Although I love French food, I can’t live without chilli and an arsenal of Asian and Middle Eastern spices. It wasn’t until I moved to France that I realised how prescriptive regional French food was. Although each region has a very set style and repertoire of traditional dishes, there’s not a lot of room for interpretation, which may have something to do with the distinct lack of ‘off piste’ ingredients, should the urge ever present its self. At least that’s the case in the Béarn, and I think it will be for a very long time yet.
I source my spices online and from a local Asian supermarket, which thankfully, stocks chillis that have more than a just a few scovilles of heat, as well as bunches of fresh coriander and mint that consist of more than just a sad three strands.
This recipe is from Fresh India, by Meera Soda. It’s a book that’s fast becoming one of my new favourites, purely because it seems to bridge the gap between traditional Indian cuisine and a lighter, modern interpretation that is utterly delicious. Rather than use baby aubergines, I’ve used striped Sicilian ones that are so unbelievably beautiful they could be a stand-alone work of abstract art. I also used dried chillis (always on hand in my kitchen) because I wasn’t able to make the drive to the Asian grocers this week. The recipe calls for unsalted peanuts, another ingredient I didn’t have on hand, but, if like me, you only have salted ones to hand, simply rinse the salt off them and dry them in a just warm oven (I used the warming oven of our AGA) or adjust the salt specified in the recipe.
I served this dish with freshly made pitta bread (I promise I’ll post my recipe for them soon because I must confess, it’s SO So good) and raita made with our very own local sheep milk yoghurt and lots of fresh mint. Just like Cinderella after midnight, the beautiful purple and white stripes of the Aubergine fade to brown, but the creamy flesh inside is soft and completely infused with the fresh zing of coriander, peanuts, and spice.
We’re finishing the last of the pruning in the orchard this weekend. After nearly three years, the straggly laurel hedge on the boundary of the bottom field is finally being tamed, the giant Oak tree is being carefully under-pruned to allow more light to reach the heirloom apples, persimmons and quince trees, and most importantly, work will begin on a big wide staircase, that will link the main garden to the new pottager, beehives and chicken run. Of all the things we’ve done so far, this is the one I’m most excited about. Hopefully this summer, I can harvest our very own striped aubergines, but before then, there’s lots of work to be done….by me, and may faithful little family clan. I’ll keep you posted on the progress!