Baby Eggplants with Pickled Red Onions

This quick and easy side dish is originally from Nigella Lawson. I’ve made it several times and adjusted it slightly by adding a touch of honey, which I think is an improvement. If preferred just leave it out.

It goes particularly well with lamb and is a perfect addition to a summer barbecue. It also makes a tasty lunch with the addition of crumbled goat’s cheese or feta and crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Recipes using eggplants usually require you to salt, drain, rinse and dry them. This process is said to draw out the bitterness, but to be honest I’m not convinced it makes much difference. You will be relieved to hear that you don’t need to do it in this recipe. As you can see in the photo, the eggplants I used weren’t really tiny ones, but they weren’t massive either. Use whatever you can find. If you leave the onions to pickle for longer, before adding the oil, they get softer. Any leftovers are very tasty.

Baby Eggplants with Pickled Red Onions500-700g small/baby eggplants (aubergines)
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs chopped fresh oregano or marjoram (or 3 tsp dried)
1-2 red onions, depending on size, halved and thinly sliced
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ cup water
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh oregano or marjoram, chopped, to garnish

Preheat oven to 200º C. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Keeping the stalks on makes the dish look more rustic. Place the regular olive oil in a shallow roasting pan and mix in the fresh or dried herbs. Rub the cut side of each eggplant in the oily mixture to coat it, then arrange them cut side up in the pan. Season with salt then bake for 15-25 minutes or until tender and starting to turn golden brown. Cooking time will depend on the size of the eggplants.

Meanwhile mix onion with vinegar, salt and water and set aside to macerate for an hour or more, mixing from time to time. Recipe can be made several hours ahead to this point.

To serve, arrange eggplants on a serving platter. Add the extra virgin olive oil, the garlic, honey and pepper to any juices left in the baking pan. Drain the onions, discarding liquid and add them to the pan and mix well. Distribute onions over the eggplants and sprinkle the fresh herbs over the top. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4-6

Notes: substitute other fresh herbs in season such as coriander or basil. If liked, crumble some goat’s cheese or feta over the top to make the dish more filling.

Spicy Lentil and Chick Pea Salad

Some friends are on my culinary wave length, so I know when they give me a recipe and say this is great I will like it. This lentil salad recipe came from my friend Lynne. I just added the chick peas which provide a nice flavour and texture contrast. Leave them out if you prefer. Spicy Lentil and Chick Pea Salad

1¼ cups (250g) green lentils
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 red capsicum (pepper) seeded and diced
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs toasted sesame seeds
Pinch salt
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained

Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to the boil and cook gently for 5 mins. Remove from heat and stand for 5 mins or until lentils are al dente. Time will vary according to the lentils you use, but don’t overcook or you won’t get a nice crisp salad. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Add remaining ingredients, then cool. Can be made a couple of days in advance and kept in the fridge, which only improves the flavour.

Serves 6

Roast Cauliflower

I’ve always been a fan of green vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts and broccoli, which a lot of people don’t like. When I was growing up cauliflower was boiled – usually for far too long – and served with a knob of butter, or margarine, if you were lucky. Sometimes a parsley or a cheese sauce would vastly improve the situation. But when I think back to those over-boiled veggies, I realise it’s hardly surprising some people were put off eating them for life.

All those vegetables which were traditionally boiled in water are much nicer when roasted in the oven with olive oil. Asparagus for example takes on a whole new character when cooked in this way. If you’ve never roasted caulfilower, give it a try. You might even convert some members of the family who don’t normally like this vegetable.

Roast Cauliflower

1 small or half a large cauliflower, cut into large flowerets
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs pine nuts
1 slice bread, made into crumbs in food processor
2-3 Tbs snipped chives

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Place cauliflower in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle with cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Mix with fingers to coat thoroughly, then bake for 30-40 mins or until cooked “al dente”. About halfway through the cooking time give the cauliflower a stir and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and pine nuts.

Serve garnished with the chives, either hot or at room temperature. It’s even nice cold.

