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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Preserved Lemons – an easy, no-cook edible gift idea

preserved-lemons-imageDo you want/need extra brownie points this Christmas? Have you forgotten anyone on your list and are scratching your head for ideas? Even if you aren’t in the doghouse for something or other, and you have been as organised as I have not, these wonderfully-easy preserved lemons will be most welcome.

If you have never had preserved lemons before, you are in for a treat. If you have had them – bought ones – these are many times better. Of course, if you make your own I won’t convince you that these are any better. I’m positive your preserved lemons are the bomb. But if you think that preserved lemons have to be made in two stages – stage one: let the lemons release their juice over several days; stage two: top with salt and spices – this is a one stage, make and seal recipe. I make it frequently; it always works.

The only (teensy) drawback is that you need to tell your recipient to hold off taking out the golden glistening lemons and tearing away the succulent skin for about a month. Three weeks at a minimum to soften the skin and make it delectably edible. Let them know that good things come to those who wait. That applies to you too. Wait patiently and you will be rewarded with an absolutely blissful addition to many, many savoury dishes. They keep for a year, but I truly doubt this statement will be tested.preserved-lemons-image

If you and your loved ones love Middle Eastern, North African or Mediterranean food, preserved lemons are the ideal accompaniment. Although this makes one quart jar’s worth, this is of course easily increased. Or you can do as I do and make it up in two smaller, wide-mouthed jars. One to keep and one to share.

As a side thought, if you have everything but the coarse salt don’t bother struggling through traffic or battling it out in the grocery store, just use table salt. Ordinary table salt. It will taste just fine.

This is my last proper post this week, unless I have a sudden brainwave that I feel compelled to share. Have a wonderful Christmas all of you. Enjoy every day of the festive season, whatever your faith.

preserved-lemons-imagePreserved Lemons – Quick and Easy

 8-10 unwaxed and well-scrubbed juicy-feeling lemons (unwaxed is very important) – 4-5 juiced and 4-5 quartered but still attached at the tip

 8 heaped tbsps coarse/rock salt (or 5 heaped tbsp table salt)

4 or 5 fresh bay leaves or 2-3 dried ones

2 heaped tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed OR 1 tbsp black peppercorns

2 lightly crushed green cardamom pods (optional)

 Special equipment: 1 quart jar or two smaller wide-mouthed jars – sterilised. With vinegar-proof lids if possible, but I use a tear of parchment paper to act as an acid barrier. I place it over the open jar and just screw the lid on tightly.

 1. Stuff each quartered lemon with some of the salt and push it back to its original shape. Pop each into the sterilised jar(s), squishing the lemons to release juice. Add the remaining salt, the bay leaves, peppercorns and the cardamom.

 2. Top with the squeezed lemon juice, adding a little water if needed – just to cover the lemons. Seal and store for a month, turning a couple of times a week if remembered. These will keep up to a year without refrigeration, but I like to keep the in the refrigerator anyway. They are too perky and pretty to stash away out of sight!

 To use: with a small paring knife, separate the skin from the flesh and use the skin only – the flesh is really too salty, although I have used a smidge in salad dressings to no ill effect. Take the skin and chop it rather finely. Add sparingly as a seasoning into North African (especially any tagine), Middle Eastern and even many Mediterranean dishes. Perfect in salsas, dips, bean and grain dishes, as well as a snappy garnish/flavouring for soups, plain and exotic. I love a crafty sprinkle onto hummus as well as omelettes and vegetable-topped soccas.

 This recipe first appeared in my Quinoa Bowl With Citrus, Avocado and Edamame. I have also used it in the recent Lemony Kale, Quinoa and Chickpea Salad. Look out for another super simple recipe using preserved lemons in the very near future.preserved-lemons-imagepreserved-lemons-image

Roasted Pumpkin Hummus with Cauliflower and Walnut Crumble {gf/df}

winter-squash-pumpkin-imageBotanically identical to tender-skinned summer squashes, winter squashes are my unsung hero of autumn-winter eating. Not only do they keep well – you can forget about them for over a month and they will still love you – they are just about the most useful and delicious of the cold weather crops. Butternut squash, acorn, Delicata, kabocha, Hubbard, sugar pie, red kuri, spaghetti, Hokkaido – and loads more – their tough unyielding armour holds rich, sweet, nutritious flesh. Continue reading

Crispy Middle Eastern Vegetable Fries – low-fat and delicious

baked vegetable friesWhen it comes to food, does your inspiration well ever run dry? I must admit that, even though I teach about healthy eating for a living, I am sometimes stumped when it comes to snacks. If I am feeling a bit peckish I am as likely as the next person to be tempted by anything random, easy or rubbish that happens to have made its way into the house.  Months’ old marshmallows from a summer barbeque (s’mores of course), old tortilla chips that need reviving in the oven, cheese of dubious age lurking in the inner recesses of the fridge: anything is eligible. Of course I always try and have more suitable grazing fodder around. I really do. But sometimes you want something that seems, well, a bit delinquent. Do you ever feel that way? Does your inner-child ever want to come out and wreak havoc in the kitchen?

