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Smoky Aubergine and Lentil Ragu

It’s absolutely pissing it down this morning, so I thought some comfort food might be appropriate. We appear to have just about reached “it’s gonna be rainy and repulsively windy day in, day out for months now and there’s nothing you can do about it” season in the South of England. This, I’m sure, is where we’ll stay for some time to come. While we’re here, we should probably eat some delicious hot food that doesn’t look particularly pretty but tastes like an actual cuddle.

First, credit where credit is due. The author of the original recipe is the gorgeous and ever so talented Rosie Birkett, and I first saw it in this months issue of BBC Good Food. I’ve since tweaked it to our preferences (Tom refuses to eat walnuts, I like to add more veg in where I can and heartbreakingly I no longer have access to a bay tree) and am dying to give it to you lot. It’s not a super simple, done in 20 minutes one, but it is absolutely doable on a weeknight if you enjoy cooking and it’s so worth the effort.

Aubergine and Lentil Ragu

This is a hearty vegetarian dinner that absolutely screams autumn. Beautiful smoky flavours come from the aubergine cooked directly over the flame and good, proper substance and heft is provided through the lentils. You should all know by now that it’s incredibly rare for me to cook the same thing so often, that’s how you know I’ve found a real gem. I’m just a little addicted to the process of cooking aubergines in this way and the unique smoky element they bring.

If you’ve never cooked aubergines over the flame, don’t be intimidated, it’s really easy. Rule number one is stand right by them, and keep them turning cause big supermarket aubergines are difficult to get an even burn on. It might feel wrong burning something essentially to a crisp, it goes against your instincts, but it’s the aim of the game. The skin blisters and blackens leaving a soft, smoky flesh within. Do them before you do anything else and set them aside to cool so that they’ll be easy to peel. Oh, and have someone on hand to wave a tea towel at the smoke alarm. They wanna be on the flame for anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes depending on how big they are, and you want to keep them turning all the time.

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Background wallpaper provided by the lovely Farrow & Ball, it’s Atacama 5804 and you can find it here..

Serves 3-4

2 aubergines
1 onion, diced finely
1 carrot, sliced finely
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tomatoes, chopped roughly
150g cooked brown, green or puy lentils
1 red chilli, sliced finely
splash of red wine vinegar
pinch of salt and sugar

  1. Cook the aubergines over a naked flame. See notes above if this makes no sense to you. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large pan, gently fry the onions and carrots with a little salt until caramelised. Around 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes and red wine vinegar and cook until the tomatoes are smooshing into the pan. I also add a pinch of sugar at this point. If you don’t want to, it’s cool, it’s not essential, I just find that tiny teenie little bit of sweetness really balances everything out for me.
  4. Peel the aubergines and roughly chop the softened flesh.
  5. Add the aubergine, lentils and around 100ml of water. Cook until thickened, five minutes or so.
  6. Serve with buttery swede (boil swede until tender then blitz and swirl through some butter) as Rosie suggests, or I’ve served it with equally buttery polenta which is also divine.

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Vegan Carrot, Parsnip and Leek Bhajis

More often than not, I plan my dinner in the morning while I’m at work. I’ve tried weekly meal planning on Sundays, but the lack of spontaneity frustrates me and I find I don’t enjoy cooking nearly so much when everything has been laid out so far in advance.

If I search Pinterest, BBC Good Food and my soul for inspiration and still come up empty, there’s only ever one thing for it: The ALDI Super 6. Every week, there are six fruits and vegetables on special offer in ALDI right at the front of the supermarket. I tend to just wander down on my lunchbreak (considerably earlier than most thanks to my weird working hours) and stare at the Super 6 ingredients until my brain turns them into a dinner.

This week, I found my dinner in parsnips (39p), carrots (39p) and leeks (59p). I could have turned them into some kind of delicious soup, but we did soup last week and to be honest, I was craving some good old fashioned fried stuff. So, bhajis it was.

Vegan Carrot, Parsnip and Leek Bhajis

I mucked about with this recipe a bit before deciding which to go with. Most bhaji recipes call for more gram flour than I like. I like it to be more veg, less stodge, I think you get the ‘fried stuff’ taste and texture a little better that way. Tom disagreed, and preferred the versions I made with slightly more gram flour. I put it out to a vote and won, so these are what you’re getting.

On spice: the more you add, the more delicious, natch. However, if you want to get the lovely autumnal carroty parsnippy leeky flavours coming through, go with slightly less curry powder. It’s for this reason that I’ve left the measurements so vague. Also on spice: just bunging curry powder in is not in any way authentic, I’m being lazy and trying to keep the ingredient list to a minimum.

Serves 2-3

1 parsnip, grated
1 carrot, grated
1/2 a leek, finely sliced
70g chickpea flour/gram flour
1-3 tbsps curry powder
salt
vegetable/sunflour oil for frying

  1. In a bowl, mix together the parsnip, carrot, leek, flour and curry powder with a big pinch of salt and the curry powder. Add just under half a cup of water to form a batter.
  2. Heat about 2cm of oil in a frying pan. Test to make sure that it’s hot enough by putting a tiny bit of the batter in, if it sizzles you are good to go.
  3. Spoon the batter into the oil – you should make somewhere between five and six – and gently flatten each bhaji. Cook for a few minutes either side, or until both sides are a gorgeous crispy golden brown.
  4. Drain on kitchen paper before serving to ensure you don’t get a mouthful of grease.

