I have a whole repertoire of dishes that I create pretty much from instinct. Cooking most days means that I have developed a whole lot of simple concoctions that are easily adapted to whatever ingredients I have hanging around. This one’s a favourite. It pretty much looks after itself and is straightforward to throw together and leave to bubble away while I get on with other things. In this case singing along to some sixties soul classics at the top of my formidably tuneless voice.
The tomato base surrounds the chickpeas and is both acidic and sweet. This adds to the soft, velvety, rich taste of the baked aubergine to create a rich melange of flavour and texture. The spices give it warmth and the smoky paprika (I use La Chinata smoked sweet paprika from La Vera in Extramaduran) in particular adds something extra. It’s best served over plain white rice and is perfect to make a big pot so there are plenty of leftovers. it’s great cold as well as hot and can even be served as a starter or with meze the next day.
Alongside the stew and rice we had poppadoms with a coriander, lemon and garlic yoghurt sauce (also great stirred into the stew). This i made with strained greek yoghurt which has a higher fat content, about 10% (regular yogurt has about 3%), and so is oozing with creamy loveliness. The lemon juice, garlic and coriander add all sorts of zing and flavour while the olive oil binds them all together and smoothly rounds everything out.
Spicy aubergine, chickpea and tomato
For four people – serve over white rice
1 large onion
2 red peppers
2 cloves garlic
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin tomatos
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
.5 tsp ground tumeric
.5 tsp ground smoky paprika
bunch of coriander stalks
I always try and chop vegetables so that the size and shape match or complement the rest of the ingredients. I think it adds to the appearance and also the mouth feel. In this case I chop the onion and red pepper so they are close to the same size as the chickpeas. The aubergine I make bigger because it adds some texture and contrast. The black-purple skin when its fried/grilled makes a great contrast to the deep red of the sauce.
Heat the oven to 180oC. Chop the aubergine into four lengthways and the chop those pieces into sections. Toss them in some extra virgin olive oil (the strong oil adds to the flavour and gives the baked aubergine a really silky texture). Put it in the oven and bake it for about 20-25 mins until it’s soft and coloured round the edges.
Chop the onion and fry in some olive oil over a low heat until they are soft but not coloured. Chop the red pepper and add it to the onion and fry it gently until its soft. Add the spices and crush the garlic into the mix. Stir it until you can really smell the aromas rising out of the pan, a matter of a minute or so, maybe less. Add the tomato and chickpeas, put a tight lid on it and leave it to bubble away quietly. Add the aubergine whenever its done, mix it in and let it cook slowly for another 30-60 minutes. Chop the coriander stalks and add them towards the end of the cooking.
Like a lot of staples this can be endlessly modified. To make it more of a creole style dish add some chopped chorizo when you add the onion and chuck in some king prawns about five minutes before you serve. To make it more Indian, substitute the spices for 1 tsp of ground cumin, 1 tsp of cayenne and 2 tsp of garam masala. And so on and so forth. The tomato, onion and pepper base is really just a basic sauce. You could even let it sizzle right down with some dark brown sugar, balsamic and herbs to make a sort of tomato ketchup.
The yoghurt sauce
250g greek yoghurt
bunch/handfull coriander leaves
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
Add the lemon juice and olive oil to the yogurt and beat/whisk it in until it’s smooth. Crush the garlic and stir it in, chop the coriander finely and add the too. Mix it all together until you have a thick sauce. This will keep for a day or two in the fridge, although the garlic will become steadily more pervasive as time goes on. Like the stew above, it goes with all sorts of things.