Monday, 29 September 2008

Harira: An Algerian take on the Ramadan-fast-breaking soup

I find foods with cultural significance irresistible. And feast time foods especially so. In the 10 months I've had this blog I've waxed lyrical about the foods of Christmas, the Japanese New Year (Oshogatsu) and Persian New Year (No Ruz). What special foods mean to people is endlessly fascinating.

Although I've made a Moroccan version of the Ramadan fast-breaking soup harira before, the cultural element was missing. I was overjoyed, then, to find 64 sq ft kitchen, a gorgeous Algerian food blog by Warda, who writes deliciously and evocatively about what it is like to grow up in a household where lively ritual after-dark feasting occurs for a whole month of the year! (Many first-hand accounts suggest to me anyway that Ramadan should more rightly be called the Islamic feasting rather than fasting month!)

Warda even has a version of harira on her blog, and it is perfect. The soup is rich, despite the tiny amount of meat it contains, the spicing heady, but not overpowering, and the dersa fresh herb and spice topping invigorating. The sum of this soup is so much more than its parts. A blend of fresh coriander leaves, garlic, paprika and caraway (or, in my case mistakenly dill seed), the dersa was particularly intriguing. Googling hasn't provided much insight, but I'll keep you posted if I find out more about this mouth-popping Algerian "salsa".

The use of caraway in Warda's harira intrigued me. In all my years of cooking Middle Eastern food, this was the first time I had call to use this particular spice. But using it this once seems to have opened the floodgates, as just about every recipe I've looked at since has contained the seed! It was in my little list of spice names in Persian (so it's obviously used in Iran), and in several Iraqi recipes in Delights from the Garden of Eden, which I picked up again for a good read.

But back to the harira. I made it with less water than Warda called for, thinking it looked about right for the goodies in the pot, but pureeing the veggies and the addition of bulghur later really thickened the soup up, so my meddling really wasn't required (g). Unusually for me, I even made my beans from scratch, rather than flinging ones I'd cooked and frozen earlier in at the end (I really hate canned legumes, whatever family and friends might tell me). My contribution is to change the measures to metric and adjust the recipe for the pressure cooker.

We had this with bread and just one appetizer and empty bowls and suddenly-too-tight jeans were evidence enough that this recipe is a winner. Definitely try it!

Harira: Fragrant Chickpea and Lamb soup with Bulgur

Serves 6 to 8

1 1/2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight
300 g stewing lamb, cut into 1 cm chunks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly diced
1 potato, peeled and roughly diced
1 tomato, roughly diced
3 carrots, peeled and roughly diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro [S: coriander], tied with a string
1 generous tsp of allspice
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground
2,000 ml water
1 sprig of mint (5 big leaves)
¾ cup wheat bulgur
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

For the dersa: (fresh herb and spice topping)
3 tbsp cilantro [coriander] leaves
½ tsp ground paprika
2 fat clove garlic, chopped very finely
1 tsp ground caraway

1 In a large pressure cooker, heat the oil on medium heat. Season the lamb chunks and sauté them on each sides until browned. Add the onions, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and chickpeas. Sauté until lightly colored, about 5 minutes. Add the spices, the bunch of cilantro and the tomato paste, and stir to combine. Cover with the water. Season the soup with a generous amount of salt and pepper, cover and bring to pressure. Once the soup comes to pressure, lower the heat and cook for 6 minutes, or until the chickpeas are cooked and the meat fork tender.

2 Discard the cilantro bunch and the stick of cinnamon. Place the meat and chickpeas on a plate, and, using a vegetable mill or stick blender, puree all the rest of the vegetables. You can also use a regular blender, but you will have to do it in batches, as the liquid is very hot.

3 Put the soup back in the pressure cooker. Add the chickpeas and the scattered meat. Bring to the boil and add the mint sprig and the bulgur. Stir to distribute the bulgur. Cover and bring to pressure again. Cook under low pressure for 5 minutes, or until the bulgur is cooked. Season with salt and pepper if needed.

4 Before serving the soup, make the dersa: Using a sharp knife, or even a mortar would be great, finely chop the cilantro [coriander] leaves and mix with the garlic, paprika and ground caraway.