Serves 4-6

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Olives & Feta

When we lived in Chile in the 1990s I was President of Santiago Stage, an amateur theatre group which produced 3 or 4 plays a year in English. We raised money for a hospital which treated burnt children called Coaniquem and over two years we completely transformed a children’s home for 130 orphans called Los Girasoles. It was very satisfying and we had a lot of fun doing it. Our sitting room became the set for rehearsals for weeks on end. Fortunately I have a very tolerant husband.

While I was in Santiago recently my dear friend Elaine hosted a lunch to reunite our thespian friends. Elaine and I met in 1992 when we both had parts in a play called Home by David Storey. It’s about a home for people who are not quite right in the head, so we were definitely type cast. Elaine’s paternal uncle was the famous British actor Quentin Crisp and she has inherited his ability to tell a good story and make people laugh. When we took the play on tour to Concepcion (yes, we were very proud telling everyone that!) Elaine and I spent several hours in the dining car of the overnight train, drinking pisco sours and telling each other stories. We laughed so much I had a pain in my side. How we managed to get back to our carriage and into our narrow bunks I will never know. Elaine says I made her climb the ladder and sleep in the top bunk, but I honestly can’t remember.

When we arrived in Concepcion we were met by the head of the British Council. He had undertaken to book the theatre and sell tickets and we were staying at his house. As Elaine and I unpacked we could hear him making frantic phone calls. He had completely forgotten we were coming and hadn’t sold any tickets. We performed to an audience of about 20, but fortunately they all clapped loudly.

The day of the Santiago Stage reunion lunch was warm and sunny so we were able to sit outside. Elaine decided to do a buffet, consisting of quiches and lots of different salads and I helped. This carrot salad has been in my repertoire for many years and it’s always a good addition to a buffet, being both unusual and filling. Elaine had a lovely orange plate which was perfect to serve it on. Using whole baby carrots, if you can get them, makes it look even snazzier.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Olives and Feta

1 kg carrots peeled and cut into fat sticks
2 large onions, chopped
2-3 bay leaves
2 Tbs fresh thyme or 4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cumin powder
4 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (or substitute another vinegar)
100g stoned green olives (I use pimento stuffed ones, cut in halves)
100g feta cheese (or substitute soft goat’s cheese)
Juice of one lemon or lime
Chopped fresh coriander
2 Tbs finely chopped preserved lemon, skin only (optional)

Heat oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently until soft – 5 minutes or so. Add the carrots and cook, stirring for 5 minutes more. Add thyme, sugar, cumin, salt and pepper, cover and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add vinegar and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add olives, cover again and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Carrots should still have a bit of bite left in them. Place in a serving dish. Add the feta cubes and squeeze over the lemon or lime juice at the last minute. Garnish with the coriander and preserved lemon, if using. If preferred, keep the olives till the end and sprinkle them over with the coriander as a garnish as I did in this photo. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 8-12 as part of a buffet

Carrot Avocado and Orange Salad

I often make a salad using avocado and orange or grapefruit segments, which go well together. A recipe with the addition of oven-roasted carrots appeared recently in the Canberra Times and came from a cookbook called A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield. I read through the method and found it unnecessarily complicated, so I made a few changes. I also added some honey to the dressing. Here is my tweaked version.

1 bunch baby carrots (about 750g)Carrot Avocado and Orange Salad
2-3 cloves garlic
1 rounded tsp cumin seeds
1 rounded tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp dried crushed chilli (or use some fresh)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 large oranges
2 large avocados
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 tsp honey
Coarsely chopped fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 200°C. Toast cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan over moderate heat for a minute or two, or until fragrant. Place in a mortar with garlic, chilli, a tsp of salt, some pepper, 4 Tbs of the oil and crush to a paste. Scrub and trim carrots but don’t peel. Leave a small bit of the greenery at the end. Place carrots in a large baking dish which holds them in one layer. Add paste, mix well to coat. Add ¼ cup water then place in the oven to roast for about half an hour, stirring halfway, until tender and starting to brown a bit. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile remove peel and pith from the oranges with a serrated knife, then remove each segment by cutting each side of the membrane. Place segments in a small dish and squeeze what’s left of the oranges over the top to remove all the juice. Peel and slice avocados lengthwise.

Arrange carrots, drained orange segments (keep juice) and avocado slices decoratively in a serving dish. Place cooking juices from the carrots in a jam jar. Add orange juice, lemon juice, remaining 2 Tbs oil, honey and salt and pepper to taste. Shake well and drizzle over the salad. Top with the fresh coriander and serve.

Serves 4

Mexican Slaw

This version of coleslaw uses Mexican flavours and a light oil and lime juice dressing. Crunchy, colourful and bursting with vitamins, it goes well with burgers, steaks or any roast or barbecued meat or poultry.

Mexican Slaw

2-3 cups finely shredded white cabbage
2-3 cups finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup raw pumpkin curls (made with a vegetable peeler)
1 cup raw corn kernels, cut off the cob (see note)
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 small or ½ medium red onion, halved and finely sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime or ½ large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp honey
2 Tbs pumpkin seeds
2 Tbs sunflower seeds

Place all ingredients for salad in a bowl. Place all ingredients for dressing in a jar and shake. Toast pumpkin and sunflower seeds by stirring in a dry pan over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes. Mix coleslaw with dressing and top with toasted seeds.

Serves 4-6

Note: or substitute frozen corn, blanched for a minute in hot water, or drained canned corn.

Variations: use carrot curls instead of pumpkin; add thinly sliced red capsicum (pepper) and/or zucchini or cucumber, cut into julienne sticks.

Beetroot, Fig & Fennel Salad with Creamy Dressing

I grew up in a house where beetroot – boiled, peeled, sliced and doused with malt vinegar – was nearly always on the table. My mother made a dish full every week and we ate it as a side dish.

Since then I’ve found lots of different ways of serving this somewhat underrated vegetable. I particularly enjoy it without the addition of vinegar, so the lovely earthy taste shines through. Roasted and served in a salad with rocket, feta or goat’s cheese and maple-glazed pecans or walnuts it’s absolutely delicious. But I seldom served it raw until I came across this recipe which will please all beetroot fans. It’s even better the next day and goes down very well at a BBQ.Beetroot and Fennel Salad

250-400g peeled and coarsely grated raw beetroot
70g dried figs, chopped (or substitute raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit)
lots of chopped fresh herbs – whatever you have (dill, coriander, parsley)
1 small bulb fennel finely sliced
¼ cup lemon juice, or to taste
1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise (preferably home made)
¼ cup plain yoghurt
1 Tbs cumin seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan

Mix beetroot, figs, herbs and fennel, then add oil, lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Make an hour or two before serving then tip into a serving bowl or spoon onto individual serving dishes. Mix mayonnaise with yoghurt and dollop over the top. Sprinkle with the cumin seeds.

Serves 4-6

Note: the mayo-yoghurt topping is optional

Spinach Salad with Red Dressing

When we were living in Pretoria, South Africa, in the late 1980s someone brought a delicious spinach salad to a pot luck BBQ we were hosting. I made a mental note of the ingredients in the salad, but it took me a while to get the sweet and sour red dressing right.

This salad is very popular as part of a buffet or to accompany a BBQ. The ingredients are unusual and the contrast of the spinach and eggs with the red dressing looks good. I used to call it Sweet and Sour Dressing, but as everyone in the family called it Red Dressing, I decided to go with the flow. Serve in a large shallow bowl, so there is only one layer of each ingredient, then spoon the dressing over at the last minute and serve without mixing.

The bowl in the photo is hand made and was bought at the craft market at Los Dominicos in Santiago, Chile. We lived in Santiago for 4 wonderful years and every time I return I end up bringing back a salad bowl for someone who has admired mine and asked for the spinach salad recipe. It’s a perfect size and shape for this salad.

