I am not a natural cook. I have no ‘instincts’ in the kitchen, I can’t bake a cake and I can’t boil an egg. At university, when friends came to dinner they knew they would be getting a) fajitas or b) stir fry (basically fajitas without the wrap…)
Over the last few years I have tried to increase my capabilities when faced with a Le Creuset saucepan and cupboard full of herbs. One of the things I have learnt is that ‘one pot’ is often the magic phrase – any dishes declaring themselves ‘one pot dishes’ are perfect for having friends over, post-work ease and cooking enough to leave leftovers for another day.
One of these dishes, that sounds and tastes much more complex than the method, is Stuffed Aubergines with Lamb Mince, a recipe by the much-loved Yotam Ottolenghi. I came across it in a newspaper, judged it not to be too scary and (admittedly with the help of my other half) managed to cook it for New Year’s Eve and, more importantly, not poison anyone. Top marks.
4 medium aubergines (about 1.2kg), halved lengthways
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
One and a half tablespoons sweet paprika
One and a half tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 medium onions (340g in total), finely chopped
500g minced lamb
50g pine nuts
20g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons tomato purée
3 teaspoons caster sugar
One and a half tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
4 cinnamon sticks
Salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 7. Place the aubergine halves, skin-side down, in a roasting tin large enough to accommodate them snugly. Brush the flesh with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the aubergines are cooking, you can start making the stuffing by heating the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan. Mix the cumin, paprika and ground cinnamon and add half of this spice mix to the pan, along with the onion. Cook on a medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, stirring often, before adding the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato purée, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Continue to cook and stir for another 8 minutes, until the meat is cooked. Place the remaining spice mix in a bowl and add the water, lemon juice, tamarind, remaining sugar, cinnamon sticks and half a teaspoon of salt; mix well.
Reduce the oven temperature to 195C/175C fan/gas mark 5 and a half. Pour the spice mix into the bottom of the aubergine roasting tin. Spoon the lamb mixture on top of each aubergine. Cover the tin tightly with foil, return to the oven and roast for 1 hour 30 minutes, by which point the aubergines should be completely soft and the sauce thick; twice through the cooking, remove the foil and baste the aubergines with the sauce, adding some water if the sauce dries out. Serve warm, not hot, or at room temperature.