Saturday, October 31, 2015

Briam

I love one dish meals with lots of vegetables. The countries of the Middle East and North Africa are a great source of such recipes, but this one hails from Greece, although Turkey may claim this recipe flavourful stew too.

Briam is a dish that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. It's basically sliced vegetables layered into a casserole dish with fresh dill, garlic, and salt and pepper, but the flavours meld together in a way that is hard to describe. The vegetables can be varied as can the herb. If you prefer to use basil, marjoram, or oregano, or something else, that would work too. But I think dill is the best, and I like to add crumbled feta to it to make it a complete meal.

This makes enough to serve 2-3 people, so double or triple it for more people. You may have to adjust the cooking time. The layers of vegetables should be 10 cm / 4 inches at most

Feel free to substitute vegetables, such as zucchini or sweet peppers for aubergine or sweet potato. Or use any vegetables that are in season. This is just my favourite combination.

1 medium potato, sliced to 1/2 cm
2 tomatoes, sliced to 1/2 cm
2 more tomatoes, skinned and crushed (or use some canned tomatoes)
1 medium onion, sliced to 1/2 cm
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 baby aubergine, slice to 1 cm
1 small sweet potato, sliced to 1/2 cm
2-3 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water or tomato juice
100 trams of feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F
  2. In 2 litter casserole dish that is at least 4 inches high, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Spread all the sliced potato in the bottom. 
  4. Add half the sliced tomatoes, 1 sliced garlic clove, and a tablespoon of chopped dill. Season with some salt and pepper.
  5. Add a layer of 1/2 the eggplant slices, followed by half the sweet potato slices. Season with some salt and pepper.
  6. Repeat the layers of tomatoes, onions, garlic, dill, aubergine, and sweet potato, and seasoning. Tuck in the remaining garlic clove slices.
  7. Mix the crushed tomatoes with the remaining olive oil and the water, then pour over the vegetables.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes, and then crumble the feta cheese over the top.
  9. Return to the oven and be for another 15-20 minutes. The vegetables should be completely done and tender.
  10. Serve with some good bread to sop up the juices, or with some rice.



Friday, February 6, 2015

Tweaking Ottolenghi Recipes


I have two cookbooks (Plenty and Jerusalem) by Yotam Ottolenghi, the London-based Israeli restauranteur, and have tried quite a number of recipes from the books and from those gleaned online, where he is everywhere.

I like his big bold flavours and sometimes unusual combinations, but I also have some caveats--his penchant for not easily obtainable foods (cobnuts or barberries, anyone?), the high fat content, the complexity of many recipes, their narrative style which does not always progress in the most logical order, the cooking times that sometimes bear no relationship with my experience. You wonder whether his recipes are actually tested in a home environment. I've been surprised in going through my cookbook notes that I've often had comments like "disappointing", "too dry", "mango doesn't work in this",

So I tweak his recipes, trying to reduce the fat where possible, substituting or omitting unobtainable ingredients, adjusting proportions and cooking times. I go to him for vegetarian inspiration, because he does have great ideas.

Here is one of my favourites.

Cauliflower Cake

This is a great vegetarian main dish. It would make a good dish for a picnic or buffet because it can be eaten hot or cold, and is sturdy enough to be picked up and eaten with your hand. In small slices, you could serve it as hors d'ouevres.

The original recipe calls for 10 eggs (!) and is intended to make a 24-cm cake that he says will serve 4 to 6 people. The man is mad, as that will easily serve 8-10 people. The following recipe makes an 18-cm cake that will serve 4 people as a main course with sides. I've reduced the oil, eggs, and cheese, increased the proportion of onion, and simplified the method.

31-Oct-2015: Even more variations are possible! These days I often add something spicy to give this cake a bit of a kick--a chopped chili pepper sauteed with the onion, or a couple of teaspoons of sambal or hot chutney. And I substitute chickpea (gram) flour for part of the flour to give it a more Indian vibe.

1 tablespoon of butter
2-3 tablespoons of nigella seeds (aka black cumin, onion seeds) or sesame seeds
1/2 head of cauliflower (350-400g)
1 tablespoon (15ml) olive oil
1 red onion
1 teaspoon of finely-chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon dried basil, or 10g fresh basil, chopped
4 eggs
3 tablespoons (45ml) milk
90 grams flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
100 grams of sharp cheese, such as parmesan, aged Gouda or aged cheddar


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  2. Line the bottom of an 18-cm springform cake tin with parchment paper and use the butter to grease the bottom and sides of the tin. Sprinkle in the nigella or sesame seed and toss them around to coat the bottom and sides. This will add a pleasant crunch to the crust. (If you haven't got an 18cm springform, you can line a loaf tin with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides so that you can lift it out.)
  3. Cut the cauliflower into medium florets and steam covered over simmering water for 10 minutes until just tender. Set aside to drain and cool.
  4. Peel the onion and cut a few rings off to use as decoration, and chop the rest of the onion rather finely (1.2 cm dice). Mince the rosemary.
  5. Over medium low heat, saute the chopped onion and minced rosemary in a tablespoon of oil for about 8 minutes until soft. Take off the heat and mix with the steamed cauliflower and basil.
  6. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, turmeric, salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Grate in the cheese and mix well.
  7. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and milk.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the flour and cheese mixture and stir until just combined.
  9. Gently fold the vegetables and herbs into the batter, then pour into the prepared cake tin. Decorate the top with the reserved onion rings.
  10. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown and let cool for 5 minutes. Take knife around the edge to loosen the cake, before loosening and removing the side ring. 
  11. Serve warm with a green vegetable and sharp salad (steamed spinach and three-bean salad or tabouli). Or let cool and wrap in cling film and eat it the next day.