Sunday, 14 August 2011

Dipping into summer

So it's been a while. How have you been?! The time from March till now has passed in a bit of a blur thanks to the festival I work on, which becomes all-consuming from early spring onwards. Just having a brief rest and re-charging the batteries before heading full-tilt into autumn.

Last night we got to do something we've not had the chance to do all summer: eat out in the garden. Despite the lovely weather in June & July, I just haven't had the time or the headspace to even engage with something as simple as barbequeing, or even cleaning the table & chairs to make them fit to sit on. So we're having summer now. I celebrated by opening bottles of pink fizz and making hibiscus cocktails. This seemed like a very good idea earlier this year when I purchased an obscenely expensive jar of edible hibiscus flowers in syrup. The idea is that the bubbles in the fizz open the flower, making it blossom in your glass. How romantic! Plus the syrup is a kind of raspberry-and-rhubarb flavour which makes a tasty cocktail. In the event, the flowers were kind of like strange sea anemones or triffids, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time staring into our glasses and deciding whether they were opening or not.


I also decided to use up some veg that was in the fridge in anticipation of being away at three more festivals from Friday (ker-POW!). I had 3 aubergines and half a kilo of sweet potatoes that needed using up, and as barbeque is pretty low-intensity cooking, I thought we could do with some accompanying dips. I was very happy with the dips. So happy I've decided to share them with you. Making them can hardly be called cooking, they were so easy, but they were packed with flavour and made me feel like I'd actually made an effort. I am not even calling these recipes, because there was no measuring involved and I just chucked stuff in according to what tasted nice. That's how summer cooking should be, right?

Aubergine, Garlic and Smoked Paprika Dip
I know what you're thinking. This is just baba ganouj - why is she making a song and dance about it? You're totally right. But it was the smoked paprika that made the difference.

3 medium aubergines
6 cloves of garlic
Sea salt
Lemon olive oil (or ordinary olive oil and the zest of a lemon)
Sesame oil (I didn't have any tahini but wanted that sesame nuttiness, so a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil were a substitute. Use a dollop of tahini instead if you wish.)
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Smoked paprika (sweet or hot, depending on whether you want the dip to have a kick - I used hot)

Crush the garlic and put it into a bowl. Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise and put them cut-side down on the grill. Grill them till the skins just begin to shrivel and char and the flesh is softening. Flip them over and brush the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Grill till starting to brown and sizzle. Prod them and make sure they are nicely soft. Take them off the grill and leave to cool for a bit, then, holding each one with a tea towel, scoop the flesh out with a spoon into the bowl containing the garlic (I admit it - I ate the skins). The warm/hot flesh will cook the garlic a bit as you mash it all together, and the smell will be amazing. Drizzle in some lemon olive oil, the sesame oil and a bit of lemon juice. Using a hand mouli, blend the aubergine mixture till it is gorgeously velvety and creamy. It will take about 10 seconds. Season to taste and add more lemon juice if you fancy it. Take a scant quarter- to half-teaspoon of smoked paprika and mix it in - the flavour of the dip is quite delicate and you don't want to overpower it, but that deep smokiness will compliment the grilled aubergine gloriously. A drizzle of lemon olive oil over the top and some chopped or torn basil is an optional garnish. Serve with ordinary crusty bread, flatbread or crudites.

Roasted Sweet Potato & Garlic Dip
I had one of those weird food memories as I thought of making this...where have I had something like it before? Was it at Bananas restaurant on St Kitts? Or was it at Sweet Potatoes restaurant in Winston Salem, North Carolina? I can't remember. I just knew I had an idea of what I wanted it to taste like. If you've been to either of those fine eateries and can help me out, I'd be much obliged.

Half a kilo of sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of garlic (you're noticing a pattern here, right?)
Olivel oil
Lemon juice
Chilli olive oil
Greek yoghurt
Creme fraiche
Sea salt & pepper

Chuck the sweet potatoes into a roasting tin with some olive oil. toss in the oil and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and pepper. Roast the sweet potatoes for about half an hour - 40 minutes on a high heat, turning about halfway through the cooking time. When you turn them, throw the garlic cloves into the pan and toss them in the olive oil. Keep an eye on the pan - you want nice, brown caramelised bits but not charred edges, as I think this would make the dip bitter (and a bit ugly). When they're done, tip them, with the garlic, into a bowl. You probably want a small tub of Greek yoghurt plus some creme fraiche, but add it gradually so that you get a texture you're happy with as you blend with a hand mouli. Add the juice from half a lemon, plus some chilli olive oil (or ordinary olive oil and some chopped fresh chillies, depending on what you've got in the fridge). Season to taste. I garnished with a drizzle of chilli oil and some thyme.

The texture will be fairly thick - much thicker than the aubergine dip, but useful for scooping up with fresh vegetables or smearing on bread - the mini-Crumpet liked it as a condiment with her barbequed burger.

*For anyone who is wondering how I've got on since my January declaration that 2011 was about seeing if I could be a food obsessive and still lose weight - I have so far lost 3st 10lbs (52 lbs). Still greedy, but shrinking. :)

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