Arabic Eggplant and Walnuts with Cauliflower Couscous (vegan and gluten-free)

syrian eggplant and walnut stewWhat do you get when you cross meltingly soft, walnut oil-infused eggplants with 7-spice walnuts and silky tomatoes?

No, this isn’t a seriously bad joke, but a serious question. I am not au fait enough with the difference between Turkish, Syrian and Lebanese spicing to plump for one or there other, so I have dubbed it Arabic. I don’t think many could argue with that. Or maybe you can as Arabic doesn’t include Turkish. Oh dear, I’m really in a muddle here. No joke.

And then there is the actual category itself: is it a stew, a topping or something else entirely? I still don’t know. So it is just Arabic Eggplant and Walnuts. Over a crazy-simple but outlandishly un-Arabic cauliflower couscous.

I am always wary of labelling food as coming from a region or country unless I am dead-sure of my facts. And that usually only happens when a recipe is a tweak on a well-known dish. And as I kind of just made this up based loosely on Syrian meat and eggplant stew (of which there are numerous), with completely different spicing and no walnuts, I am at a bit of a loss. Perhaps there are even glimmers of Georgia (the country, not the US peach capital). But no matter.

Although this recipe DOES have an identity crisis, and I am too much of a rubbish food historian to follow this up, it is a bit of all right. I am sure it would also be good with half lamb mince and half walnuts, but it is very satisfying and intense with all walnuts, tempered by the mild, creamy-fleshed aubergines.

We had it over cauliflower couscous, to which I had added feta cheese. That was just too much flavour in one dish. Is that even possible? Yes it is. Keep the underbelly plain – my ‘plain’ cauliflower couscous recipe, polenta, rice, crushed potatoes, bread, ‘normal’ couscous or quinoa.

This is my second – and final – recipe for the Maille Culinary Challenge. I loved using their walnut oil in both this recipe and my Soft and Chewy Molasses Crinkle Cookies. Two very different recipes from one bottle. Versatile stuff, walnut oil.

My favourite food joke: What do you call a mushroom who buys all the drinks? (Answer after the recipe!)

syrian eggplant and walnut stew

Arabic Eggplant and Walnuts with Cauliflower Couscous

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy-moderate
  • Print

This is my take on a traditionally meaty Syrian stew. But my spin is vegan and not really a stew – more of a substantial savoury topping and an excuse to use crunchy-creamy (!) walnuts and luxurious walnut oil. Add vegetable stock (or maybe just extra water, or water and a medium-bodied red wine) to make it wetter. The walnut oil adds an incredible richness, so try not to leave it out.

I have taken the liberty of popping this stew that’s not a stew onto some finely minced and roasted cauliflower. I also added feta, but to be honest that was overkill. Just sprinkle over some feta as a garnish, if you like. This would also be damn fine over rice, couscous, vermicelli or any of the usual starchy suspects.

2 medium aubergines, cubed

3 tbsp walnut oil (I used Maille), divided use

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

200g walnuts, roughly chopped

½ tbsp ground allspice

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp sumac (optional)

¼ tsp ground cumin (*can use a seven-spice mix, like baharat, instead of the spices listed above*)

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional) – Turkish dried pepper is mild and sweetly warm

1 tbsp tomato puree OR pomegranate molasses (I used puree)

Juice of one lemon (about 3 tbsp)

Double handful of cherry tomatoes OR 1 tin of plum tomatoes, crushed

200 ml water, plus extra as needed OR stock OR water+red wine

Parsley and mint, as garnish

  1. Toss the aubergine cubes in 2 tbsp of the walnut oil and bake in a 160C oven for about 30 minutes, or until the aubergines are soft and golden.
  2. In a large sauté pan, gently sauté the onions and garlic over a low heat, stirring frequently – about five minutes. Add in the walnuts, spices, salt, red pepper flakes (if using) and tomato puree, and stir well, cooking for another minute.
  3. Add the lemon juice, tomatoes and water. Let the mixture come to a fast simmer then turn down the heat and cover for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The result should be quite saucy and thick, but add more liquid if you like, remembering to adjust the spices and seasoning. When it cools a little check the seasoning and perhaps add some honey, sugar or other sweetener if it needs it. My tomatoes were lovely and sweet so that wasn’t necessary.
  4. Serve warm over couscous (cauliflower –see below – or otherwise), polenta, quinoa, rice, bread, pasta or even potatoes. Garnish with the remaining walnut oil, chopped parsley or mint.

