Having moved into a new flat with a wide, spacious kitchen and matching living area, I thought it was time to host my first dinner party of third year. Originally cooking for two, I got carried away with invitations and soon eight people were coming to eat.
For large parties, I think it best to present a range of options for people to select from and fill their plates with. A buffet of sorts, but not one that conjures images of Iceland oven-ready sausage rolls. Heavens, no.
This was an Ottolenghi-style smorgasbord. When you get that hit from all the flavours, I guess you could call it a smorgasm.
Here's the menu, complete with recipes:
Aubergine imam biyildi stuffed with Ghanaian stew
Imam biyildi is one of Turkey's national dishes, which is unsurprising considering the use of aubergine in many of their traditional recipes. The name translates to 'the imam fainted', which arose as a Turkish imam's reaction to tasting the dish. It's delicious, but it's even better if you can stay conscious. I chose to do a twist by stuffing the vegetables with Ghanaian stew, in homage to my flatmate who introduced me to the pantry-staple dish.
4 aubergines, halved lengthways and immersed in cold water
1 onion, finely chopped
A mix of spices (see method)
2 tins tomatoes
A sweetener (I use date syrup, but brown sugar works well too)
To start, flesh out the aubergine until you have a thick and robust hollowed shell left, put these back into the cold water. Chop the sponge-like flesh until you are left with small and fine uniform-enough pieces. Heat the oil in a saucepan and begin to brown.
Meanwhile, heat the rapeseed (can sub any other oil) in a saucepan and add the onions, softening on a medium-high temperature for around 15 minutes. This stew is one that is liable to change with every attempt, so it's best not to be too strict with the spice amounts. I tend to throw in a healthy shake (about a teaspoon) of: madras, cumin, cumin seed, coriander, nutmeg, ground cloves, ginger, chilli (use less), paprika and black pepper. Add a little sweetener, about a teaspoon, then add your tinned tomatoes and the browned flesh of the aubergine. I find that the date syrup compliments the spices well, and I buy mine from Worldwide in Rusholme, £3 for two jars.
Leave the tomatoes to boil and simmer for around 30 minutes until thickened and spitting, add water if necessary and for extra flavour add a stock cube and some bay leaves, as the traditional recipe calls for.
At this point, remove the aubergine shells from their water and heat the oven to around 200 °C. Place the shells onto a large baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake for around fifteen minutes. After this time, remove from the oven and fill with the thickened stew. Back in the oven, roast for around 15 more minutes, until the skin has deepened in colour and looks more loose than spongy - the rigidity should be lost.
Once ready, present overlapping in a square glass bowl and top with fresh herbs and pomegranate.
Beetroot, red lentil and courgette cumin curry
1 onion, chopped
2/3 cloves of garlic
4/5 small beetroot, or 2 large beetroot, peeled and chopped
1 large courgette
Handful red lentils
Cumin seeds, cumin, coriander, ginger
Heat the onion in a little oil and begin to soften, add the courgette and turn up to medium high. Meanwhile, immerse the beetroot in hot water in a separate saucepan and boil until the courgette in the other pan has begun to wilt and brown. Add the dry lentils, spices and beetroot mixture along with the pink residue that bleeds into the water. Boil until it begins to form a thicker, less watery mixture. Turn the heat down and let simmer to combine, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary.
It's ready when you're happy with it.
Feel free to add more spices, some sweetener, extra vegetables, stock or fresh herbs. It's very versatile and has a great colour.
Top with fresh coriander and pomegranate seeds.
Spicy cashew rice
1/2 tsp of the following spices: turmeric, paprika, coriander, cumin, salt
1/4 tsp of: chilli powder, ginger, ground cloves
1/2 cup cashews
I do this in the rice cooker, but similar if not the same results can be achieved by using a large saucepan with a lid. Allow 1.5 cups of water for 1 cup of rice.
Rinse rice in a sieve until water runs clear, then add all ingredients to rice cooker/pan with lid on for 25 minutes. After this time, remove lid and it should be ready, add more water if necessary.
Top with fresh coriander and pomegranate seeds.
Cardamom chilli chocolate olive oil cake
Adapted from Nigella, I modified this to suit the middle eastern flavours by including spice and replacing sugar with date syrup. This is also suitable for those avoiding dairy, gluten and refined sugar.
150ml olive oil
50g cocoa powder
125ml boiling water
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cardamom pods, crushed
1/2 tsp chilli powder
150g ground almonds
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup date syrup (or 200g caster sugar)
3 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 170° and lightly grease a round tin with oil and baking paper.
Whisk the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and spices with the boiling water to form a runny paste and set aside.
Whisk the date syrup, eggs and oil in a separate bowl with an electric mixer until thick, frothy and bubbly - for about 3 minutes. Add the cocoa mixture and combine. Fold in the ground almonds, salt and bicarb until incorporated into the mixture. Tip the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the sides are set and the centre looks slightly damp. A fork (or cake tester if you're a pro) should come out virtually clean but with a few chocolatey crumbs clinging on. The date syrup gives a rich, earthiness to the cake which also makes it more syrupy - so do watch out for it not to burn. My advice is to check after 25 minutes and play the timings by ear.
Let cool and serve on its own or warm with coconut ice cream if you're feeling especially decadent.