food

The lighter Aubergine bake

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This recipe is dedicated to Denise, an extraordinary lady, working at the PDSA in Cardiff.

If you are looking for a simple and light recipe that satisfies your winter cravings in a guilt free manner, I think you are at the right blog.

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Our household is on a health buzz this January, probably like you are, and we feel a lot better for it. The recipe below is the lighter alternative to aubergines recipes like Melanzane al Parmigiano or Moussaka and it is a lot quicker to prepare too.

Many people mistake me for a vegetarian! This is because I don’t normally eat meat more than once a week or every week: there are just too many food groups to choose from! I grew up eating red meat once a week and our family fasted/detoxed a few times a year for 2-3 weeks, gradually giving up different food groups: staring from meat, chicken, fish; moving to dairy; then giving up seafood and sometimes even giving up oils, fats and spices.

It is fascinating that various cultures and denominations incorporate at least one period of cleansing and self discipline in their calendar year. Whatever your way of going through such a process may be, most of you who have will agree that it is worth it.

And why not go a step further this year: why not commit to eating good healthy food all the time? Why not eat less and better sourced meat for ethical, environmental and health reasons? Why not eat less but buy better quality ingredients? And then we can talk about our energy levels and fitness: you might even shed a couple of kilos or more, and maintain that loss in the long term.

The Part-time carnivore campaign, which offers you some options for reducing your meat intake as well as an online quiz that might help you figure our the best option for you is at the moment.

Thanks to Dan Green for the fantastic photos, as ever! And for teaching me technicalities and how to select images!

Aubergine bake recipe, feeds 4-6
Ingredients for a 25cm x35cm baking tray

For the first layer

3-4 large meaty aubergines
Salt
Olive oil

For the second layer
1 ½ portions of basic tomato sauce, with parsley. Click on link for recipe.

For the third layer
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, one red and one green
1 tin of pre-cooked puy lentils
6-8 chestnut or other mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced
A couple tbspns chopped parsley
A handful of ground pimento berries
Salt
Olive oil

For the third layer
300gr grated cheddar or parmesan cheese OR a mixture of the two

Preparation

  1. Prepare and start cooking your basic tomato sauce. I suggest you use parsley for this recipe. 25min
  2. Start by cutting off the stem and ‘nose’ of your aubergine. Slice thickly: 2-3cm slices. Each aubergine should give you at least 3 slices. 2-5min.
  3. Salt the aubergines and let rest in a large bowl for 20min whilst your tomato sauce is cooking. This process removes excess water from the aubergine and makes the grilling faster. You can skip this step as your aubergines will grill anyway. 20min, optional
  4. Coat a large non-stick pan with some olive oil and grill the slices in high heat, pressing down firmly with the spatula to quicken the cooking process (removes excess water). For each grill batch you can coat the pan with some olive oil. 15min.
  5. Layer your baking tray with the cooked aubergine slices, snugly and leaving no gaps.
  6. Prepare layer 3: sauté the onion, pepper and mushroom is a tiny bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes. Season with some salt. Drain and add the precooked puy lentils. Grind a small handful of pimento berries in a pestle and mortar and add to your mixture. Once all juices are absorbed, a coupe of minutes after adding the lentils, remove from heat. Season to taste, if needed. You can prepare this layer as you are grilling your aubergines. 15min
  7. Preheat your grill! 10min.
  8. Add Layer 2, the tomato sauce, which should be cooked by now, evenly to your baking tray on top of the aubergines. Seconds.
  9. Add Layer 3 evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Seconds.
  10. Grate your cheeses to finish off. Seconds.
  11. Place under the grill for 10-15 minutes or until golden. 15min.
  12. Cool down for 10-15 minutes and enjoy! 15min.
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Two cabbage roll recipes

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The two recipes for cabbage rolls (lachanontolmades or sarmades) adjusted from the Greek edition Christmas issue of Olive magazine

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For our New Year’s Eve dinner we had a varied spread including a spinach Quiche, the recipe for which I gave you two weeks ago, a butternut squash pie made by Elpida, vegetatian lasagne made by Valentina Brioschi and finally cabbage rolls, lachanontolmades or sarmades.

Cabbage rolls are an ideal party dish but you can also prepare it as a main course. I think it is an fantastic dinner dish for the post-Christmas healthy eating time when all of us are looking for light but tasty treats. It is possible to diet with flavoursome and light dishes, no need to torture yourself.

I got the idea to cook these very different cabbage rolls recipes from the Christmas Greek edition of Olive magazine. The recipes were provided by Simona Kafiri and Georgia Kofina. I adapted the simplified version of the traditional Greek cabbage rolls to my liking, and a tested a new spicier version with a red sauce that uses diced pork instead of minced meat. Both are fantastic. I also discovered that you can use iceberg lettuce to make a lighter but extremely tasty version of the dish. So here is my innovation!

The recipes below can feed 6 people and take nearly 2 hours to prepare and cook.

