12 April 2012

Lemony aubergine soup

Cooking aubergines on a gas top is one of those thing you can't believe you've never done before. It's well easy, and a great way to cook them that avoid using a load of oil. You stick them over a naked gas flame, rotate occasionally and after about fifteen minutes you've some beautifully soft and giving aubergines ready for baba ganoush, or in this case soup. This Ottolenghi recipe (from his first book) is extremely simple. All you need is:

  • plenty of aubergine
  • some cream
  • some stock
  • lots of lemon
  • a bit of basil
Cook half your aubos as I have described. When soft allow to cool and peel off their skins. Chop roughly.

Meantime, fry the other half of your aubergines, cubed, in some olive oil. When they are soft combine all the aubergines and top up with some stock. Cook this for thirty minutes. When it seems done season, squeeze loads of lemon juice in, top off with a lick of cream (off the boil so it doesn't curdle) and chuck on a few basic leaves.

Very easy. Also very tasty, though the soup has a delicate appeal that wasn't immediately evident. It was consumed alongside the green pancakes of wonder, and such was our delight in them that the soup was over-shadowed. However, once reassessed after a few more spoons it was judged positively. It's quite light and simple - there is just the one vegetable in it - but the mix of smoke from the grill, sharpness from the lemon and richness from the cream was just the ticket with a bit of toasted pitta.

3 April 2012

Red braised pork chops with carrots and garlic

Another day another Szechuan pork dish. I've cooked red-braised pork quite a few times - it's a total Chinese classic, a piece of piss to do and reputedly Mao's favourite meal. You braise pork in some liquid flavoured with cooking wine, soy, aromatic spices including star anise and cinnamon, a little dried chilli and sweetened with sugar. When the pork is tender you are done. Couldn't be easier really, and doubtless there's any many local variations as there are cooks.

Now Chinese culinary doctrine will tell you that everything in a meal has to be a similar size and grab-ale with chopsticks. European cuisines are more familiar with a large single piece of meat that can be cut with a knife and accompanying veg to be scooped with a fork. This is a slightly Anglicised version of the Chinese classic then - whole pork chops red braised, this time with lots of garlic and some carrots.

  • pork chops
  • half a head of garlic per person
  • two carrots per person
  • Soy, Shaoxing wine, veg oil
  • two chillies, one star anise, one stick cinnamon
  • sugar

Give your pork a quick purge by adding cold water and heating until it begins to boil and scum comes off the meat. This step allegedly cleanses the meat, although I'm unsure of the actual scientific thought behind the process.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of sugar in a pan with some oil until it turns liquid. Add all the other ingredients except the carrots and top up with water.

Simmer away for fifteen minutes and add the carrots in big chunks. Give everything a stir and flip the meat around so it all gets cooked. Simmer for another forty-five minutes or so and leave the lid off towards the end so the sauce thickens up. The garlic will totally dissolve and form a sauce. It's best to go mad with the garlic - bear in mind it becomes very mild when cooked. Taste the sauce and adjust with soy or anything else.

Man, this was tasty. It's quite sweet and mild so I suggest getting your necessary chilli fix by adding pickled or salted chillies from a jar to some greens on the side. The liquid ends up wonderfully thickened with dissolved garlic and makes an admirable sauce. Whole chops will take a while longer than pieces of pork, so make sure you leave an hour to cook them. All you need is some plain rice and you've a wonderful and pretty straight-forward dinner to enjoy.