4 Serve the harira in individual bowls, topped with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of dersa.


Teriyaki beef with wakame salad

Authenticity vs innovation. Fusion vs faithfulness to origins. Is one more genuine and valuable than the other? Or is there room for both?--so long as the result is tasty, of course (g). It's a tricky business, this world of food.

I suppose I'm at the stick-with-tradition end of the spectrum. I get a kick out of sourcing odd ingredients for special recipes because I want to taste what the food would taste like in situ. I am not all that fond of cookbooks full of suggested substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients; much less those that don't even bother to give the originals, instead "helpfully" adapting traditional recipes for the "Western kitchen," or whatever. Don't even get me started on recipes that take a perfectly good tradition, then cavalierly change a few principal ingredients but fail to change the name of the dish! Perhaps it doesn't matter, so long as it's someone else's beloved Anzac biscuit or carbonara.

These days I see lots of "exotic" ingredients showing up in places that would make their traditional "owners'" toes curl. Living here in Japan, Western inventions like "salads" made with soba, Japan's buckwheat noodles, just seem so wrong. Call me a pedant, but here is a particular way to eat soba, and tossed with chopped herbs and veggies just isn't it.

Occasionally, though, you come across one of those rare sublime fusions that are so right and so in tune with the original cuisine that you wonder why they hadn't been thought of before! Take this roast beef and wakame salad, which is from Kitchen, a Marie Claire title written by Aussie food writer Michele Cranston.

Wakame, a much-loved, a-hem, sea vegetable is often to be found in salads here in Japan. You can even buy instant seaweed salad here: just add water! Teriyaki , a thick marinade cum sauce that is at once deeply savoury and sweet, is another Japanese staple, most usually slathered on fish and chicken, but superb here on beef. And ginger, a traditional garnish for teriyaki fish, really brings the flavours together in the dressing in this recipe. Truly, it's almost as if a Japanese person came up with the combination (especially if you use mizuna as I did rather than the more Western watercress)!

Oh, and the dressing contains no oil! Any way you slice it, this is a real winner in my book. Any Japanese friends out there, definitely give this one a go!

I usually make my own teriyaki no tare (teriyaki sauce) , so I'm including the instructions below. If you're making a batch for this recipe, be sure to start it first.

Oh, and though Michele has treated this as a starter, it is fairly substantial so some crusty bread or rice might be enough of a meal for lighter eaters.

Teriyaki no tare

100 ml mirin
100 ml Japanese soy sauce
100 ml sake
2 tbsp sugar

Reduce in a pan until the consistency of honey.

Teriyaki beef with wakame salad

Serves 4 as a starter

450 g lean beef fillet
3 tbsp teriyaki sauce
25 g dried wakame seaweed
3 Japanese or Lebanese (short) cucumbers
4 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp Japanese soy sauce
2 tbsp caster sugar
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, julienned
2 red radishes, sliced
1 large handful mizuna or watercress sprigs
1 tbsp black sesame seeds

1 Marinate the beef in the teriyaki sauce for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Heat a heavy-based oven-proof pan over high heat and sear the fillet on all sides. Put onto a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

2 Soak the wakame in cold water for 10 min, or until soft. Drain, put in a bowl and cover with 1 tbsp vinegar. Thinly slice the cucumbers diagonally and put into a separate bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and set aside to drain some of the juices for several minutes. [Saffron: Alternatively, just squeeze the juice out by hand.] Dissolve the sugar in the soy sauce and remaining vinegar and add the ginger. Rinse the salt off the cucumber [if you used the salting method] and gently squeeze dry. Combine the wakame, cucumber, radish and dressing in a bowl and toss to combine.

3 Thinly slice the beef and divide among four small plates. Top with the salad and garnish with mizuna or watercress and black sesame seeds.


Monday, 15 September 2008

Tunisian parsley and egg tagine

Many visitors to [Paula Wolfert's] site are familiar with Moroccan tagines---stews of meat, poultry, or fish smothered with one or two vegetables or fruits, cooked in an earthenware dish with a conical cover.

Tunisian tagines are different.

