Let baigans be baigans

Rasedar Baigan (Hindi for saucy aubergine)The more I cook, perhaps the older I get (or is it tireder), the fewer ingredients I want to use in a dish. And the simpler the food I'm making, the more delicious it seems to be.This week it's been a case of taking a vegetable and using that as the starting point for a meal. A little more thinking has had to be applied rather than thoughtlessly going with the usual starchy suspects you reach for on a rapidly darkening Tuesday evening.As if dealing with the sad acceptance that we don't live in an endless Swallows and Amazons summer wasn't enough, now we have to start eating properly again. No more cream teas and cake for the evening meal. Out has gone the pasta, rice and potatoes that form so many daily meals, and in, the sad acceptance that we are no longer inhabiting our 20 year old bodies.But it need not be dull as we slip headlong into turnip season. We are still heavy with aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes and sweetcorn among other things. The salads are fading, but my appetite is growing. And as we lose nearly two hours of daylight over September's delicate and gentle colour change, we can start to get bolder and deeper with flavours.This recipe is based on the gloriously named Pushpesh Pant's 'curried aubergine in coconut sauce', which he says is from India's 'coastal region'. So just a small area then. I've added saffron, almond flakes, green chillies and coriander to mine to pep things up a little.Rich and exciting, it's texture is indecently silky, as if Liberty's had opened a dodgy Soho alleyway silk scarf shop. We had it twice this week, the juices mopped up with spiced chickpea flatbreads. I've still got one more aubergine in the fridge from the veg box, so we haven't seen the last of this in our house.Ingredients1 medium-sized aubergine1tsp asafoetida1tsp chilli powder1/2tsp turmeric powder200-240ml coconut milkA sprinkle of flaked almondsA pinch of saffronA small green chilli, sliced thinlyCoriander leaves to garnishSalt and pepper to seasonGroundnut, rapeseed or vegetable oil to fry. And plenty of itMethodMix the spices together in a little dish or ramekin with enough water to make a fairly thick paste.Trim and slice the aubergine into discs roughly 1/2cm thickHeat the oil in a large sauté pan and fry the aubergine in a couple of batches until golden on each side, having seasoned with a generous hand. Set each batch aside on a plate until you have finished.Add the spice paste to the pan and fry for a second or two, stirring well so it breaks up a little. Add the coconut milk and mix well until the spices dissolve into it, giving it a golden amber colour and releasing its aromas.Gently add the aubergines back to the pan and simmer for a few minutes until heated through. Don't cook them for too long or they will collapse.Sprinkle with the green chilli, nuts, saffron and coriander, give a good twist of pepper and serve hot.

Things I like in the kitchen (part one)

Just as we've recovered from our trip to Legoland, it's time for the school summer fair. I found myself flipping burgers and sausages for four hours with Mike on a hot Saturday after volunteering to help. I'm sure there must have been some form of mind control involved, or perhaps he asked me when Maya was pulling my nose and Noah was falling off his scooter at speed. However it happened, he must have caught me at a weak moment.But now the meat sweats have calmed down, and I no longer smell like a forest fire and can face eating again it's been little but salads this week, or ham and egg on toast. Simple and quick things that don't require much thought or time.So in light of not a great deal going on in the kitchen for the past few days, here is a selection of things I find essential and interestingly useful from my bulging shelves.La isla bonito:dried and fermented smoked tuna is a surprisingly delicious addition to many seafood dishes and stocks. I particularly like to add it to the pasta when I'm making spaghetti alle vongole. And I occasionally just like smelling the jar for that strange almost fish food smell.We bought a yuzu:I'll often use this in dressings instead of lemon juice to give a slightly different citrus tang or in sorbets and lemon tarts.Yeast today, once more:Usually I make the weekly bread using my sourdough starter, but when I want a quicker loaf, pitta breads, ciabbattas or the like, I'll use this fresh yeast from Sweden (via Ocado or the internet). It's tangy, I much prefer fresh than the dried powdery stuff and I like the packaging.Tarragon with the wind:Not many days pass in this house without a salad and our house vinaigrette. Cider vinegar that has had a small bunch of tarragon steeping in it is key to this. Aniseed and apple flavours make this vinaigrette stand out.Fungi to be around:Dried porcini mushrooms, ground to a powder (or for that matter, dried mushrooms of most kinds) make an excellent seasoning for steak, or beef. I also add it to my mushroom pasta and many other dishes where I want that deep umami hit.Oil be seeing you, in all the old familiar places:I have a standard olive oil to cook with and I have a few special ones to dress with. Food that is, I don't need oil on hand when putting clothes on. Just spending a little more on a really good quality olive oil makes such a difference to finishing dishes or for making dressings or just to dip good bread in.Sitting on the dock of the Old Bay:First of all, I love the packaging. Second, no fish taco in this house is complete without Old Bay seasoning. Easy.Pepper the conversation:Japanese pepper is slightly fruity and lemony, so is great on seafood or with meringues and strawberries. I use it a lot when I want an extra kick without too much pepper flavourAil be seeing you, in all those old familiar faces:A house without garlic is a sad house.Cutting the mustard:Maille is my preferred brand of Dijon mustard. I use it in vinagrettes and it's a must(ard) with roast chicken.Chilli in here:I like chilli heat, we have a variety of hot chilli sauces on the shelves too. And one of my favourite uses for them is hot green chilli sliced onto scrambled eggs. Hot green chillies probably would improve most dishes in my opinion.Herb Salt:A mix of rosemary, thyme, sage and parsley, this salt will turn your morning fried eggs into delicious morning fried eggs. And there are plenty more uses for it than that too. Seasoning chicken skin before the bird goes in the oven, sprinkling over flaky white fish or seasoning, even curing salmon, this salt is just a little bit more than the usual. All you need is a spice grinder and it keeps for a long, long while.

Grilled steak, cucumber and nectarine salad

IMG_3795I get upset if I don't have a salad of some kind on the table every evening. Be it a simple one of baby gem with vinaigrette (my favourite), tomato and shallots with parsley and oil or an onion and cucumber one with my popadoms.These are, mostly, accompaniments to a meal. With a little effort they can be transformed into the main event and satisfy the hungriest appetite. There's no need to be disappointed, especially when there are so many flavours you can add. Panzanella, Som Tam, Kachumba and Caesar salad are some examples that come to mind.This salad uses seared sirloin, cooked with the fat on, then trimmed and thinly sliced. Be careful to not overcook it, you want that bright pink to shine through against the green. The sweet, charred and juicy nectarines go well with the meat and are a real taste of summer. Make sure you taste the dressing as you go, bearing in mind how it balances with the finished dish. It should be nutty, slightly sour and a little sweet.Serves 2Ingredients1 sirloin steak, or rump if you prefer3 spring onions, finely sliced1 red onion, cut into eight wedges2 ripe nectarines, quartered1 cucumber, thinly sliced lengthways on a mandoline1 red chilli, sliced (remove the seeds for a milder heat)1 tbsp quinoa seeds, toastedCoriander leaves, choppedFor the dressing4 tbsp walnut oil1 tbsp Jerez vinegar2 tbsp lime juicea pinch of chilli flakesSaltMethodHeat a grill pan until smoking hot and season the steak with salt and pepper. Cook it for three minutes either side then set aside to rest. Add the red onion to the pan and cook in the juices.Add the nectarines, and while they're cooking, toss the cucumber with the spring onion and chilli. Mix the dressing ingredients together and taste. Adjust as necessary with more lime juice or salt.Thinly slice the steak, add to the cucumber with the peaches and red onion, scatter over the coriander and quinoa then drizzle with the dressing and serve.