Spinach Salad with Red Dressing

2-3 packets baby spinach leaves or use half spinach and half lettuce leaves
1-2 cups bean sprouts
4-6 hard boiled eggs
4-6 rashers bacon, diced
1 can water chestnuts
Red Dressing (see below)

Wash and dry spinach and remove stalks. Wash and dry bean sprouts and sprinkle over. Drain and slice water chestnuts and sprinkle over. Cut eggs into halves or quarters, lengthwise and arrange over the salad. Can prepare ahead to this stage. Just before serving fry the bacon in a pan without oil until crisp, dry on paper towels and sprinkle over the salad. Vegetarians can leave out the bacon. Just before serving spoon over some Red Dressing.

Serves 8-10 or more as part of a buffet

Red Dressing

¼ cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 small onion or ½ medium
½ cup cider or white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
½ cup tomato ketchup

Process all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Keep in the fridge in a jar with a lid. Shake well before using. Goes well with any salad but especially with Spinach Salad.

Tri-Colour Coleslaw

At our rural property we had a good crop of cabbages until the earwigs found them. Matthew went up there for a couple of days earlier this week to water the new trees and brought a cabbage back with him. As I started to remove some of the outer chewed leaves out jumped a million earwigs! They were everywhere and it was easy to see what they had been eating. I had to throw away about about half the cabbage before I got down to virgin territory.

I’ve been reading up on the internet about tried and tested earwig traps and saving empty containers with lids. Vegetable oil with the addition of something attractive to earwigs, such as a dollop of peanut butter or the oil/juice from a can of tuna, is said to do the trick – it lures them in and they drown. We’re going to the property the weekend after next and those b***** earwigs had better watch out!

Coleslaw when I was growing up was pretty standard – cabbage, carrot and bought mayonnaise – or Heinz salad cream – sometimes with a tin of crushed pineapple thrown in for good measure. This is a more modern version.

Tri-Colour ColeslawAbout 4 cups shredded white cabbage
About 4 cups shredded red cabbage
About 1 cup thinly sliced celery
About 1 cup coarsely grated or julienned carrot
About ½ cup thinly sliced green (spring) onions
1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
1 cup mayonnaise, preferably home-made
½ cup thick Greek yoghurt or sour cream
½ cup French dressing (see below)

Prepare salad ingredients and place in a large bowl. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Add enough dressing to the salad to moisten to your liking – you may not want to use it all. Taste and add more salt if you think it needs it.

Serves 6-8

French Dressing
1 cup oil (sunflower, canola)
¼ cup cider or white wine vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbs honey (optional)
1-2 cloves garlic peeled and halved

Place all ingredients in a jam jar with a lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Keeps in the fridge for up to a month. I usually make double or triple in a very large jar so it’s always on hand when I need it. If you like a sweet dressing add the honey. Otherwise just add about half a tsp of sugar.

Garlic butter

As I made a batch of garlic butter to have in the fridge over the holiday season I thought to myself that it’s one of those recipes which has become “retro”. Popular in the seventies and eighties, we used it in garlic bread, on steaks and grilled fish and in Chicken Kiev. But then it went out of favour, along with prawn cocktail, beef bourgignon, steak Diane and all the other dishes we enjoyed before gastronomy took off. Suddenly these recipes weren’t posh enough.

Whenever I serve garlic bread to a crowd – fresh from the oven and oozing home-made garlic butter – it always disappears. And a dollop of garlic butter on a freshly barbecued steak, piece of fish or succulent prawn is delicious. So here’s the recipe. Oh and it’s probably a good idea to label the container so the kids don’t ask why the butter’s gone green!

Garlic butter

3 heaped Tbs fresh parsley leaves, stalks removed
3 Tbs snipped chives or the green ends of spring onions
1-2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 250g tub spreadable butter
pinch salt

Place herbs in food processor and process till finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides halfway through. Add garlic, butter and salt and process till mixed. Return to the plastic butter container and refrigerate. Keeps for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, but much longer in the freezer. Just thaw long enough to use what you need then put back.

Garlic Bread: make diagonal cuts in a French baguette, not quite through to the bottom. Spread each slice with garlic butter. Wrap the loaf in foil and refrigerate or freeze till needed. Thaw if frozen then bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Serve hot.