11 October 2007

Pseudo Mediterranean

I don't know about you, but I have my lazy days. Days when I wish I have the energy to prepare an elaborate and enjoyable four course meal. Days when the spirit is more than willing but the flesh is terribly weak. Last week was definitely a lazy WEEK. I didn't touch a single pan, and even contemplated having instant mee for dinner (oh the sin!).

Evidently, I took the easy way out over the weekend by asking my girlfriends to come over at tea-time, knowing that I wouldn't have to prepare too much. I toyed with the idea of pastries (using frozen puff-pastry of course), and simple sandwiches, similar to
something I had done before.

Before long, I found myself lingering over thoughts of creamy chickpea dips, and tangy aubergine dips instead. Slightly crisp triangles of pita bread and long fingers of focaccia bread went very well with the hummus and baba ghanouj, both of which were recipes I took from Claudia Roden's
Arabesque, one of the cookbooks that have been sitting in my bookshelf rather neglected.

I swear I still remember how ox-bow lakes are formed as well as what breakwaters are, but ask me the capitals of various cities or the exact location of Greece on a map and I'd have to hum and haw for a bit before giving you an uncertain answer. I am certainly not known for my geography. However, I'm pretty sure that dips like Hummus is as Mediterranean as one can get.

I can already picture Paul's face as he's reading this, flabbergasted at the cheese he spies in the photos, thinking 'Here she goes again, mixing up her geography. Yawn, what's new.' And so to Paul, I'd like to scream, NO! I did my prior research this time, and the cheese was a last minute though extremely welcome addition to the tea that I arranged for those old friends I've known since my secondary school days.

The rest of the menu, I'm pretty sure, was mediterranean. And for that I'd like to quote Claudia in her introduction, "Three great cuisines - of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon - developed around the Mediterranean where the Occident meets the Orient and where, long ago, medieval jihadis and crusaders clashed." How beautiful.

By the time I reached home from the supermarket, armed with my tracing paper, tulip and groceries, I only had 1.5 hours to prepare all the food, set the table, write the menu and create the elegantly moody centerpiece. Thankfully Addy, my very meticulous and always radiant girlfriend, saved the day by arriving an hour early armed with the cheeses, grapes, dried cranberries and apricots. She also got 2 small portions of sweet relishes from Absolutely New Zealand at Sunset Way, Singapore's next upcoming foodie district. For a pretty comprehensive guide to Sunset Way, see
Jasmine's entry.

While she arranged the gourmet goodies, I set off to make the hummus and baba ghanouj, which was essentially all that was needed. In the meantime, Addy crisped up the pita bread and sliced the focaccia then split them into individual portions. By the time the other girls arrived tardily (as usual), the dips were scooped into a few portions to share and distributed around the table. I opened a bottle of
Long Flat Moscato that I swear many people will find drinkable. It may not be the ideal sommelier's choice to pair with the dips, but everyone polished their glasses before our 'tea' even ended.

I don't know why I don't make dips more often, since there's virtually no cooking required. Only the baba ghanouj needed some roasted aubergines (or charred over an open fire if you don't have an oven), from which the lovely flesh was scraped out for use. And while the ideal method would be to mash the aubergine flesh through a sieve, removing the seeds, I took the easy way out and just blitzed everything in my blender. The seeds were imperceptible in the dip anyway.

My first encounter with Baba Ghanouj was at
Amirah's Grill during one of those department lunches. Although it looked less appetising than the hummus, it was infinitely more delicious and I resolved to replicate it one day. So you can imagine my joy when I found that Claudia Roden's recipe for Baba Ghanouj was even more yummy than the one I tried at Amirah's Grill.

Claudia's was less sharp, with a gentler flavour that greets your palate warmly like a big red wool scarf on a cold wintry night. However, if you like more BAM to your dips, you can always feel free to personalise it with more tahini and lemon juice.

Baba Ghanouj
(Aubergine and Tahini Dip)
Serves 6-8

2 aubergines, weighing about 650g
3 tbspn tahini
juice of 2 lemons
125-200g strained Greek Style yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or to taste
2 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
2 tbspn chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prick the aubergines in a few places with a pointed knife.
Turn them over the flame of the gas hob or under the girll, until the skin is charred all over.
Alternatively, place them on a sheet of foil on an oven tray and roast them in the hottest oven (pre-heated to 240 d celcius) for 45-60mins until the skins are wrinkled and they are very soft.

When cool enough to handle, halve and scoop out the flesh.
Adding a tiny squeeze of the lemon juice (to keep them from oxidizing), blitz in blender with garlic until a smooth puree is formed.
In a bowl, beat the tahini with the lemon juice (the tahini stiffens at first then softens), then beat in the yoghurt.
Add the mashed aubergines, beat vigorously and add salt to taste.

Garnish with a dribble of olive oil and a sprinkling of parsley.

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