|ottolenghi's soba, aubergine and mango salad|
i learnt much about running house and entertaining in the years that we lived in our f seven two house in islamabad. mama’s poetry club always included tea with cake, sandwiches and scones. baba would retreat into his office to silence the cacophony of voices. sometimes even i wondered what the ruckus was all about. but before the ladies arrived the tea had to be ready. lightly starched white napkins with crocheted edges were checked for stains. cutlery was shined and the right number of teacups and tea plates were taken out and arranged at diagonal ends of our large bevelled glass table. the worst of the lot was the glass table that needed extensive cleaning with the aid of a newspaper and vinegar. mama would survey this with eyes of a hawk. at some point i came to be in charge of all these arrangements and although i hated cleaning the table and glasses it was an excellent way to learn perfection and running house.
now years later as i run my house i do the very things that mama did. i shine the cutlery with a slightly damp cloth, hold up glasses to the light to check for water stains and give as much thought as possible to crockery i am likely to need when entertaining. presentation was important both for the food and the table. mama always reminded me to wipe the edges of serving dishes with a wet kitchen roll. sandwiches were to be laid in an over-lapping fashion with crusts that had been perfectly removed. mama and baba planned the menus for lunches and dinners together. little did i know that these discussions would turn out to be very important to me.
i have condensed the notes from menu planning conversations into some basic principles, foremost of which is that there has to be a unity of elements, a consistent thread that binds a meal together. the most obvious of this is not to mix two totally different cuisines. on a subtle note even if you are cooking from a particular region it is helpful to have a shared base flavour. ideally, refrain from trying out new recipes when cooking to entertain. i broke this rule recently when s and h came to lunch. but then i was not very concerned because three quarters of the recipes were about cooking technique and i was very familiar with the ingredients that i was working with.
the reason why i was remembering the preparing and planning elements was because putting the lunch menu together had been a bit of a challenge. i had made up my mind that i wanted to prepare miso-marinated cod but was not quite sure about what to accompany with it. i turned to ottolenghi’s plenty for inspiration thinking that something with soba would be good to tie the lunch together. mama and baba’s rule of thumb that there should be an affinity between the ingredients was what helped me decide. both recipes shared ingredients providing a base note that would help tie them together.
the miso-marinated cod was inspired by a very popular entrée by nobu. it calls for sablefish (also known as black cod) which is not easily available. i spoke with my local fishmonger paul who suggested that i could use regular cod instead. this recipe would be excellent with salmon as well. paul had the freshest and thickest cod fillets, almost an inch and a half thick. i really recommend getting your fish from a fishmonger for this recipe as it pays in thickness. what you want is a fish that has a large flake with a thick girth. this is necessary for it to hold its own in the marinade and on the grill. it is best to let the fish rest in the marinade for at least two days, bringing it to room temperature before you cook it. the sear on the fish has a mild sweetness and the colour of light caramel. the flakes of fish are silky and moist. because this is a fish of gentle flavours, we all ate the cod on its own taking the salad as a second course.
the soba noodles with aubergine and mango was a trademark ottolenghi recipe. it had the perfect composition of sweet, savoury, sharpness and depth. the aubergine flesh made silky with oil lent richness. the dispersed heat of chopped red chilli was a welcome surprise and the mango along with the lime and zest brightened the salad. this salad plays to warm and cold weather because it is fruity, nutty and chilli at the same time, which is just as well because we are experiencing a cold summer in england.
since i did not have a white salad bowl i used a glass bowl. placing it on a red place mat provided a bright canvas that amplified the colours of the mango and chopped basil and coriander. it is best to make the salad a couple of hours ahead. let it is sit on the counter as room temperature lets the ingredients get to know each other more intimately than in the cold of the fridge. i have learnt that the charm of ottolenghi’s recipes lie in letting the ingredients discover each other. as in most cases, the leftovers taste so much better!
i am including the recipes for miso-marinated cod and ottolenghi’s soba noodles with aubergine and mango below, along with minor adaptations. they are uncomplicated recipes that taste really good. heidi of one o one cookbooks has recommendations that transform the salad into a meal by using tofu, as well as ideas for seasonal variations.
[adapted from nobu’s recipe on food and wine]
three cod fillets, two hundred and fifty grams each, about one and a half inches thick
six tablespoons mirin sake
half a cup white miso paste
one third of a cup sugar
vegetable oil for grilling
in a small saucepan, bring the mirin sake to a boil. whisk in the miso until dissolved. add the sugar and cook over moderate heat, whisking, just until dissolved. transfer the marinade to a large baking dish and let cool. add the fish and turn to coat. cover and refrigerate for two days (or at the very least overnight).
preheat the oven to two hundred degrees. heat a grill pan and oil it. scrape the marinade off the fish. add the fish and cook skin side up over high heat until browned, about two minutes. flip the fish onto a heavy rimmed baking sheet and roast for fifteen minutes, until flaky. transfer to plates and serve.
ottolenghi’s soba with aubergine and mango
[this recipe appears in the new vegetarian as well as in the cookbook ‘plenty’]
one hundred and twenty ml mirin
forty grams sugar
half a teaspoon salt
two garlic cloves, crushed
half a red chilli, finely chopped
one teaspoon toasted sesame oil
one lime, grated zest and juice
three hundred ml sunflower oil
two aubergines, cut into two cm dice
two hundred and fifty grams soba noodles
half a red onion, thinly sliced
one large mango, peeled and cut into long strips
twenty-five grams basil, chopped
twenty-five grams coriander, chopped
in a saucepan, gently heat the vinegar, sugar and salt, just until the sugar dissolves, for up to a minute. remove from the heat and add the garlic, chilli and toasted sesame oil. set aside to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.
heat the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the aubergine in three or four batches. once golden-brown, transfer to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain.
cook the noodles in plenty of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, for five to eight minutes - the noodles should retain a bite - then drain and rinse under cold water. shake off the excess water and place on kitchen towel to dry.
in a mixing bowl, toss the noodles with the dressing, aubergine, onion, mango and half the herbs. you can leave it aside for an hour or two. when ready to serve, add the rest of the herbs, mix and pile on a plate or in a bowl.