Continue reading

Nearly-Naked Watermelon Salad

watermelon saladWatermelon in a salad is nearly as satisfying as chomping down on a chilled, ripe solitary slice. Nearly.

This is a salad for when watermelons are at their peak, and perhaps when you are satiated with them au naturel. Like ripe peaches, so heavy and plump that biting into them sends their honeyed juices cascading from your elbow, perfect watermelons are unequaled as fruits. Who can resist their saturated pinky-red flesh? Not me. Continue reading

Eggcentric – Lentils, Poached Egg and Paprika-Spiked Yogurt Breakfast

lentils, eggs yogurtI love breakfast. No, make that I LOVE BREAKFAST. It is without question my favourite meal. As you can tell from this blog I love other meals too. A lot. But breakfast is sine qua non to my daily happiness. Although it is rarely elaborate, and often involving no equipment other than a knife and hot overhead grill – or bowl and spoon – any sustenance is gratefully received. If ever I have to skip breakfast (I can’t remember when that last happened) I get seriously grumpy. Dropped pacifier, burst football, home team lost kind of grumpy. Stay the heck away if that happens is all I can say. Continue reading

A New Way To Enjoy Shawarma – with Tofu!

tofu shawarmaIf you don’t know what a shawarma is, this recipe will not particularly surprise. But, if you know shawarma, you could be forgiven for uttering a popular acronymed Anglo-Saxon epithet beginning with W and ending with F. If you are from the Levant, you will no doubt be thinking an equivalent in Arabic or Turkish. Just perhaps not as rude. Continue reading

My Quest for Perfect Hummus

hummusI can’t really remember the first time I had hummus. Being raised in a Deep South  commuter town, whose main highway was hemmed in with strip malls, Burger Kings and Dairy Queens, I seriously doubt it was there. We did have  - and it is still there today – a lone Greek restaurant, but I only ever remember the ubiquitous but very pleasant Greek salad, with its starchy ‘garnish’  of yogurty potato salad as a sop to American tastes. But hummus? I don’t think so. This was the era of aerobics and low fat after all. If I had been more adventurous, and less figure-conscious, I would no doubt have found the hummus and been hooked from the get go. Restaurant hummus is always far superior to that we can make at home. Or, so I thought. Continue reading

An Edible Mosaic Virtual Cookbook Launch, Recipe and Giveaway!

