Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Grilled Aubergine & Dukkah Borek

We all know those people; the ones that go on holiday to an exotic location like Bali or Thailand and then insist on sending the rest of us badly-taken cellphone photos (which amazingly do nothing to diminish the beauty of said location) just as a reminder that, well, we’re here and they’re there. I didn’t know this until now, but apparently my brother is one of these people and has spent the week torturing me with images of Cairo, the Nile river and ancient pyramids. I do, however, tolerate the “wish you were here’s” for a greater purpose.

Since my brother started working in the Middle East for months at a time, I have developed a love for exotic spices; mainly saffron. This spice is now firmly entrenched in my heart as I nostalgically associate it with his visits; when gifts of valuable Iranian saffron are brought home for me, beautifully packaged in perfume vials. I’m sure by now you can sense where this is going but with my pantry well-stocked with saffron, I have my sights set on more ‘Prada for my larder’ and this comes in the form of Egyptian dukkah. Dukkah is an aromatic spice mix made by grinding toasted hazelnuts, sesame seeds, coriander and cumin seeds, black pepper and sea salt together. It seems only fitting that with its coarse texture and golden colour its origin belongs in the land of pyramids and sand dunes – with the spice itself almost echoing the terrain.

Although I covet the authentic dukkah from the banks of the Nile, you can easily make your own or even find it in the spice aisle. The fragrant rub is incredibly moreish when used as a dip – especially when preceded by crusty bread and extra virgin olive oil. It's lovely rubbed on grilled fish and chicken or simply sprinkled over roast vegetables or a crisp salad. These cigars are inspired by a Turkish dish called Börek which makes use of leftover mashed potatoes and grilled aubergine. If making the individual cigars is a tad time-consuming for you, simply layer the ingredients in a casserole dish, bake and slice, or better yet, make one big cigar and serve in slices.

Serves 4-6

120g mashed potato
100g feta cheese, crumbled
100g grated mozzarella
2 eggs
¼ cup chopped parsley
2T chopped chives
½ cup dukkah, plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
1T milk
500g phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
2 aubergines, sliced and grilled with olive oil
2 cups plain yoghurt
squeeze of lemon juice
2T chopped mint

Combine the potato, cheeses, 1 egg, herbs, half the dukkah and the milk to form a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper.
Unroll the phyllo pastry sheets - keep the pastry covered with a damp cloth as you are working.
Lay the grilled aubergine slices out and place a tablespoon of the filling along one of the short ends. Roll up to form a cigar before placing on a strip of pastry, folding in the ends and rolling up.
Wet the end with water to seal. Continue, keeping the finished ones covered with a damp cloth as you work. Refrigerate until required.
Whisk the other egg in a bowl. Brush the pastries with the egg mixture.
Sprinkle extra dukkah over the pastries and bake at 180C until they are golden brown, about 25 minutes.
Mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and mint together and season to taste. Serve with the cigars.

TIP To make your own dukkah, toast 2/3 cup hazelnuts, ½ cup sesame seeds, 2T coriander seeds, 2T cumin seeds, 2t freshly ground black pepper and 1t salt until fragrant. Pound lightly in a pestle and mortar or food processor and store in an airtight container or jar.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dried fruit crumble slice

The pastry for this delicioiusly moreish slice was the very first recipe I ever wrote down. Just as my mother copied it from my grandmother's old, worn recipe book, I copied it from my mother's – and in pencil, because I was too scared I would make a mistake in my brand new recipe book. While transferring the ingredient quantities I remember wondering if the crisp clean pages in mine would ever resemble the splattered and well-thumbed pages of the tomes my mother and grandmother cooked from. After typing out this recipe from my beloved little book, it makes my heart happy to say that it is stained with blobs of butter, the edges of the page are dog-eared and there are a few stray sugar granules resting in the spine. 
 A sign that a recipe book is truly loved.

