home cooking

A methi business

Cooking simply doesn't have to be cooking boringly. A fresh piece of wild fish or some high-season asparagus doesn't need much doing to it. Meals like this are quite often the best, in terms of flavour, sustainability and time. Vegetables at their freshest and most seasonal take almost no time to cook and with something like a flavoured butter or herb oil to complement them you are going to eat very well.

You can make many of these things in advance, butter freezes well to use as and when you like; spice mixes; freshly toasted and ground, will keep well in a jar in the cupboard for a couple of weeks to sprinkle over a finished dish. Try this gunpowder recipe for roast squash or this za'atar one to add to stems of tender broccoli or to sprinkle over.

Flavoured butters are one of my favourite way to add flavour and excitement to a dish and -- contrary to the advice given by the idiots in charge of dietary 'guidelines'-- it is good for you. Why on earth you would substitute a natural and delicious ingredient for an industrially produced trans-fat laden 'spread' which is one step away from plastic is beyond me.

Last week I made a batch with wild garlic as well as a harissa-laden one. I used them liberally to cook salmon, melt into a butter bean and chorizo stew and pour over fried eggs. This version, using a bunch of fresh fenugreek leaves (I threw the stalks into the blender too) is an elegant pale jade colour. Its maiden voyage is going to be with cauliflower, the florets first boiled until just starting to soften, next a coating of turmeric powder and mustard seeds, then caramelised in a pan and poached in the butter until ready.

250g softened unsalted butter (homemade from pasture-raised cows milk would be best, but failing that, Yeo Valley butter is a good supermarket one, if you must use those vile warehouses of sugar, food-type products and palm oil)
5g Maldon salt
1 bunch of fenugreek, well chopped
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Melt 25g of the butter with the olive oil and add the salt. Throw in the fenugreek and stir well. Cook for about five minutes, until everything is well wilted then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for half an hour.
If at the end of the infusion the butter has started to solidify again, gently heat it.
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl, discarding the leaves then add the remaining butter and whisk well until it all comes together.
Pour into a jar or dish and chill until firm.

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.