So begins leading Mediterranean food writer Paula Wolfert's introduction to this exotic meal-in-one dish that shares virtually nothing in common with its namesake stews from neighbouring Morocco. While both may start with a rich stew, the Tunisian version takes it to a whole different place with a topping of parsley (in this case), egg and cheese that's baked into a frittata-like crust. So that's meat, beans, veggies and dairy--and a breadcrumb topping for good measure--all rolled into one. Different, indeed!

You could say I made this dish as an excuse for trying out the cinnamon and rose mix that is Tunisian baharat. I had some dried rosebuds (purchased from Ohtsuya in Ueno, Tokyo) that wanted using, so I whipped up a batch of 2 parts cinnamon, 2 parts rosebuds and 1 part black pepper. The original recipe calls for one part of each, but Paula's doesn't include pepper, so I cut back a little (g). Although Paula mentions rubbing the rosebuds through a sieve, I found this, and going at them with a mortar and pestle, virtually useless. My handy dandy new spice grinder made short work of it, though. The resulting blend was quite sweet smelling, so I was interested in how this would taste.

In the original recipe, Paula has us mixing the stew with the egg, parsley and cheese mixture and baking the whole thing as one, but I thought it would be nicer to have it in two layers. If you go that way, make sure to salt the stew, as all the seasoning is in the cheesy half otherwise.

And how did it taste? Well, I quite liked the egg and parsley topping, which fairly oozed cheese (in the best way, of course (g)), but would definitely recommend you use flat-leaf parsley rather than curly (which was all I could get on the day). I wasn't so fond of the baharat in this particular dish, or maybe it was just the cinnamon. (The mix is brilliant on stewed apples, though, pepper and all.) My dear Iranian friend Hw gave this the thumbs up, but the Young Man reckoned it tasted better cold for lunch the next day. So the results were mixed at this end.

I don't think I will do this particular version again, but I am intrigued enough to find out what else Tunisian cuisine has to offer, so I might get Paula's Mediterranean Cooking at some point, even if it means mucking about with pounds and ounces and other such things we metric people are illiterate about. That's basically the only reason I haven't bought her Couscous & Other Good Food From Morocco yet, though I suspect it is the seminal work on one of my favourite cuisines.

I've altered the recipe for metric and the pressure cooker and for layers. I also used beans I had cooked and frozen myself. You can refer back to the original recipe from the link above.

Tunisian baharat

2 tsp ground dried rosebuds
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Tunisian parsley and egg tagine

1 cup cooked white beans
400 g lean boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1.5 cm cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
2 tsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp cayenne
3 packed cups chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
30 g Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup)
100 g Gruyere cheese, cubed (about 1 cup)
1/2 tsp Tunisian baharat (1 part ground dried rosebuds mixed with 1 part ground cinnamon)
6 large eggs
6 lemon wedges

1. Toss lamb with salt and pepper.

2. Heat 1 1/4 tbsp oil in a small pressure cooker. Cook the onion until translucent, add the meat, and saute for 5 minutes. Cover and cook over low heat until the meat gives off its moisture and reabsorbs it. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until lamb cubes are well coated. Add cayenne and about 1 cup of water. Cover, bring to pressure and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes longer, or until the meat is fully cooked and the juices are thick. Stir in beans, check seasoning and remove from the heat and allow to cool. (Up to this point the dish can be made 1 day in advance. Return to room temperature before proceeding.)

3. Place the oven rack in the second highest position and preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

4. In a mixing bowl, combine 1/3 cup of the bread crumbs, grated Parmesan, and cubed Gruyere, mixing well. Season highly with salt, pepper, and sieved baharat. Beat the eggs to a froth and add to the mixture.

5. Use the remaining oil to coat the bottom and sides of a 5- or 6-cup (1-1.2 l) baking dish, or an attractive23 cm well-seasoned oven proof skillet. Layer the lamb on the bottom of the dish and cover with the prepared mixture, sprinkle with reserved bread crumbs and set in the oven to bake for 12 minutes. Raise the oven heat to the highest setting, remove the tagine from the oven, tilt the dish so that the oil collects in one place, then brush this oil over the surface of the tagine. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 8 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature from the dish. [S: Don't forget the lemons (g).]