Thanks to Dan Green for photos.

Two cabbage roll recipes: one traditional and one spicy

Preparation of cabbage, the basic ingredient, 30min

1 large or two medium white cabbages
1 iceberg lettuce

This is the first step of your preparation. But you can also start with the preparation of the spicy filling as it needs to simmer and cool down before the cabbage leaves are stuffed.

It is impossible to fill and roll cabbage without blanching or slightly boiling it. Remove outer cabbage leaves that might be scarred but keep for layering the base of your pots before cooking.

Cut around the base of the cabbage with a sharp knife and remove the stem of the cabbage(s).

Place the cabbage in a large deep pot with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and cool down before peeling the leaves and preparing them for filling and rolling.

As I started to peel the leaves I realised that I did not have enough cabbage for all my filling. I was pushed for time so I decided to experiment with iceberg lettuce as an alternative. Iceberg lettuce leaves are quite firm compared to other lettuce varieties, so I peeled and dipped them in the hot, but no longer boiling water, for 30seconds to a minute to soften. Iceberg lettuce rolls are absolutely amazing and surprisingly worked really well, particularly with the traditional recipe.

For the new spicy filling of Georgia Kofina, 20 min:

300 gr pork fillet or chops, finely diced
¼ cup rice (either Carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ large onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove
2 Tbspns finely chopped parsley
1/6 cup olive oil or about 4 Tbspns
1 cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock)
¼ glass white wine
½ tspn paprika and cayenne pepper

Sautee the onion in the olive and then add the garlic.

Once translucent add the white wine and then add the meat, rice, parsley, paprika and cayenne pepper, and finally, add the stock and season.

Cover and simmer at very low heat until the rice absorbs all liquid.

Then remove from the heat and set aside to cool down before the rolling begins.

For the sauce of the spicy version of Georgia Kofina, 5 min:

3 celery sticks thickly diced
1 carrot, peeled and roughly diced
200 gr finely diced ripe tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Prepare all your ingredients for the sauce. You don’t need to do anything else at this stage as all ingredients are added to the cooking pot after you laid your rolls.

For the traditional filling adapted from Simona Kafiri’s recipe:

175 gr minced pork
150 gr minced beef
1 large onion, grated
½ cup of finely chopped parsley
½ green pepper finely diced
¼ cup grated ripe tomatoes (1 or 2 tomatoes)
1 ½ flat tsbns salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup rice (either carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ tspn ground cloves
½ tspn ground cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with your hands and set aside for filling.

Filling, rolling and cooking, 1.5 hrs:

2 separate pots, 25cm circumference or at least 20cm

The red sauce ingredients you have prepped for the new and spicy version.

2 Tbspn olive oil or butter (for the traditional recipe)
1 ½ cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock) (for the traditional recipe)

Add a little bit of olive oil at the bottom of each pot. If you have kept the outer leaves of the cabbage layer the pot with these/ Remove the thick end (vein) of each cabbage leaf by making an (upside down) V shaped incision. This way you will be able to roll the leaf more easily.

Add enough filling in the middle and roll the cabbage leaf, by folding its outer sides in and then rolling so that you can have the top of the leaf facing your cooking surface. You should then place the roll in the pot, with the top of the leaf facing the bottom of the pan, this way your rolls will not unfold and open whilst cooking. It is a lot easier to roll with the iceberg lettuce leaves.

Use all cabbage leafs and layer the rolls in the pot close and tight to each other. I made to layers of rolls in each pot. If you are using iceberg lettuce roll too, you can place those on the second layer as they will cook faster.

For the new spicy version, spread the celery and carrots over the rolls, evenly pour the tomato and olive oil and add some salt and pepper. I had to add some more stock to the pot, just a couple of tablespoon. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

For the traditional recipe, add the olive oil and stock in the pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hr. Don’t throw away the liquid.

Once the rolls are cooked, set aside for cooling and serve on long platters garnished with the sauces you have prepare.

For the traditional recipe sauce, Avgolemono, 10 minutes:

1 Tbspn Corn flour
1 Tbspn butter
¼ cup lemon juice
1 egg yolk
Some paprika (optional)

You might prefer to have the traditional cabbage rolls as they are. But this avgolemono, lemon and egg, traditional sauce is the perfect accompaniment to this dish. Simona’s recipe of avgolemono is simple and delicious: I had never made it before but it was very easy to deliver.

Remember the sauce preparation must happen really quickly so have all your ingredients within easy reach. There should be about a cup of juices left in your pot from cooking and you will need all of it for your sauce.

Melt the butter in a small pot and mix in the flour well so that you have no lumps.

Then remove from the heat and mix in your egg yolk swiftly. Aim for a creamy mixture.

Immediately stir in the warm juices from the pot, little by little, constantly stirring on very low heat. Keep mixing until your sauce has thickened to the consistency of double cream.

Pour over your traditional cabbage rolls and enjoy!