An English summer with Indian mezze
Quick, inventive little meals that are perfect for stay-at-home afternoons or outdoor picnic spreads
The sun finally appeared in Edinburgh the other weekend and after months of endless dark clouds, rain, snow and wind, its people showed their appreciation by throwing off their coats for the first time since September. Scantily-clad locals flocked to any bar or café with an outdoor area to drink beer and cappuccinos and know, briefly, what it feels like to live in the south of France.
We too threw ourselves into the great outdoors and went for a hike in the Pentland Hills just outside the city, and, by the end of that glorious, sun-soaked day, had vowed to complete the entire Pentland range by the end of summer.
We also made the first visits to our allotment (vegetable garden) to start planting our crops for the year. But because there’s never any guarantee of sunshine here, we have to make the most of it when it does appear, and that often means in the evening, after work. Last summer, when the planting/watering/harvesting cycle was in full swing, we were at the allotment most evenings until quite late, and, by the time we got home, tired and aching from our exertions, the most we could face cooking was a quick bowl of pasta.
How to eat when we plan to be outside until autumn? In order to walk the entire Pentland range and coax a vegetable patch to abundance, as well as all the usual family and work stuff, we’re going to need a plan for mealtimes. So I’ve decided on a kind of rolling mezze, lots of inviting, vegetable-centred little plates to mix and match, taking inspiration from the Middle East and southern Europe, where this style of eating is commonplace.
These recipes are a couple of my favourites so far: a winning combination of traditional mezze-style presentation with some Indian spicing tendencies, a really wonderful way to show off each vegetable to its best advantage. Dishes you might consider for a mezze are baingan bharta (or its Levantine cousin baba ganoush), mini cauliflower pakore (fritters), courgette (zucchini) in a spicy tomato sauce, spiced chickpea, green lentils in a vinaigrette sauce. Then all you need to make a meal complete is some warm bread, maybe a fresh salad or a grain-based accompaniment like quinoa or rice. Make three-four mezze to have on hand for a quick, delicious meal whenever you need it, then top up at intervals with a new one.
It’s perfect food to eat indoors after summery rambles or as a picnic outside when you just can’t bear to go home.
Panch phoron-spiced carrot hummus
Dips are always on offer in a Middle Eastern mezze spread. This version uses spicy roast carrots instead of chickpea.
2 tbsp panch phoron
3 garlic cloves, crushed
6 tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp tahini paste
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Toast the panch phoron for about a minute in a dry pan until they start giving off a good smell.
Peel and chop the carrots into 5cm pieces and put them in a bowl. Add four tablespoons of the olive oil and the panch phoron and toss to coat. Spread on a baking tray with the garlic, season with salt and pepper, then bake until the carrots are tender and a little charred around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Allow to cool a little, press the garlic out of the skins and put it in a food processor along with the carrots, lemon juice and tahini and remaining two tablespoons of oil. Blitz and taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or lemon juice if necessary.
Oven-dried tomatoes with fresh curry leaves
You can buy sun-dried tomatoes in jars but these ones will definitely be softer, fresher, and more sunshine-y.
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Black pepper, freshly ground
A handful of fresh curry leaves
100ml white wine vinegar
100ml olive oil
Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Cut the tomatoes in half, then scoop out the seeds. Place the tomato halves, cut-side up, on a wire rack over a roasting tin. Sprinkle the top of each half with a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and a little black pepper. Leave for 15 minutes, then turn the tomatoes over, cut-side down. Drizzle with a little of the olive oil and scatter curry leaves over the top.
Put the tomatoes in the oven and leave until shrunken but still quite soft and plump. The time this takes will depend on your tomatoes, but it could take up to 4 hours or more.
Take the tomatoes out of the oven and leave to cool a little. Put the tomatoes in a shallow dish and cover with the white wine vinegar and let them sit for an hour.
To store the tomatoes, put them in a sterilized jar with the vinegar, cover completely with olive oil and seal with a tight-fitting lid. As long as the tomatoes are covered with oil and the lid is sealed, the tomatoes will last for up to four months. Once opened, keep in the fridge and eat within four weeks.
The Way We Eat Now is a column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.
Pamela Timms tweets @eatanddust