Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Aubergine and Sweet Potato Curry

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has the most cursory of glances at our profile picture that we at Savarin are quite keen on meat and an overview of our blog entries will tell you that we love to cook fish, so what of the vegetarian dishes?

The creation of interesting and tasty vegetarian options is one of the biggest challenges of a menu but a good one all the same. In fact we have just launched a new one at the restaurant after months of discussion, planning and bouncing around of ideas. Constructing dishes is one of the most fun and interesting things that we do and after all of the creative work it is a joy to see the finished dishes go across the pass and onto the tables of the diners. Vegetarian dishes like anything else often start with the question “What do I want to eat?”

At home I love to cook with Middle Eastern flavours, pomegranate, bulgur wheat, tahini, za’atar, ras el hanout and all that. More often than not these meals take the form of a meze style feast where everyone tucks in to a variety of little dishes, taking a bit of this, a bit of that and eating it all with some flatbread. This formed the initial inspiration for what has proved to be the most popular vegetarian dish we have on our menu and while we serve it in a composed, restaurant style, each of the elements work really well for a more informal supper at home or with friends.

If looking for vegetarian or Middle Eastern inspired recipes you can do a lot worse than start with Yotem Ottolenghi and his excellent book Plenty. His BBC program, Jerusalem on a Plate was fascinating as well and had me putting pomegranate molasses in pretty much everything for a good couple of weeks afterwards! Certainly the flavours in the Aubergine and Sweet Potato curry and its toppings owe a lot to these sources.

The flatbread is one of my favourite things to make at home and never ceases to amaze me in its simplicity. I can’t remember now where I learnt how to make it or when but it is so easy and so tasty that I return to it again and again. It still a constant surprise to me that it is basically just flour and water, the transformation of these two ingredients feels miraculous and if you have never made bread before then you need to have a go at this. No yeast, no rising, no hanging around hoping it works, no specialist equipment and pretty much no change since the dawn of human cooking. Go on... connect with your ancient ancestors.

Right, that’s bread sorted. Next on the list of staples then is surely cheese.  In this case Labneh, a strained yoghurt cheese. I first heard of this in Niki Segnit’s book The Flavour Thesaurus, itself an excellent resource for dish inspiration. When I read the recipe I simply had to give it a go. Again, the simplicity is amazing and it’s hard to believe that just 2 ingredients can create something with so interesting a flavour, somewhere between Feta and cream cheese with a sour yoghurt tang. All you need to do is mix a little salt with yoghurt and hang it while the whey drains off.

I make no claim to any sort of authenticity for any of these recipes (as a Welshman living in Hampshire it might be a stretch!), they do taste good though and as such I would urge you to have a go.

Aubergine and Sweet Potato Curry

2tbsp coriander seeds
2tbsp cumin seeds
2tbsp fennel seeds
2tbsp dried chilli flakes
2tbsp sumac
5 cloves garlic
2 shallots
20g thyme
Vegetable oil

2 large onions - sliced
4 aubergines – 1cm dice
5 sweet potatoes – peeled and 1cm dice
2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 bunch Fresh Coriander
1 Preserved lemon (or zest from 1 ordinary lemon)
A handful of toasted sesame seeds

Figs – 1 per person

-          Put the diced aubergine into a colander over a bowl and toss with a generous amount of salt and leave to stand for a couple of hours. Discard the liquid that gathers in the bowl.
-          Season and oil the sweet potato and roast in a hot oven for about 8-10 mins
-          Toast the whole spices in dry pan then mix with the herbs, spices, garlic and shallots and blitz with enough oil to make a paste
-          Cook the onions in the paste in a heavy bottomed pan over a moderate to low heat until they are well and truly soft and submissive.
-          Add the aubergine and sweet potato and cook out until the aubergine has softened
-          Add the chopped tomatoes and turn the heat up a bit, cook down until the liquid has mostly evaporated and the mixture is nice and thick.
-          Cut a cross into the top of the figs and push up underneath them to open them up slightly before roasting them in an oven at 180C. Place them on top of the curry as you serve. (Alternatively drizzle them with honey and serve them as a starter/snack with some of the Labneh)
-          Chop the coriander with the lemon, toast the sesame seeds and top the curry with them.

Pomegranate and red onion salsa

1 Pomegranate
1 Red onion

-          Remove the seeds from the pomegranate, most people it seems recommend doing this in a bowl of water but check out this video on how to whack ‘em out with a spoon (it’s better this way because the juice will help break the onion down a bit):

-          Slice the onion lengthwise into thin slices and mix with the pomegranate seeds and juice. Leave to sit for a while to combine


1 ltr natural yoghurt
1 tsp salt

-          Add the salt to the yoghurt and hang in a muslin bag for at least 8hrs (the longer you hang it the firmer it will be).

500g strong flour
300ml water
5g salt
1 tsp spice mix (optional - we use a mix of coriander, fennel, chilli, fenugreek and cumin but you could leave it out or just use cumin or coriander or garam masala or anything you fancy really)

-          Mix everything together (easiest done in a food mixer, mix until forms a ball and cleans the sides).
-          Take out and knead for 10mins or so until forms anelastic dough.
-          Let it rest for an hour or so then tear off small balls and roll out into rough circles.
-          At this point there are 2 different ways to cook the bread:
1.       Roll nice and thin a put straight into a very hot dry pan for a couple of minutes before turning it and letting it cook for another couple of minutes. A chargrill gives a great addition to the flavour here. They will stay thin but puff up a little and bit more like a tortilla or chapati.
2.       Preheat an oven to 230C with a heavy baking tray in. When thoroughly hot open the door and slap the bread down, closing the door quickly so stays hot. Cook for 4mins. Cooked this way they will puff right up and make a softer bread that you can fill along the lines of a pitta.

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