Photography by Angie Lazaro

Dried fruit crumble slice
(serves 8-10)

450g mixed dried fruit
100g dried fig
1t ground allspice
1t ground cinnamon
100ml brandy
200g castor sugar
pinch salt

250g butter
¾ cup castor sugar
1 egg
1t baking powder
2¹/3 cups cake flour
²/3 cup corn flour

Place all the dried fruit and spices in a bowl and add the brandy. Add enough boiling water to cover the fruit and allow to soak overnight in the refrigerator. For the pastry, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg followed by the baking powder, flours and salt. Press ²/3 of the dough into a greased baking dish and refrigerate. Strain the fruit and reserve the liquid. Roughly chop the fruit and set aside. Place the liquid in a saucepan, add the sugar and heat until dissolved and the syrup is light golden brown. Moisten the fruit with a little syrup. Spoon the mixture onto the base and grate the remaining ¹/3 of the dough over the top. Bake at 170°C for 35 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with piping hot custard.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Waterblommetjie risotto

When I visited Seychelles last year on a Top Billing photo shoot, I ate bat curry. Yes, you read right – bat; those winged, eerie, blood-sucking creatures that live in caves. It's a treasured delicacy on the island and a story that, when recounted, either earns me mucho brownie points in foodie circles or garners an open-mouthed stare or instant gasp-and recoil reflex.

China has birds nest soup and tuna eyeballs, Cambodia has fried tarantulas, maggot cheese or Casu Marzu is a delicacy in Sardinia while thousand year old eggs are big in Asia - bat isn't sounding so bad right now is it? And while it may not be as shocking to us locals, it's still a little weird that here in South Africa we eat.... pondweed. Also known as waterblommetjies.

Not being Afrikaans, I didn't grow up with ouma's waterblommetjie bredie simmering on the stove. So when I first found myself confronted with a bowl of waterblommetjies, I recoiled in horror at what I was told was wild plants that were harvested from a dam or pond. To be fair, put the word 'pond' or 'weed' on the end of any word and it does not sound like something I want on the other end of my fork. But, dunk the fleshy green bulbs into a frothy tempura batter and deep-fry until crisp and golden, then sprinkle the light batter with a generous squeeze of zesty lemon and a sprinkling of sea salt and waterblommetjies turn into a sublime delicacy. The supermarket shelves are now bulging with fresh, seasonal waterblommetjies so try them in the easy-cheesy risotto below, pair it with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and you'll earn some serious culinary credentials in my eyes. Enjoy!

(serves 4)

500g waterblommetjies, washed well
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 onion, finely chopped
4T butter
1 head of garlic, halved and roasted in foil until golden
1 ¼ cups Arborio or risotto rice
1 cup white wine
zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated gruyère cheese
¼ cup crumbled goat's cheese (optional)
2T chopped parsley

Cook the waterblommetjies in the boiling stock until tender. Refresh the waterblommetjies in ice water and set aside. Bring the stock to a simmer again. Saute the onion in the butter until soft. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the cloves and add to the onion. Add the rice and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until completely evaporated. Stir in ½ cup of stock at a time and simmer gently while stirring until completely absorbed before adding more. Keep adding until the rice is al dente. Stir in the chopped, cooked waterblommetjies and the rest of the ingredients. Season well and serve with tempura waterblommetjies, if desired.

TIP: For a quick tempura batter, sift 85g cake flour and 1T cornflour with a little salt. Whisk in 200ml ice-cold sparling water and whisk with a fork until just combined (a few lumps are fine). Dip the waterblommetjies into the batter and deep-fry in hot oil until golden. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rose madeleines

When I think of roses I always think of the breathtakingly beautiful garden my grandfather used to tend to in their home in Tamboerskloof. The beds were filled with stunning roses of every name and colour; the gorgeous old-fashioned kind that filled the air with a thick sweet scent and whose buds bloomed into big, full roses with large petals that attracted butterflies and bees. The aroma also brings fond memories of my grandmother who used to wear the perfume of roses on special days and trips to town when the pearls and hair curlers came out too.

Perhaps it is these special memories then that began my love affair with rose water. A twist of the cap and I'm swept right back to that scented garden in the heat of summer, or enveloped in my grandmothers smell just as I used to be when caught in a big warm hug. With Women's Day on the calendar this week, I can't think of a more feminine and graceful ingredient to use for the occasion. And with it being Ramadan, the supermarket shelves are well stocked. So, treat the lady in your life (or even yourself) to a batch of these delicate, dainty and buttery Madeleines which have been perfumed with rose water and hopefully I won't be the only one looking at this ingredient through rose tinted glasses.

Rose madeleines
(makes 24)

185g butter
2 eggs
¾ cup castor sugar
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1T rose water
1t vanilla extract
icing sugar, to dust

Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it starts to bubble and turn brown. When it smells like roasted nuts, remove from the heat and strain well. Bea the eggs and sugar until very thick and pale. Fold in the sifted flour and butter followed by the rose water and vanilla. Spoon into a greased madeleine tin or greased antique serving spoons. Bake at 200C for 6-8 minutes or until golden. Dust with icing sugar. Serve with pink rose water icing to drizzle or dip.