A few weekends ago over Easter there was a lot of food made and consumed in my kitchen, but really it wasn’t all fun and games. For most of the weekend I sat at the big dining table in my parents’ house writing a rather dry essay on 16th and 17th century news journalism. I squinted at texts written in barely discernible English where a S could have been a R or a F and stories told of malformed pigs and blood raining from the sky. No matter what you think of modern news journalism, I am thankful for the progress we have made.
My sister flew home for part of the weekend, setting up her laptop at the other end of the table, books and papers and computer cords filling the gap between us. There we sat, just like that, for most of the weekend, she plugging away on a lab report about grape disease and I trying to draw parallels between post-medieval and 21st century journalism.
And yet, in the midst of all this was food. Food seemed to transcend our immediate reality of assignments and university and settle us in an all the more ‘real’ reality – simply the need to be feed and nourished and sustained.
On Friday before Georgie flew home Perrin and I hosted a dinner party. I made an Easter cake – the simplest cake if ever there was one – no need for beaters or excessive creaming, but the cake rose perfectly to a smooth, plainly flavoured, moist Madeira style cake. We made braised lamb with feta, potatoes and tomatoes; Perrin cut, oiled and spiced up pita pockets into crisps while I whizzed hummus together. We set a rice pilaf to cook later in the evening with slivered almonds and just-moist sultanas, counting out loud the (10) seconds of sizzle time of the cinnamon stick. There was a stellar quinoa salad made by Francesca and a banana cake from Catherine. My house was filled with noise – music, conversation, the scrape of chairs, the clink of eight glasses when it came time to toast – lovely really, for the rest of the weekend all we would hear is the tap-tap of a laptop keyboard. (And I confess this song played too loudly and danced to wildly when the prospect of typing another word seemed all too much.)
I picked Georgie up early on Easter Sunday and we drove straight to the market. We did away with the fruit bowl basics instead buying leeks – the white as long and as thick as my forearm, limes – an absolute steal at only $8/kilo, an eggplant with beautiful, high-gloss skin, and fire-truck red baby tomatoes. We bought packets of hot cross buns and returned home to eat them toasted and dripping with butter.
We had avocados smashed on toast with a runny yolk fried egg for lunch. Coffee and hot cross buns always dripping with butter continued all weekend – how else does Easter play out? In the evening we sat in the kitchen, our backs defiantly to the table covered with paper, and we drank Merlot. We picked the potatoes from the leftover lamb, reserving them to slice finely and fry the next day, but the lamb, as stews always are, was better on day two.
On weekends like this one where what needs to be done is minimal – fill X amount of pages with X amount of words – yet the task is decidedly time consuming and complex, food is both a welcome distraction and a boost in productivity. I find I work best when part of my mind can freely think about lunch or dinner, when a meal plan begins to form and I can fry potatoes to golden crispy, lay on a spinach wrap spread with harissa and mayonnaise and top with spindly mesclun leaves. Or for dinner: thick, pink pork chops covered in salt and cooked on the pan and leeks braised in white wine, dijon mustard and vinegar to become tender ribbons, sharp and sweet. The creativity of cooking livens my senses and exercises my brain.
Georgie made a lime tart – freshly squeezed limes – what a scent! And then came the eggplant, young and slender, of the most beautiful colour and weighty in my hand. I had a friend at school who loved the eggplant purely because she thought it would make a pleasing thwack when pelted at a wall, or a person, depending on her mood. (The same went for capsicums.) I strangely think about this every time I cut open a raw eggplant and hear the satisfying hiss and thud of the blade through the dense flesh. I resisted the urge to throw food at my walls and instead I made baba ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook.
There has already been a lot said about the Moosewood Cookbook, about the hand written recipes and hand drawn illustrations, about the beginning of a food movement and about the long reigning success of the book, so I’ll keep this brief. My mother has had a copy of the book for as long as I can remember but I never understood the significance of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook until I began to read about the cult-like following it has.
The baba ganouj is simple and lovely as far as baba ganouj go. It’s creamy and oily, there is a richness but also a wonderful complexity of flavour: garlic and lemon, a smoky bitterness from the eggplant and a subtle nutty hint from the tahini. But roasting whole eggplants, their skins turning dark chocolate in colour and gorgeously wrinkly like that of a ripe passionfruit, and the burnt oil, smoky smell that filled my kitchen probably contributed to more words being written about early journalism and more pages being filled than any other kitchen activity all that long weekend.
Baba Ganouj from the Moosewood Cookbook
The only change I made to this recipe was the addition of a second roasted eggplant. Also, I do think this recipe benefits from resting time before serving.
2 tablespoons oil (for the baking sheet)
2 medium to large eggplants
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper or cayenne (I used a pinch of cayenne)
olive oil and freshly chopped parsley or coriander for the top
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Lightly oil a baking tray.
Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and place face down on the baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until very tender. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
Scoop out the flesh of the eggplant and discard the skins. Place the pulp in a food processor with the garlic, lemon juice, tahini and salt and pepper. Purée until desired consistency – I think it’s best with a few chunks of eggplant.
Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill. Before serving drizzle the top with oil and scatter over your choice of herbs.