Two Turkish appetizers: Acili ezme and yogurtlu havuc salatasi

There was a cute little Turkish eatery literally 3 doors down the road from us a couple of years ago. Since my part of Yokohama is a decidedly non-"ethnic"-food locale, the restaurant did not last long, but ooooh the spicy tomato meze! I would have done the dishes to get a hold of that recipe. In fact, I failed even to find out what it was called. Not even a trip to Turkey (and many a meze plate) solved this little problem. This summer, I finally got a tip-off from the waitress at a Turkish restaurant in Tokyo. Perhaps it was acil domates (spicy tomatoes)? Close, but no cookie.

Turns out that this spicy salad cum dip is called acili ezme, and I found a recipe at the brilliant Turkish food blog Binnur's Turkish Cookbook. Only problem was that with the end of the tomato season nigh, I had to make this like now!

But one appetizer does not a meze make. So from my Must Try pile, I chose a carrot salad with yogurt or yogurtlu havuc salatasi from another favourite Turkish food blog Almost Turkish.

I thought these would make a nice contrast: one fresh and spicy, the other creamy and herby.

When I made the acili ezme, the was rather wet (even having seeded the tomatoes), but that could be because my toms were smaller, or because I reduced the amount of parsley in order to tempt the Young Man into trying it (g). Next time I might reduce the amount of lemon juice to compensate. You might have to scout out the sumac and pomegranate paste/molasses for this one. Both are souring agents that can't really be substituted; better to just leave them out if you can't find them.

The carrot salad was a real treat; the YM scoffed down his share despite the "offensive" presence of dill (admittedly reduced for his benefit). I drained the yogurt (in a lined sieve for about 30 min) for mine, mitigating any need for mayonnaise to thicken it. We had the salad without the raki recommended by Burcu at Almost Turkish, but it was mighty fine just the same (g).

Together or apart, these two meze will definitely be appearing on our table again. Now I just need to get some more Middle Eastern bread for next time!

Acili Ezme: Turkish Style Tomato Dip

3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped very finely
1/2 red or white onion, chopped very finely
1 cup parsley, chopped very finely
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp pomegranate paste/molasses
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cayenne pepper, crushed, or to taste
1 tsp sumac

Crush the onion with sumac and salt with your hands. Mix all the ingredients in a service bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Yogurtlu Havuc Salatasi: Turkish Carrot Salad with Yogurt

4 cups of grated carrot
1 cup plain yogurt, preferably whole milk [S: drained for half an hour if you have time]
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped very finely
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 tbsp mayonnaise (optional)

Heat oil in a skillet and add grated carrots. Stir until carrots are wilted. Put carrots in a bowl with yogurt, garlic, dill, and salt. Mix well. Serve with crusty bread and any kind of meat.


Cooking class 4: Fish simmered in miso, chawan-mushi and vegetables in 2 sesame dressings

If you've been following this blog, you'll know I've been going to Japanese cooking classes at ABC, and might be wondering where the photos are.

I wasn't going to put them up, since they are taken on the hoof under less than optimal lighting, but in the spirit of sharing, I've decided to post them anyway.

For this autumnal class, we learned how to make buri (yellowtail) simmered in in miso, chawan-mushi (steamed savory custard), and vegetables in 2 kinds of sesame dressing (goma-ae).

The buri was a little bit of work, so I had great expectations. It certainly tasted great, but not that much better than tinned fish in miso sauce (which can be had very cheaply in Japan). Not sure that I'll be making that one again...

Chawan-mushi has a reputation for being difficult and not setting properly, it's one of those things people can easily get into a tizz-wazz about--a bit like risotto making. But this version was no bother and looked very impressive on the plate. I'll be making this again, but would dearly love to know what they do with the chawan-mushi at my favourite watering hole. It's really the best!

The goma-ae was a bit of a revelation for me in that I've never had it with anything other than spinach! ABC presented 2 versions, one with white sesame seeds, sesame paste, soy and sugar, the other with black sesame seeds, dashi broth, soy and sugar (sugar is a constant in Japanese cuisine, even in savoury dishes). These dressings adorned maitake mushrooms and still-crisp boiled green beans, respectively. Both were yum and both keepers in my book!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Tofu & chicken hamburg steak with Japanese mushroom sauce

The weather is a little more autumnal now, so the timing is perfect for this scrummy and healthy tofu burger and fungi combination that I made earlier this month as part of a week of Japanese food to celebrate the Young Man's return from travels in Oz.