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Carrot, Parsnip and Leek Bhajis

Aldi sent me store vouchers to buy the ingredients for this recipe.

October Best 2017 | The Ginger Pig, Fatto A Mano & Fourth Church

I don’t think I’ll ever stop being nervous about writing on the topic of food that has been cooked outside of my own kitchen. My comfort zone is recipe blogging. I can talk to you ’til the cows come home about the shit that goes down in here without a care in the world, but when I sit down to tell you about food that I’ve eaten in the outside world, I freeze up a little bit. It’s a slightly different language, one that I’m not yet fluent in.

However, it has to be done. Partly to yank myself out of that comfort zone, but mostly because there are some really amazing food experiences to be had in Brighton and I want to be able to tell you all about them. So, be patient with me while I try on the shoes of somebody that knows how to write about restaurant experiences..

 

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This is the first year that October Best has been on my radar, cause I really don’t get out to restaurants all that much. I spend any and all disposable income and time at the pub, because that’s where the friends and the alcohol are. My bad. The deal is this: October Best is a fortnight(ish) long festival that’s spattered with special foodie events. The big sell is that each of Brighton’s top 20 restaurants offer a menu for £20 per head. I wanted to eat every. single. one. I managed three.

 

The Ginger Pig

 3 Hove St, Hove BN3 2TR

I’m going straight in with my favourite because not a day has gone by since I ate this meal that it hasn’t crossed my mind. The Ginger Pig is allll the way out in Hove, and while I knew it was a place worth visiting because the lovely Rosie is such a big fan, I’d never made the trek before. I’m so glad I did – despite much moaning from my visiting Dad that he had to walk so far – because it blew my mind. I don’t know how they managed to deliver this menu at £20 a head, but I’m not about to question it.

Three courses were served with three expertly paired wines. Don’t get me wrong, I know as much about wine as someone that was born literally yesterday, but I can say for sure that what I was eating and what I was drinking were definitely on the same page with one another.

 


To start: harissa lamb croquette, kohlrabi, red onion and coriander. I can still taste it, and it was upwards of two weeks ago now. The most gorgeous, tender lamb I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Deep fried. The crunch as I cut into the croquette. Ugh, god, I wish I had the vocabulary to tell you exactly how wonderful this was and why. Alas, the picture and my excitement will have to suffice.

Next up, wild mushroom arancini on pig cheek ragout with pickled shallot and pecorino. Every single mouthful was perfect. The ragout was richer than Richie Rich himself, the arancini was wonderful and the risotto within had not a hint of dryness. Again, I just don’t have the words to do it justice.

Hot banana cake, ice cold peanut butter ice cream and a drizzling of plum sauce. Each the perfect accompaniment to the other, the contrasting temperatures made for the most wonderful end to the meal. Never in my life have I experienced three courses put together so beautifully, this was without a doubt the most wonderful meal I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant. The Ginger Pig do not miss a beat. I’ll be back before the next October Best, I can tell you that for sure.

Fatto A Mano

65-67 Church Rd, Hove BN3 2BD

Another place that I’d yet to visit before now, despite knowing full well how good it was going to be. Again, no real excuses beyond the fact that I eat mostly in my kitchen – I only got round to trying Franco Manca this summer. Fatto A Mano, being a relatively low cost restaurant usually, were charging £20 for two diners. Two starters plus two pizzas for twenty quid. An absolute bargain.

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The Caprese (usually £7) was lush. When it comes to something as simple as tomatoes and mozzarella, all you need to make it a raging success is the best quality ingredients. Fatto A Mano have got them. I would very much like to make friends with their cheese guy, cause that is some good mozzarella. Campania fries (usually £3.50) were great. Crispy, salty and flavoured with rosemary and garlic.

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There were two meat and two veggie specials for October Best – although we were welcome to order from the standard menu as part of the deal – and despite my hankering for butternut squash, I couldn’t convince Tom. So, the Bresaola and the Piccante it was.

Again, quality of ingredients shone through, and this lot know how to make good pizza. Way up there with our other favourites Franco Manca and Purezza. Soft, pillowy dough, cooked in a wood fired oven in an open kitchen right behind where you’re eating. Our favourite from the two was definitely the bresaola, which is air dried beef that’s been aged for a few months. It really hit the salty spot for me.

Fourth and Church

84 Church Rd, Hove BN3 2EB

I’ve saved this one til last cause quite honestly, I do not entirely remember eating it. It was my best friend’s last night in town for like six months and we were an impressively high (even for us) level of smashed by the time we even got to the restaurant. In my defence, it’s a wine bar, so it didn’t feel too inappropriate to be a bit slurry in there. The venue is great. Moodily lit, boob-centric art on the walls, fancy wines on display, it’s a great place to sit and have a drink or three.

I remember exactly two things: I loved our waitress, and the ox cheek was total porn. Melt-in-the-mouth, intense flavour, just perfect. But yeah, other than that it’s mostly blackout, sorry friends. I did at least take just about passable photos so you can have a look for yourself:

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Confit cod, pickled salsify, wild mushrooms, celeriac

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Red wine-braised ox cheek, smoked parsnip, cultured leeks

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Spiced poached pear, iced pistachio, yogurt parfait
Pain d’epices

If you wanna keep up to date with what’s going on at Brighton’s top 20 restaurants, take a look at the Brighton’s Best Restaurants website. Next year, I’m gonna have money saved up and time booked out so that I can go on the attack and get as many of these menus down myself as possible.

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