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Worth all the effort

13 July 2012

iStock

ALL my foodie friends love Yotam Ottolenghi's vegetarian recipe book Plenty (Ebury Press, 2010), with its intricate Middle-Eastern inspired recipes and flamboyant photography. The flavours are rich and sophisti-cated, and the recipes often need special ingredients or time-consuming preparation, but, as my friend Ronni says, it is usually worth the trouble.

I have picked a soup from Ottolenghi's collection which is not complicated. Garlic soup and harissa is a very good store-cupboard soup, and the ultimate in medicinal comfort if you happen, like me, to keep garlic at the ready, and a fresh ginger-root in the freezer.

Ronni buys her garlic ready-peeled from the supermarket, but preparing the garlic is not too onerous, if you chop the bulbs through the papery skins and slip out the flesh rather than trying to rub all the peel off first. I substitute onions for shallots. For the soup, for four, you need:

4 medium shallots, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely diced
40g (1½ oz) butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
25 medium garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 teaspoons fresh root ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
200ml (7 fl. oz) white wine
generous pinch of saffron threads
4 bay leaves
1 litre (35 fl. oz) vegetable stock
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
roughly chopped coriander

Gently fry the shallots and celery with the butter and oil for about ten minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for a further five minutes. Stir in the ginger and thyme. Pour in the wine, leave to bubble for a few minutes, then add the saffron, bay leaves, stock, and salt. Simmer for about ten minutes. Remove the bay leaves, and add the parsley.

Blitz with a hand blender or regular blender - but do not blend to a complete purée; keep some bits of vegetable for texture. Divide the soup among shallow bowls. Swirl in some harissa, and sprinkle chopped coriander on top.

Ottolenghi devotes a chapter to the mighty Aubergine, and suggests spooning olive oil into cuts made in whole halves of aubergines, and seasoning them with za'atar (a Middle Eastern spice mixture) and lemon thyme, before roasting them till succulent. He serves them covered in a sauce made from mixing together:

140ml (4½ fl. oz) buttermilk
100g (3½ oz) Greek yogurt
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt

(A little plain yogurt and a squeeze of lemon can replace buttermilk.) Garnish the aubergine halves with pomegranate seeds, and sprigs of lemon thyme. My Russian neighbour bakes aubergines sliced longways in thin slices, well brushed with olive oil, and serves them as a simple salad, dressed with lemon juice, a little vinegar, a shake of sea salt, and chopped parsley.

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