Aubergine and chickpea curry with herbed quinoa

It’s the start of the new year, and as always, my resolution is to cook more and eat more healthily. The key to both of these is easy cooking. None of my recipes take long to make, but some of them require a bit of planning and some a lot of chopping, so this year I’m really going to try and come up with recipes where you can throw a bunch of things in your fridge together in less than 30 minutes. This is one of those recipes. I didn’t plan it – I just had a whole lot of veggies in my fridge and some quinoa in my cupboard and I felt like a quick curry. This dish really couldn’t be simpler. If you’ve never made a curry before because you thought it was hard – try this.

Aubergine and chickpea curry with herbed quinoa
Aubergine and chickpea curry with herbed quinoa

Serves 4

  • 250 g courgettes, chopped
  • 2 medium aubergines, chopped into smallish pieces
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 1 tin of chopped, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 cup of quinoa
  • 1 heaped tsp hot curry powder
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • A couple of dried curry leaves
  • 1 T apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (if you want the curry spicy)
  • Handful fresh coriander
  • Handful of flaked almonds (optional)
  • Fresh mint and basil (optional)
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • Feta, to crumble on top (optional)

Make the quinoa according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, fry the onions (I use coconut oil for frying when making curries – it’s much better than olive oil) and when they’ve softened a bit, add the garlic. Fry for another minute or two and then add all the curry spices and leaves. Mix well and fry until fragrant. Add the aubergine and courgettes and cider vinegar and fry for another five minutes or so (you may want to add a bit more oil at this stage if it’s a bit dry). Pour in the tinned tomato and turn down the heat so it’s simmering. Stir occasionally and add the red pepper and chickpeas after about five minutes. After adding the tinned tomatoes, the curry needs to cook for around 10 – 12 minutes, or until thickened.

Once the quinoa has cooked, squeeze in half a lemon, season with black pepper and chop up some fresh basil and mint if you have it. It’s not essential to add the herbs, but I love herby quinoa and I think they make it a bit more interesting. You only really need a tablespoon or so of each herb. I also love adding almonds to the quinoa for some crunch – mix in a handful or two if you have them.

When the curry is ready, serve it on top of a helping of quinoa with fresh coriander on top. I like crumbling feta over the curry, even though it doesn’t traditionally go with curry. I don’t cook with salt, so I find feta adds a bit of a salty kick to the dish.

Picnic recipes: sundried tomato, feta, courgette and olive mini frittatas

I’ve been going to about three picnics a week lately, so I’ve been cooking an enormous amount of picnic goodies. Picnic food is the best – I love the mini-ness of everything. These miniature frittatas with sundried tomato, feta, courgettes and olives sum up what picnic food is all about – bite-sized, packed with summer flavours and infinitely more-ish. They couldn’t be easier to make, and you can pretty much put anything you like in them, from different kinds of cheese, mushrooms, peppers, spinach…

Makes 12 mini frittatas

6 free-range eggs
250 courgettes, grated
Handful of sundried tomatoes, chopped finely
Handful of olives, pitted and chopped
8 peppadews, chopped finely
80g feta
1 T wholegrain  mustard
5 or 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped finely
1 T fresh chives, chopped finely

After grating the courgettes, place them in a colander over the sink and spinkle them with salt. Leave them to drain. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Crumble in the feta and add all the other ingredients. Season well with black pepper. I like to add a dash of Tabasco and a generous sprinkling of cayenne pepper, but that’s up to you. Pour the mixture into a greased muffin pan (filling up each pan almost to the top) and bake in a 150 C oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the frittatas have started to turn golden.

Bruschette

Another of my Italian favourites – tomato bruschette. Nothing tastes more of summer than this antipasto – hints of garlic, ripe sweet tomatoes, fresh basil and lashings of olive oil. I could eat these every day in summer. For some reason, they taste better in Italy than they do at home. I think it’s something to do with the tomatoes – they just seem to have more flavour. I think bruschette are best when made in summer with fresh, ripe tomatoes rather than ones that have been in cold storage and taste a bit bland.

All you need to make tomato bruschette is a French baguette or ciabatta, which you slice, rub with a cut garlic clove, and toast under the grill (I love those charred grill lines). Cut up loads of tomato, and mix with lashings of good quality olive oil and a handful of roughly chopped basil. Pile the toasted bread up with the tomato mixture and that’s it. Simple and delicious.

Involtini di melanzane

Ok, here’s another aubergine recipe. I can’t get enough of these Italian aubergines! I had this starter the other night on the Amalfi Coast, and it was absolutely delicious. I know Italians are big on their involtini (rolls of beef with cheese inside) but I had never tried a vegetarian version. These aubergine rolls have provolone (the local Amalfian cheese) inside, which imparts a lovely smokey flavour. They really couldn’t be easier to make – there’s a bit of frying involved, and then not much else.

I got this recipe from the chef who made the beautiful involtini in the photo. He didn’t speak any English and my Italian’s not great, but I think I got the gist of it!

Melanzane di involtini

Serves 4

  • 2 aubergines, sliced thinly
  • 200 g provolone cheese
  • A few fresh basil leaves,shredded
  • A small handful of cherry tomatoes

Fry the aubergine in batches until golden. (If you want to be good, you can grill it instead).

Cut small pieces of cheese and fill each slice of aubergine with a roll of cheese and a few shreds of basil. Roll them up like cigars. Place a slice of cherry tomato on top of each roll and then bake in the oven for about 5 minutes until the cheese is oozing out.

Parmigiana di melanzane

This is one of my favourite Italian dishes, and the best way to eat aubergine. My sister and cousin made this on our first day in Italy, and it was a great introduction to beautiful Italian summer food – gloriously tomatoey and thick slices of aubergine.

I haven’t found a healthy way of adapting this classic recipe (there’s a lot of oil and cheese involved) but it’s definitely worth the indulgence.

Parmigiana di melanzane

Serves 6

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tins of peeled whole tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • A generous handful of grated Parmesan
  • A cup of grated mozzarella, or two sliced mozzarella balls

Slice the aubergine into rounds, salt them and leave to drain in a colander for an hour. Wash the salt off the aubergine slices and pat dry with a towel.

Fry the slices of aubergine in olive oil until golden (about 4 minutes on each side). Aubergine loves oil and will soak it up quickly so keep adding olive oil when it gets dry. Using a non stick pan will help a lot. Drain the fried aubergine on paper towels.

To make the tomato sauce, fry the onion in olive oil until it starts to soften and then add the garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes, and add a handful of basil leaves and pepper, and leave to simmer for about twenty five minutes. Add a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to season.

Spread a spoonful of tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish and follow with a layer of aubergine. Cover with more sauce, a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of Pamersan. Continue layering with aubergine, sauce, basil and parmesan and finish with a layer of sauce. Top with the  mozzarella.

Bake in a 180C oven for around 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and turning golden. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad. It also makes for great leftovers on a sandwich the next day with some basil pesto. Delicioso!