In times of stress, I crave comfort food. When adrenalin courses through my veins and my heart beats a tattoo against my ribs, my stomach roars and swells at the thought of all those foods which have seen me through the most difficult periods of my life. The chicken soup with matzo balls my Bubbie made for me after I was stung by a jellyfish when I was five. The ramen noodles with dashes of soy sauce I’d inhale when I was a student and living off 50p a day. The lamb hotpot my Dad would serve up when I was cold, lonely and depressed, and the world felt like a very cruel place indeed. Right now, as I hurtle towards my wedding with the speed of Usain Bolt hurtling down an athletics track (only two weeks to go!) I find myself craving the food equivalent of a bearhug – steamed puddings, pies, crumpets laden with melted cheese. Wedding diets be damned, I’d rather be curing my hen night hangover with a giant burger than a macrobiotic wholegrain salad.
And then there’s my old steadfast. Stew. I could go on at length about how much I love making stew – that relaxing art of chopping everything you can find, dumping it into a pot with some stock and tomatoes and letting it all bubble away for a few hours. Stew is the ultimate hug in a bowl, irrespective of what that chemically-laden-upstart Cup-a-Soup may tell you. And while it may not be the most seasonal of suppers considering the unexpected dose of Summer we’re experiencing at the moment, it is one of the tastiest, simplest and most satisfying.
This Aubergine and Chickpea Stew sees silky, meaty aubergines paired with chickpeas, crunchy fried onions and the warming hit of cinnamon and cumin. I’d like to think that it’s influenced more by Morocco than ‘what I found at the back of my fridge’. It goes really well served over couscous, or just on its own with a healthy dollop of natural yoghurt on top. Best of all, it’s just the thing to chase the Summertime blues away – regardless of whether you’re getting married or not.
AUBERGINE AND CHICKPEA STEW (Makes three large portions)
You will need:
- 1 large aubergine, diced into chunks
- 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tin of chickpeas
- 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds (you can use ground cumin if you like, but I prefer the flavour you get from toasted cumin seeds)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and Pepper to season
- A handful of chopped mint leaves
- A handful of chopped coriander leaves
- 1 onion, sliced into rounds
- Season your aubergines and fry them for five minutes or so. Feel free to add more olive oil if needed (the aubergines will soak it up like a sponge). Once the aubergines have turned soft, add a touch more oil, and sauté the garlic cloves until they turn brown at the edges.
- Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan for thirty seconds until you can just begin to smell them (take care not to burn them!) Grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar, and add them to the pan along with the cinnamon and chilli flakes. Cook your spices for 30 seconds. Add the tinned tomatoes and chickpeas, cover the saucepan with a lid, and simmer for twenty – twenty five minutes.
- While the stew is simmering, fry the onions in a tablespoon of olive oil until they have turned brown, caramelised and slightly crunchy at the edges. Take the stew off the heat and serve garnished with the crispy onions, chopped mint and coriander. This goes really well with warm pitta bread, or couscous flavoured with saffron.