I don't tend to be overly adventurous with Japanese cooking on weeknights because it can be quite involved and not likely to result in dinner on the table in less than an hour. These "hamburgs," with their subtle ginger back-note and moreish mushroom topping, are both very tasty and perfectly doable in much less time than that. We had them with a decidedly summery salad; a jolly way to get two seasons in the same meal.

If Japanese mushrooms are not to be found in your neck of the woods, substitute at will. Around 250 g of 2-3 varieties will do . I also don't suppose it will matter if you substitute chicken stock for the dashi. You can adjust the amount of soy sauce in the mushroom sauce depending on whether you use a powdered dashi, which contains salt, or dashi from a teabag-like dashi pack, which does not. Mirin is a sweet sake used extensively in Japanese cooking. If you can't get it, you could try this substitute, just a plain sugar syrup or a dash of sugar at a pinch.

Tofu & chicken hamburg steak with Japanese mushroom sauce

1 x 350 g block regular (non-silken) tofu
200 g chicken mince
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 Japanese leek ( or 1/4 Western leek), chopped very finely
1/2-3/4 tsp juice from grated fresh ginger
1 x 100 g pack shimeji
1/2 x 250 g pack enoki
4 shiitake, sliced
1 cup dashi stock
1 tbsp mirin
1 tsp Japanese soy sauce
3 tsp potato starch or cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tsp water
4 spring onions, sliced in 2 cm lengths
1 tbsp oil
steamed snow peas, to garnish

1 Squeeze some of the moisture from the tofu by placing between 2 plates, with a weight on the top plate (a couple of small cans work).

2 Cut of ends of shimeji and enoki and break into individual stalks. Bring dashi stock to the boil and add shimeji, enoki and shiitake. Add mirin, soy sauce and a pinch of salt. Thicken with potato starch (you may not need it all), and scatter spring onions over the top.

3 In a large bowl, work mince, egg, ginger juice, 2 pinches of salt (or to taste) and pepper together until smooth. Crumble drained tofu into the bowl, add the Japanese leek and mix thoroughly with your hands.

4 Divide tofu and meat mixture in 4 and form into oval patties, making a slight indentation in the middle of each to help cook evenly. Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry patties on both sides until cooked. Serve topped with mushroom sauce and steamed snow peas.


Monday, 1 September 2008

Ban ban ji: A Japanese take on a classic Chinese chicken dish

Forever summer: it might be a good name for a Nigella cookbook, but when its the actual sticky tropical Japanese summer you're talking about, it's not quite so warm and fuzzy. And with the early start to summer this year, forever summer feels more like a prison sentence.

Cooking is always a bit of a bane when, with no air conditioning, the kitchen is over 30 degrees C before you even begin.

Imagine my joy, then, at finding this recipe that involves no actual stove time!! Yup, a few short minutes in the microwave will get you this fabulous Japanese take on the classic Chinese dish of chilled poached chicken with sesame dressing.

If the thought of chilled. poached. chicken. leaves you, well, cold, then hold that mouse! It is actually very tasty, and, the jelly that forms as it cools makes the chicken a treat on the tongue as well. It's perfect summer fare.

But wait: there's more! An earthy yet piquant, spicy yet comforting sesame dressing and fridge cold cucumbers and tomatoes round this off perfectly. All we needed was some cold silken tofu topped with katsuobushi (shaved dried bonito flakes) and soy sauce (my favourite lazy summer accompaniment) for a very satisfying meal.

This recipe comes from my fail-safe Japanese omnibus cookbook, 365-nichi no okazu on chie (100 yen side dishes: Know-how for 365 days), which now sadly seems to be out of print.