I have a very special post for you today. My friend Faith Gorsky from An Edible Mosaic just had her first cookbook released: An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair. I’m excited to be participating in her virtual book launch party and sharing two recipes from the book! If you read me you know that sometimes I will do a kind of ersatz Middle Eastern recipe, according to what I like rather than tradition. But Faith is offering you the real thing, including the Arabic names of each dish.
The book has over 100 Middle Eastern recipes, with a focus mainly on dishes from the Levant, but also a few recipes from other areas of the Middle East. As someone who loves a plant-based diet, I was reassured to find plenty of vegetarian dishes, which mostly can be made vegan. 
Faith has a pretty unique story. After getting married, Faith spent six months living in the Middle East, where she fell in love with the culture and cuisine. Subsequently, she returned four more times for visits, each time delving deeper into the cuisine and deepening her passion for and appreciation of the region. Recipes in her book are authentic Middle Eastern (taught to Faith mostly by her mother-in-law, Sahar), but streamlined just a bit for the way we cook today, with unique ingredients demystified and cooking techniques anyone can follow. If you didn’t grow up eating Middle Eastern food, it can be a difficult art to master; Faith understands that, and explains complicated dishes in an approachable, easy-to-follow way. I wouldn’t recommend this book for a novice cook, but anyone else who loves going out to Middle Eastern restaurants, and wants to replicate authentic recipes from this ancient cuisine, look no further. The book is available to order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
After you check out the recipe below, please head over to Faith’s blog to check out her virtual book launch party to see the other bloggers who are participating. Also, as part of her virtual book launch, Faith is hosting a giveaway of a fabulous set of prizes. Be sure to head over and enter. I also have a copy of her cookbook to give to one lucky reader, so be sure and leave a comment saying that you would like to win it.
The recipe from the book that I’m sharing with you today is for Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts, along with a variation for Mixed White and Yellow Rice. The recipe is actually vegan so you won’t have any trouble incorporating it into a vegan or vegetarian meal, but it is just as delicious served with chicken, beef, lamb, or seafood, and it would be really fantastic with just about any curry dish. (In the cookbook, Faith recommends pairing Shrimp in Aromatic Tomato Sauce with this rice dish.) Btw, excuse the small images. I am a dunce with technology and couldn’t for the life of me make her very gorgeous photos any larger. If you head over to her site you will see them in all their glory, I’m sure.
Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts, Pictured with Shrimp in Aromatic Tomato Sauce, another recipe from An Edible Mosaic: Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair.
Saffron Rice with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
Recipe courtesy of An Edible Mosaic:  Middle Eastern Fare with Extraordinary Flair by Faith Gorsky (Tuttle Publishing; Nov. 2012); reprinted with permission.
Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking
1½ cups (325 g) basmati rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons sultanas (golden raisins)
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon saffron threads (or ½ teaspoon turmeric)
Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and cook until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl and set aside.
Add the onion to the saucepan you cooked the pine nuts in, and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the sultanas, boiling water, salt, and saffron (or turmeric), turn the heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil.
Give the rice a stir, then cover the saucepan, turn the heat down to very low, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (do not open the lid during this time). Turn the heat off and let the rice sit (covered) 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top; serve.
OPTIONAL Add two pods of cardamom, two whole cloves, and one 2-inch (5 cm) piece of cinnamon stick at the same time that you add the rice.
Mixed White and Yellow Rice
Serves 4 to 6
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus 15 minutes to let the rice sit after cooking
1½ cups (325 g) uncooked basmati rice, rinsed
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
2 pods cardamom, cracked open
2 whole peppercorns
¾ teaspoon salt
1¾ cups (425 ml) boiling water
1-2 pinches saffron threads or ½ teaspoon turmeric dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
Soak the rice in tepid water for 10 minutes; drain. While the rice is soaking, put half a kettle of water on to boil.
Add the oil to a medium, thick-bottomed lidded saucepan, cover and place over moderately high heat. Once hot, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the rice, bay leaf, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and salt, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the boiling water to the rice, turn heat up to high, and bring it to a rolling boil. Give it a stir, cover the pot, turn heat down to very low, and cook 10 minutes (don’t open the lid during this time).
After the rice is cooked, let the pot sit with the lid on for 15 minutes, then fluff the rice with a fork. Transfer 1/3 of the rice to a separate bowl.
Stir the saffron or turmeric-colored water into 1/3 of the rice (the rice will turn yellow). Mix together the yellow rice and white rice; serve.

Pomegranate, Pistachio and Sour Cherry Bulgur Wheat Salad

After an unfeasibly long absence, hello! I’ve been in Florida the past couple of weeks visiting my lovely Dad and younger sister, getting a bit of sun/Vitamin D and eating in some of Tampa Bay’s great new local-food restaurants. I won’t take over a whole post with restaurant reviews but I must say that even since my October visit the food scene has spiced up considerably. I’ll pop down some recommendations  in a soon-to-be-written page of travel finds (she typed hopefully), but I was quite impressed by Wimauma and Boca, both in south Tampa.

The former specialises in what it terms “Cracker Cuisine”, referring to the jokey name given to native Floridians, indicating a “frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and bug-screens.” Although I did not see squirrel on the menu, my sister and I split, and enjoyed very much, a dish of juicy shrimp (although anything but shrimpy – the suckers were HUGE)  sauteed with tomato, basil, white wine and pork bark, and served over the creamiest, softest grits I have ever tasted. Green tomatoes, hush puppies, collard greens, Florida seafood, boiled peanuts and many other native treats get the gourmet treatment at this unusual, family-friendly restaurant. My only criticism – too much salt. I noticed that many higher-end restaurants take the French way of seasoning to the extreme. I should have done a pre- and post-trip blood pressure check. Could’ve been quite alarming though. I am hoping the copious amount of backyard grapefruits and star fruits that I scoffed will somehow have mopped up the excess sodium. Note to molecular biologists  and biochemists: please do not write in and disabuse me of this new but strongly-held belief.

As I have been back less than 24 hours, this post will be short-ish and to the point (-ish). I have an urgent appointment with a comfy sofa… Continue reading