A Night in Persia: Sabrina Ghayour’s Aubergine Chermoula and Naan Barbari
Since Christmas I’ve been chatting quite a lot about Ottolenghi’s Plenty More, featuring the odd recipe and praising his passion for the vegetable renaissance- and with reason, it is sheer genius! While I love it so much, I feel I mustn’t abandon my other books; and there’s one in particular that has recently been added to my growing collection, and it deserves my undivided attention. Last year Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana was awarded The Observer’s ‘FoodMonthly’ award; I read a lot online and in numerous food magazines of its brilliance, its demystification of Eastern spice. I was drawn to its exotic front cover, bright, intriguing and inviting, when I was scanning for Christmas ideas in early December; it quickly became a book that I had to have. Of course Santa did not disappoint! (Does he ever?!) Ghayour has no doubt succeeded in creating a book which encapsulates Persian cuisine; it offers a plethora of recipes from mezze plates and tagines, to grains, meats and salads. Naturally I’ve come to acknowledge it as a perfect kitchen companion for the inspired chef!
I’ve been wanting to try out some of Ghayour’s recipes for some time now, but I’ve been struggling to get my hands on some of the Eastern ingredients, particularly sumac, za’tar, nigella seeds, and pomegranate molasses. For those of you who don’t know, I live in a little village in Yorkshire, so its quite hard for me to get my hands on certain ingredients, basically anything that’s remotely exotic or exciting! However, saying this, I just discovered that my nearby ‘weigh and save’ shop sells a large collection of spices, and not just your average ground ginger. I’ve also rediscovered my love for Ebay; it turns out you can buy literally anything on that website. I am currently waiting for 50g of Sumac to arrive in the post. Nice one!!
After a lot of consideration (which you obviously need when deciding on a dish for dinner!!) I chose to try out Ghayour’s Aubergine Chermoula, a sweet yet tangy chutney-like dish. I am not the biggest fan of aubergine; to be honest its stemmed from the fact that I never really know what I want to do with it. But I knew that cooking Persian food would demystify this unusually dark vegetable. I thought I’d accompany the Chermoula with Ghayour’s Naan Barbari, Persian flatbread, an ideal accompaniment to mop up all the deliciously spiced juices. I’m a sucker for homemade bread, so for me it was a must-bake! Alongside these two mezze plates I threw together some roasted butternut squash and marinated feta, just for a little extra something. Of course the saltiness of the feta and the sweet tangy Chermoula married together like Mr. and Mrs. Right. Yummers!!!
serves 6 as part of mezze
- olive oil
- 2 aubergines, cut into 1inch cubes
- sea salt
- 1/2 a large onion (1 small), thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed into a paste
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1tsp of sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/2 red pepper, cut into thin strips
- handful of raisins/sultanas
- 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
- 3 tbsp of red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp of caster sugar
- 2 tbsp of clear honey
- Cook the sliced aubergine in a glug of olive oil over a medium heat. Season with salt and saute until golden brown. Remove the aubergine from the pan and set aside.
- Put the pan back on the heat and reduce the temperature. Add the sliced onions and cook slowly to caramelise. As they start to brown add the garlic paste, cumin, cinnamon and paprika. Stir to combine, and then add the pepper.
- Cook out until the peppers have softened, and then add the raisins and season with a little more salt. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the tin of tomatoes. When the mixture begins to simmer add the vinegar, sugar and honey.
- Increase the temperature to high and cook for a minute or two, stirring continually to ensure the mixture does not burn or stick. Then reduce the heat again. Using a potato masher, lightly mash the mixture and stir to ensure that everything it evenly cooked.
- Add the cooked aubergine and cook for about 8 minutes over a low heat. Then turn off the heat, leaving the pan on the hob to cool slightly. Serve warm with Eastern style bread.
NAAN BARBARI: PERSIAN FLAT BREAD
makes two large loaves
- 1 7g satchet of fast-action yeast
- 500ml of warm water
- 700g strong white bread flour
- 2 heaped tbsp of crushed sea salt
- 75ml of olive oil
- 50g of butter, melted
- nigella seeds, to scatter on top (or sesame)
- Stir the yeast into 50ml of warm water, and allow it to sit for a minute until it has dissolved.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and sea salt, then make a well in the centre. Pour in the remaining warm water, with 50ml of olive oil and the yeast dissolved in water. Using your hands, combine until a smooth dough forms.
- On a clean, floured surface knead the dough for 5 minutes to activate the yeast and stretch the glutens within it. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes before kneading again for 2 minutes. Repeat this process 3 times (a kneading technique Ghayour learnt from expert baker Dan Lepard- which she swears by!). On the second time add the remaining oil. When the process is complete, return the dough to the bowl and leave to rest for 3 hours.
- Once the resting period is complete, the dough will have tripled in size, filling the bowl. At this stage preheat the oven at 220c/200c fan oven/gas mark 7. Elongate the dough ball by stretching it from each end, and then cut the dough in half. To form the correct shape for the bread, you will need to stretch each piece of dough into a long flat shape, about 40 cm. Place each shaped dough onto a baking tin lined with parchment. Using a knife, cut two lengthways incisions. Finally, cover each tray with a clean towel and leave the dough somewhere warm for a further 30 minutes.
- Once the loaves have risen, brush with the melted butter and scatter with a small handful of nigella seeds. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until golden brown. The bread should sound hollow when you tap on the base. Allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving.