Sometimes the meals I put on the table are kind of like a Mystery Box Challenge. I’m not trying to be all Masterchef about it, but honestly, the real Mystery Box is in our fridges. It’s nice to think that we all tottle off to the fresh market every day to get amazing just picked produce (and believe me, if I lived somewhere I could do that I would!), but the reality is that most of us hit the shops once a week, perhaps with a few additional visits to replenish essentials.
Some of my best dishes are the result of me actually having to be imaginative out of necessity, rather than because I’m trying to be creative. And honestly, if we think about it, that’s how all the best dishes in the world were conceived. Think about the humble pizza. Created due to not having enough money to use plates – hey, here’s an idea – let’s make the plate out of dough! Voila! The pizza was created.
Think of all those slow cooked, unctuous braised meat dishes like lamb shoulder, oxtail and pork belly. Seriously, no-one wanted to eat these. They were thrown to the peasants! And what did the peasants do? They became creative because they had to. They found ways to get the best out of the lowly cuts of meat they were given, and turned them into something spectacular.
This Crumbed Eggplant and Jewelled Couscous Salad came about because I honestly had no fresh vegetables to turn into a side salad to go with our roast chicken. I usually have tomatoes at the very least, but this day there was nothing. Just one lowly eggplant. What to do? Luckily I always have couscous hanging about in the pantry, and once you add some dried fruit, nuts, herbs and seasoning, the plain old couscous can be transformed into something pretty amazing.
Most people think of couscous as being Middle Eastern – which it is, but the south of Italy inherited many Middle Eastern dishes and ingredients due to geography – so couscous is quite a common Italian ingredient. I like cumin in my seasoning, which is not traditionally Italian, but it gives a warm earthy fragrant note that I love.
Eggplant is something I grew up with. My family cooked and prepared it in pretty much every way you can imagine – pickled, crumbed, fried, grilled, minced, boiled – you name it. Eggplant is definitely part of my childhood, which is probably why I always manage to have one hanging around even when I don’t have any other vegetables in the house.
I think the eggplant goes really well with my Couscous Salad, and it looks amazing. The colours are just so vibrant and beautiful you can’t help but want to dive in. This could be a complete meal by itself and a great vegetarian option, but we ate this with roast chicken and it was divine. Lamb would also be a great pairing.
Try my Crumbed Eggplant with Jewelled Couscous and Feta and you will be surprised by how a few lacklustre ingredients can pair together into something truly delicious.