NOTE: I made the mistake of pureeing one-third of the mixture and mixing it back in. Although it tastes absolutely fine, it is not a good look. As you can see. Don’t blend! Except, if you have leftovers, blending would make it a good dip for toasted pitta chips.

Soft Food Diet: blend all or blend walnuts that have been soaked then cooked with the spices and onions before blending.

 

cauliflower couscousCauliflower Couscous 

Roast grated cauliflower as per my Loaded Cauliflower Couscous Salad recipe and, once roasted, pop the cauliflower in a saucepan. Add 75ml of hot vegetable stock, some gratings of fresh nutmeg (just a little) and lightly mash with a potato masher.

Joke Answer: A ‘fungi’ to be with! Terrible, but I like it :-)

To go with this dish:

Syrian Chopped Leaf Salad, from SBS Food

Syrian Mountain Bread, from SBS Food

Lebanese Rice Pudding, from Mama’s Lebanese Kitchen

Disclaimer: I was provided with a product to use in this recipe but I was not paid in any way, and opinions are my own.

 

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Loaded Cauliflower ‘Couscous’ Salad with Roasted Turmeric Chickpeas + THAT Study

cauliflower couscous salad“Let food by thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates (father of medicine), 431 BC

So, it’s out with the five-a-day message and in with the 7. Or perhaps 10. Or maybe just more than we are currently eating.

All hail kale. And sweet potatoes. And tomatoes…. Continue reading

Making Sunflower Butter + Slow-baked Sunflower Granola

 

slow-baked sunflower butter granolaMy love of breakfast is pretty well established. Not only is my Instagram feed chocka with variations of avocado on toast and a million ways to eat chard before 9 am, but I will eat breakfast at non-breakfast times too. I sometimes prefer it that way. That way I can legitimately have dinner leftovers for breakfast! I can’t be the only one who does that. Am I? Continue reading

Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers – naturally vegan, naturally delicious

mediterranean stuffed peppers - veganThe stuffed vegetable needs no introduction, especially to anyone from around the Mediterranean or in the Middle East. The farcis, dolmades, yemista, mahashi/mehshi – all can be exquisite examples of a country’s cuisine. Heat-softened, spoonsful of tender herb-flecked grains pressed into the hollowed out spaces – humble, easily grown vegetables elevated to the centre of the plate.

Laid out on a long, well-scrubbed wooden table, underneath the only shade for miles around, who could wish for more than plates of stuffed vegetables, a chewy round of bread and a few friends with whom to share it all.

Continue reading

Glow Green! Matcha Yogurt Breakfast Bowl

matcha green tea yogurt breakfast bowlThe past couple of weeks have been full of more ups and downs than is usual for me. Nothing major, just stuff that could be done without. And really, as of today (I started this post yesterday), I feel the stress ebbing away to a manageable trickle.

I am naturally a person who likes things on an even keel. I absolutely do not thrive on stress – I would be quite the worst business person. Certainly you will never see me cowering before The Dragons’ Den dragons, touting an idea. Or even pitching up in a pinny for The Great British Bake-Off, like my brave and talented friend Urvashi. That’s just not me. With the exception of GBBO I don’t even like to watch shows with conflict, confrontation or stress. Well, an exception for House of Cards, too. How can anyone resist Kevin Spacey’s sly, to-camera asides, delivered in that snake-oil Southern drawl? Continue reading

Seven-Seed Spelt Bread

spelt breadDo you fancy a little weekend baking?

