examples, asparagus is served with samphire (a coastal plant often known as sea asparagus), cucumber with poppy seeds and that white, safe and bland brassica becomes cauliflower and cumin fritters served with lime yogurt.
I’ve been lucky enough to eat in one of the eponymous restaurants and I highly recommend them but there are also, for the non-London-based, two books which are brilliant. I own the first, not the second, and every time I look at it I’m inspired. Today it taught me how to turn a couple of aubergines into dinner, via some yogurt, saffron, basil and pine nuts. It should have pomegranate seeds but they’re not in season so I left them out. I think it could do with something else red or jewel-like though, if only for the colour, so next time I make it I may add some slices of red chilli when I’m toasting the pine nuts. This is easy and fast, very light on the shopping and gorgeous.
Roasted aubergines with saffron yogurt (adapted from Ottolenghi: the Cookbook)
For two you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and black pepper
garlic, 1 clove
hot water, 3 tablespoons
aubergines, 2 medium
pine nuts, 2 tablespoons
saffron, small pinch
Greek yogurt, 180g
lemon juice, 2½ tablespoons (from ½ to a whole lemon depending on how juicy it is; remember to zest it first!)
basil leaves, about 20
pitta breads, to serve or a good white bread would be delicious too
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7.
2. Toast the pine nuts and leave to one side, peel and chop the garlic and rinse the basil leaves.
3. Cut off the stalk end of the aubergines, cut each in half widthways then cut the two halves into wedges not slices as per this photo…
4. Put the aubergine pieces into a bowl with a good splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss together until evenly coated then put the pieces into a roasting dish. Roast for about 20-25 minutes until a nice toasty golden brown. Leave to cool.
5. For the dressing, mix together the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a little sea salt. Put the saffron strands into a bowl with 3 tablespoons of hot water and leave to infuse (you’ll end up with orangey water). Then beat the saffron water into the yogurt dressing, add a little more salt if needed and put in the fridge to chill (I confess that I didn’t chill mine, being an impatient sort…).
6. When you’re ready to eat, divide the aubergine wedges between two plates, pour over the dressing, sprinkle on the pine nuts and basil leaves and serve. Any extra dressing will keep in the fridge for a couple of days but it’s also lovely as a dip.