After all that talk about squaring up to the French classics, the next two recipes I cooked from Simon Hopkinson were, um, an oriental rice noodle salad and aubergines with satay sauce. Perhaps I haven’t made quite as much progress in my French cuisine rehabilitation as I thought. Let me tell you about the aubergines though, because they’re well worth sticking in your comfort zone for. Unless you’re the sort of person who can confidently whip up oeufs en meurette but have yet to essay forth into the world of cooking with peanut butter, of course.
One of my hang-ups about classic cooking, English in particular, is the belief that a meal is not a meal unless it centres around a great fist of meat. And yes, aubergines are a typical stand-in for meat when people who never cook vegetarian food cook for vegetarians. So this may sound a little cliched, but: these aubergines are good enough to be the centrepiece of a meal, even for people who wouldn’t normally consider a vegetable capable of such a thing. They could, too, easily be a side dish to some stir-fried prawns or chicken or even greens, but that might almost be too much of a good thing. With a bowl of brown rice, you’re free to concentrate on the flavour and it’s so compellingly delicious that brown rice and vegetables for dinner doesn’t seem austere at all.
Grilled aubergines with sesame Serves 4 as a modest main course or large side dish
Just a note on quantities – I halved the ingredients for the sauce and still had some leftover, which confirmed my hunch that the original quantities would make a vast amount. Still, it is good, so if you want a lot then double it again.
175g peanut butter (I think crunchy is always best)
50ml soy sauce
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice, or about half a lemon’s worth
2 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 pieces stem ginger
1 1/2 tbsp stem ginger syrup
4 shakes of tabasco, more if you like it hot
1 garlic clove, peeled
50ml cold water
2 large aubergines
1 tbsp sesame seeds
2-4 tbsp groundnut oil or sunflower oil, for frying aubergines
To prepare the aubergines, cut them into thick slices and then quarter so you have 2.5cm/1 inch chunks. Heat the groundnut oil/sunflower oil in a large frying pan until very hot (the amount depends partly on the size of your aubergines, but aubergines tend to absorb a lot of oil and I used less than advised. If they do end up very oily, drain them on kitchen paper). Add the aubergine chunks and fry until well browned and soft all the way through, then set to one side.
Put all the rest of the ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, in a blender and process to a smooth paste. It should be the consistency of thick cream, so add more water if necessary. Place the cooked aubergines on a baking tray, spread over the sauce and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Place under a hot grill until nicely browned – don’t worry if the aubergines start to burn a little at the edges.
Adapted from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’.