Despite my main oven literally blowing up this past week (cue catering panic), I had a strong urge to bake. Luckily I know that my tiny conventional ‘top’ oven is a pretty efficient baker. While my workhorse fan oven gets (got) the cast iron pots of slow-cooked stews and sheets of vegetables to roast, the dinky top oven gets the oh-ah stuff, the baking. So despite jet lag, and the energy levels of a particularly lazy sloth, I gathered my baking ingredients and got stuck in. I could’ve opted for these crunchy, delicate Cashew and Three-Ginger Biscuits (store cupboard ingredients). And I knew my daughter would love me forever if I made Marbled Peanut Butter and Jam Banana Bread (alas, no bananas). But I knew it had to be bread bread.

For me travelling solo is quite a chore. Even familiar airports I find confusing, and the security stressful. Add to this weather delays and cancellations at either end – polar vortex (again) and a tornado watch – and by the time I open my front door I am ready to collapse in a messy puddle of hormones, airline food and stale clothing. If I only I weren’t so dehydrated. As I said, solo travelling is a chore. Continue reading

Fragrant Butternut Squash, Lentil and Lemongrass Curry + Cumin Seed Chapati

butternut squash curryOne can buy very good bought curry pastes nowadays, but there is just something extra-bright and fresh about a homemade paste. And it isn’t hard to make: I just pop everything into the bowl of my little mini chop thingy* and press ‘on.’ It is that easy. Continue reading

A Green Smoothie for the Green-phobe

green smoothieDespite the clearly undisguised green of this green smoothie, I pretty much guarantee that once sipped even the the most stridently anti-greens guy or gal will at least say, ‘hmm, not as bad as I thought it was going to be.’ Score!

If they are actually scared to try it either say 1) ‘will you just get over yourself’ (my option if I’ve had no sleep), or 2) ‘I will pay you. Just try it.’ Or a combination of the two.

If it is your good self who is unaccountably afraid of the big bad green smoothie, just take a gander at the ingredients: pineapple, clementine, banana. And a little bit of spinach. The mild, baby stuff. If you can handle the more bitter end of the leafy greens – I’m talking about kale really – go for it. The more bitter the better from a nutrition and disease-prevention standpoint.

Whether a novice green smoothie maker/imbiber or not, most fruit (and vegetable) smoothies are best if at least one of the ingredients is frozen. I know you can use ice – and I sometimes do – but having a secret squirrel stash of chopped bananas and/or pineapple in the deep freeze makes it ‘creamier,’ colder and not at risk of being watered down. The matcha tea is entirely optional but I always have a tin of it (owing to a mild addiction to cold green tea with lemon, even in the winter) so tend to put it in smoothies whatever the ingredients. And the citrus enhances green tea’s anti-cancer properties.

To be perfectly honest I would not advocate having something like this every day. I think whole fruits are better because it is easier to know when you have had enough – calories and satiety. But this kind of smoothie is a great way to get green-haters to at least try their enemy and have an opportunity to like them. And homemade smoothies are completely under your control – adjust the taste and amount to your liking, and know exactly what is in it and how fresh it is. Fantastic for control freaks like myself.

So, are you in?

green smoothieA Green Smoothie for the Green-phobe

A cracking way to start the day – a bit tangy, a bit sweet, and a bit green. And there’s green tea powder too if you are like me and don’t do coffee.

The level of deliciousness hinges on the ripeness of the pineapple; don’t go to all the trouble of hacking up an unripe one, just opt for best quality canned or bottled. I’ve never had to do that, but perhaps I’ve just been lucky. Here’s a guide to choosing a ripe pineapple.

1 ripe banana, frozen if possible*

Double handful of baby spinach leaves, or other mild greens of choice, washed (about 2 packed cups)

1 cup diced fresh or quality canned pineapple (frozen too if you can) OR kiwi, peeled

2 clementines, mandarins or satsumas OR 1 large orange, peeled

2 tsp powdered green tea (Japanese-style matcha, not instant) – optional

1 cup almond milk or other milk of choice

5 ice cubes if not using frozen fruit

1. Add all to a blender and blitz until creamy-smooth like an old-fashioned milkshake. Drink immediately.

Note: You can leave out the banana (I’m not a big banana fan) but it does add greatly to the texture, and the pineapple pretty much neutralizes any strong banana taste. Add another banana if you like a more tropical, or sweeter, taste. Or, how about a kiwi?green smoothiegreen smoothie

Serves 2.

Fudgy Aduki Bean Brownies (grain-free + vegan option)

black bean browniesIt doesn’t happen often, but I have just rendered my daughter speechless. Not that she’s particularly loquacious, but she will speak her mind as necessary. And pass honest judgement on her old Mum’s cooking. More particularly my modest attempts at baking. Ouch.

When my Rachel was young I would make a good effort at donning a ‘pinny’ and doing a spot of after-school baking with her. But even then it was mostly breadsticks, flatbreads, or making something for a bake sale: we would lick the spoon and tidy the edges of course. Continue reading

Simple Guacamole + How To Choose An Avocado

guacamoleAs a thank you for reading yesterday’s ‘bumper post’ (i.e. tediously long) on Black Bean Quinoa Chili, today I give you the much shorter companion post of Simple Guacamole. This stripped-back version of the popular  dip is the perfect foil for a more complex dish like chili. And a must-have for parties and Super Bowl gatherings. But guacamole is superb with – and indeed in – so many other foods. Because guacamole really needs no introduction I will just let this easy and healthy recipe speak for itself.

Simple Guacamole

The only secret to a good guacamole is to use perfectly ripe avocados, a little salt and a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon. After that, it is down to personal taste. Below the recipe I give add-in suggestions, ideas for how to use guacamole, and hints on how to know when an avocado is ripe.

How do you like your guac?

2 perfectly ripe Hass avocados (see below)

½ lime (or lemon)

½ tsp good salt, like Maldon

Because you aren’t going to be making pretty slices with the avocado, the easiest way of removing the stone is to squeeze the avocado, then slice it in half lengthways – the stone loosens with the initial pressure. Remove the stone (tip of knife/spoon/fingers) and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a bowl. Immediately squeeze in the lime or lemon juice and crumble in the salt.

Mash well with a fork or a pastry cutter (shown). Most people like their guacamole at least a little chunky so don’t be too enthusiastic with the mashing. Serve immediately, or cover with cling film/food wrap so that it is touching the surface – this helps prevent oxidation/browning.

We find guacamole – and avocados generally – are best at room temperature and used within one or two days. This isn’t a food for keeping. But then again, why would you?

Fripperies:

¼ tsp each of garlic and onion powder (store cupboard option – what I often do)***

½ red onion, finely minced

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1 medium tomato, deseeded, degorged and finely chopped

Jalapeno or serrano chili, deseeded and diced

A few tablespoons of good quality salsa (or homemade, of course)

½ tsp ground cumin

A dash or two of hot sauce or chipotle in adobo

A few tablespoons of fine curd cottage cheese or Quark – to extend the guacamole or make each serving slightly lower in fat (up the seasoning too)

Watermelon, fine dice

Roasted and chopped peppers

Pomegranate seeds (very nice option)

Chopped leaves and soft stem of coriander/cilantro leaves

What to do with your Simple Guacamole. Of course it is perfect with raw vegetables and tortilla chips. But here are a few more ideas:

as a mayonnaise substitute in sandwiches (beautiful with a chicken, bacon or turkey sandwich)

to top chili and in baked potatoes

in quesadillas; on tostados and huevos rancheros

on toast with chopped tomatoes (one of our fave quick breakfasts)

mix into eggs/soft tofu for scrambled eggs or scrambled tofu (yes, really)

add to grain and bean salads

stir into pasta with extra lime and some chilli and tomatoes

mix with hard egg yolk for devilled eggs, or with chopped egg for a no-mayo egg salad.

You get the picture.

Here is a short video to help you decide if your avocado is ripe.

In addition, it is good to look at the little stem knob – flick it off and if it is yellow-green underneath it is ripe, if it is brown – give it a miss as it is already gone over. If you can’t flick it off (i.e. you have to twist it) it will usually need another day or two. Keep ripe avocados in the refrigerator until you use them. To ripen avocados (or at least try to – some never will), pop into a paper bag with another fruit. Or for a slower ripening, just set the under-ripe avocado on top of a bowl of fruit. See this link to ripening avocados for further options and explanations – and a tip NOT to try.

***Low Residue Diet-friendly optionguacamoleavocado shells and pit