Ban-Ban Ji: Chilled poached chicken with sesame dressing

2 boneless chicken thighs, skins on
2 thinnish slices of fresh ginger
1 thin Japanese leek, separated into white and green
2 tbsp sake or dry white wine
2 Japanese cucumbers, sliced into matchsticks
cherry tomatoes

For the sesame dressing
2 tbsp Japanese sesame paste or tahini
1-2 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
3 tbsp Japanese leek, chopped very finely
1 tsp sake, or dry white wine
1 tsp ginger, very finely chopped
1 tbsp castor sugar
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2-1 tsp tobanjan (Chinese: doubanjiang) or other chilli bean paste

1 Pierce the skin of the chicken thighs all over with a fork and rub with green parts of the Japanese leek, ginger, sake and a little salt. Place in a microwave-safe dish, cover with cling film and microwave on high for 8-10 minutes, or until done. Remove from microwave and leave, covered, until cool. Refrigerate if time permits

2 Make sesame dressing by mixing the sesame paste or tahini, soy sauce, Japanese leek, sake or wine, ginger, castor sugar, rice vinegar and tobanjan or chilli bean paste in a jar. Slice remaining Japanese leek white into very fine strips. Refrigerate both until needed.

3 Slice chicken into strips. Arrange cucumber matches on a serving plate, top with sliced chilled chicken and top with sesame dressing and leek. Scatter cherry tomatoes alongside.


PS Other takes on this are found here (disregard the 10 oz (284 g) of chicken called for; you'd want about that much for 2) and in message MSG ID: 033732 here.

Mualle: Turkish eggplant, tomato and lentil stew with pomegranate

I was searching for the source of a spicy Turkish tomato dip recipe I'd printed out but not got round to making (soon, though, as the tomatoes are already past their summer's best!), when I came across this lovely looking Turkish stew on the delish-looking Turkish food blog Almost Turkish.

With lots of lovely summer veggies AND pomegranate molasses, I put the tomato dip idea aside and jumped on this instead. And it really is glorious. I cooked mine under low pressure in the pressure cooker for 30 min, but it could easily have been less (I'll be trying 20 min next time). Even at 30 min, the lentils and the eggplant didn't turn to mush, and the latter was that a silky-smooth, unctuous texture you usually only get from frying them in copious amounts of olive oil. Score one for Burcu at Almost Turkish for this healthier alternative! Since there is no water in this recipe, I gave the pressure cooker a good shake from time to time at the beginning of cooking. Nothing stuck to the bottom of the pot, and a lovely thick sauce had formed when I opened it up.

Since the Young Man is back (wahoo!), I didn't add the full quota of chillies in the recipe, so my version has just a warm back note. Also, my pom molasses is a sweetish variety, so next time I'll probably add some lemon juice as well to tarten things up a bit. I also upped the fresh mint in this. I used fresh peppermint, but perhaps the dried would have been better afterall.

Either way, this truly delicious and totally virtuous dish is definitely a keeper.

Mualle: Turkish eggplant, tomato and lentil stew with pomegranate

3-4 long narrow eggplants, peeled in lengthwise stripes
1/2 cup brown lentils
1 medium onion, chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 long thin green chilli (or to taste), seeded and chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
4 tbsp fresh mint, chopped or 2 tbsp dried mint
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
2/3 cup olive oil
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
salt [S: I used maybe 2 tsp]

1 Peel the eggplant partially, leaving lengthwise strips of skin. Cut eggplants in 4 lengthwise. Chop every piece crosswise into 3. Place them in layers in a sieve, sprinkling salt between the layers as you go. Let them stand for an hour to remove the bitter juices [S: I did it only as long as it took to get the rest of the ingredients pot-ready]. Squeeze out any excess juices by hand.

2 Bring green lentils to a boil with 2 cups of water. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are soft. Drain and set aside.

3 In a bowl, mix tomatoes, green chillies, onion, garlic, mint, salt, crushed peppers, and tomato paste.

4 Coat the bottom of the pressure cooker with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. Put 1/2 cup of the veggie mix on the bottom. Cover with half the eggplant, then half the lentils, and half the remaining veggie mix. Top first with remaining eggplant, then with lentils, and then with veggie mix.

5 Pour the remaining olive oil down the side of the pressure cooker. Sprinkle the pomegranate molasses over the top.

6 Bring the stew to a boil. Put on the lid and bring to pressure, then reduce the heat to low and pressure cook for 20-30 minutes, shaking the pot from time to time to prevent the stew sticking to the bottom.

Mualle is good with rice and yogurt.


PS The spicy tomato dip recipe is here.