I am a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi. I always liked eating his imaginative Middle Eastern-inspired food in his restaurants when I lived in London and now I often cook from his books at home.
I can honestly say I have never cooked one of his dishes which wasn’t a) delicious and b) didn’t work perfectly first time. They also look really beautiful – who can resist a scattering of jewelled pomegranate seeds?
Cooking for a family get-together the other day, we had spicy lamb chops rubbed with ras el hanout, seasoned with salt and pepper and then grilled until pink and juicy.
We served them with the following two dishes from his first book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, written with Sami Tamimi.
One word of warning before we start: once upon a time cooks were told to salt aubergines (eggplants) to take away any bitterness in the fruit.
These days the bitterness has mostly been bred out of the varieties on sale and most people don’t bother.
But having ruined a dish recently by not salting a home-grown aubergine that turned out to be vilely bitter, I now do it as a matter of course.
Just cut them up as directed in the recipe, put them in a colander and sprinkle them with salt. Leave until you see beads of moisture on the fruit, then rinse and pat dry in a clean tea towel.
The other advantage to this method is that the aubergines don’t suck up as much oil in the cooking process.
Roasted Aubergine with Saffron Yoghurt
3 medium aubergines, cut into slices 2cm thick or into wedges
Olive oil for brushing
2 tsp toasted pine nuts
A handful of pomegranate seeds
20 basil leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the saffron yoghurt:
A small pinch of saffron strands
3 tbsp hot water
180g Greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
For the sauce, infuse the saffron in the hot water in a small bowl for five minutes.
Pour the infusion into a bowl containing the yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and some salt.
Whisk well to get a smooth, golden sauce. Taste and adjust the salt, if necessary, then refrigerate. This will keep in the fridge for up to three days.
Preheat the oven to 425F/220C/Gas 7. Put the aubergine wedges on a roasting tray, brush with plenty of olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 20-35 minutes, until the slices are a golden brown. Let them cool down. The aubergines will keep in the fridge for up to three days too – just bring them to room temperature before serving.
To serve, arrange the aubergine slices on a large plate, slightly overlapping. Drizzle the saffron yoghurt over them, sprinkle with the pine nuts and pomegranate seeds and strew with the basil leaves.
Couscous and Mograbiah with Mi-cuit Tomatoes
Mograbiah is a large variety of couscous, widely available now in supermarkets in the UK. If you can’t get it you can use fregola, the Sardinian equivalent, available at some Italian delis. Or double up on the ordinary couscous but you’d be losing out in terms of texture.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe gives a method for oven-drying tomatoes. I used some I’d dried at home previously and stored in olive oil. You could use the mi-cuit, or semi-dried, tomatoes available in jars if you want to take a shortcut.
He serves this dish topped with 100g of labneh, a soft Arabic cheese made from strained yoghurt, but as we were eating it with lamb I skipped this ingredient.
16 large, ripe plum tomatoes, halved lengthways
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
150 ml olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 onions, sliced thinly
250 g mograbiah
400 ml chicken or vegetable stock
A pinch of saffron strands
250 g couscous
1 tbsp picked tarragon leaves
1 tbsp nigella (kalongi) seeds
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/Gas 2. Arrange the tomato halves skin-side down on a baking tray, and sprinkle with the sugar, 2 tbsp of the olive oil, plus the balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for two hours or until the tomatoes have lost most of their moisture.
Meanwhile, put the onions in a large pan with 4 tbsp of the olive oil and saute over a high heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are coloured a dark gold.
Cook the mograbiah in a large pan of boiling salted water and simmer until it is cooked but still has bite – check the instructions on your packet as cooking times vary. Drain well and rinse under cold water.
In a separate pot bring the stock to the boil with the saffron and a little salt. Place the couscous in a large bowl, add 3 tbsp of the olive oil and the boiling stock. Cover with cling film and leave for 10 minutes.
Once ready, stir the couscous with a fork to fluff it up and get rid of any lumps. Add the cooked mograbiah, the tarragon and half of the nigella seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning and oil. It may need a fair amount of salt.
Place in a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil and sprinkle with the rest of the nigella seeds. This is meant to be eaten at room temperature but I served it warm and it was excellent.