Monday, 2 August 2010

Eggplant risotto (Ριζότο με μελιτζάνες)

I’ve been keeping a blog for three years. I started out writing about my limited view of the world, sharing an opinion about some news item that took my fancy. It was all quite random, but there was always a related food  photo uploaded with each post, mainly to add colour to a rather dull looking page full of words. I didn’t know who would be reading what I was writing, nor if anyone was really interested in it. I was just writing for the sake of doing something that looked productive in a world where most of the time life is routine and productivity is achieved by superficial means, pushing a button to start an machine, doing the daily shopping and cooking a meal with all the mod cons of the average kitchen.

I got the wacky idea to start recording all the food I cook for my family as a way of entering the writing world. I methodically and meticulously recorded every detail of the recipes I prepared in my kitchen: sensing my own mortality after the shortened lives of my parents, I wanted to ensure that my children would be able to remember to do some of things I did for them, or at least they could learnt to cook (or show someone else how to cook) their mother’s food, some of which they may even have acquired an affection for. To increase my readership, I entitled all posts by the name of a recipe or food item, so that people searching for a recipe would be able to land by chance onto my site. My first readers were food bloggers interested in the intricacies of Greek cooking. Comments ranged from ‘Delicious!’ to ‘Could you add garlic to this?’. This was not the intended response – I make no effort to be an outstanding cook – but it was a welcome start to a reader's circle.

I was enjoying being read, but I also knew that I would eventually reach an upper limit in such a venture. I cook to feed, not to create or to excite. And since most of what we eat in our house is seasonal, this means that I could only blog about food for a period of up to twelve months. We eat pretty much the same food from one week to the next, depending on what is in season. For example, fasolada is not a once-a-year affair: it’s a weekly winter entry, whose consistency does not change from one time I cook it to the next. I may have such a glut of zucchini in the garden that I can create all kinds of new recipes, but the truth is I don't. There is only so much you can do with eggplant, for instance, which the whole family will eat.

To beat away the boredom, I started a city daily photo blog, with the intention of evading the drudgery of the kitchen with its precise measurements, specialised terminology, detailed methodolgy and focus on hygiene. Instead of worrying about ingredients and cooking methods, I was now worried about running out of photos of my daily surroundings, some of which I thought of as commonplace. How many similar beach photos can someone tolerate seeing on the same blog? How many times can I photograph different olive or orange trees and say something new about them?

After three years of blogging about the traditional seasonal food we grew, cooked and ate, I find that there is very little to write about on this topic. I'd be fooling you if I were to start cooking food that is not seasonal or traditional in the area where I live. The only time we eat out of season or away from tradition is when we travel or I get nostalgic for foreign food (sourcing my ingredients from supermarkets that cater for tourists rather than locals cooking international cuisine). I'd be repeating myself if I were to continue to describe the food I cook in my house on a daily basis.

In the knowledgeable light of the coming of the end, I started throwing in an anecdote or two in the recipe and photo posts, turning them into stories and photographic exhibits. I played with cooking terms, I mixed in jokes, I tossed in a spicy word or two. And thus, my story-writing was born. The food blog eventually started taking on a new shape, confounding my readers in the process. What was I doing – cooking or story-telling? Some shirked away from the madwoman that I had become while others remained endeared to the blog, enjoying the hilarity of the scenes portrayed and the dry wit of the author or the poignancy of the feelings provoked. All I can do is update my food blog with a restaurant review or maybe a kinky food-based story that I know will delight many.

It is the final set of readers that I owe the development of my writing skills: without their continued interest in what I write, my food blog would probably have fizzled out long ago, accelerated by a lack of new dishes being cooked in my kitchen and the general boredom of any rote task, which of course I continue to perform in the kitchen. Of course I'm still cooking; I'll be cooking for a long time yet, but there must be light at the end of the tunnel. I never set out to be a cook; in fact, I'm surprised I ended up cooking such superb meals as my (often-copied) photographs attest. As I look back over my blog, I ask myself: did I really cook that? I hope my children remember that indeed I did. With two young ones, I still have a good many kitchen years ahead of me...

I've cleaned up my kitchen for all of you to see: not a pot boiling, not a dirty dish in sight, no garden glut to deal with.

Through this post, I praise those of you who continue to read me despite my many shortcomings as a cook and writer, which will have become apparent over time. I hope to continue to entertain you. Year 4 of Organically Cooked starts here.

*** *** ***
The glut of aubergines has not ended, and from previous experience, I know that it won't end until the end of September. Our eggplant trees are our most loyal garden plants. They keep on producing until Christmas, but by then, the shrub is looking a little worse for wear. Thankfully, aubergine freezes well too; one of the most popular posts on my blog (apart from fasolada) is all about how to freeze eggplant
frozen eggplant chunks
Last year's eggplant was waiting this year for me in the freezer.

As I was clearing out the freezer I found last year's batch of frozen eggplant, which is sad because I couldn't really use it now that the new season's vegetables had started to grow. I couldn't just throw it out, so I decided to cook it for our pet dog, who basically eats what we eat, because she gets our leftover. So I heated some oil in a pan, and added the eggplant. That eggplant had been frozen at the height of the season so that its Mediterranean summer aroma was wafting around the room; even I realised that this food was not yet fit for doggie consumption at this point. When the eggplant had softened, I added some rice and poured in enough water to make what looked like a risotto. As I stirred the pot and watched what was taking shape in it, I began wishing the dog's dinner was mine. 

eggplant risotto
The dog's food looked so good...

Here is the eggplant risotto remake, originally modelled on the dog's dinner.

aubergine eggplant risotto
... that I made an improved version for myself.

You need
3 medium-sized eggplant, chopped into small cubes
1 medium-sized onion, chopped small
6 banana peppers, chopped roughly in small chunks (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a few glugs of olive oil
a cup of white rice, preferably basmati
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion and garlic, and cook till translucent. Then add the aubergine cubes and cook till just soft, so that they don't lose their shape. If you are using the banana peppers (we have a glut of those too), add them together with the aubergine. You will need a lot of oil, because eggplant soaks it all up very very quickly. It sounds quite fattening, but if it's only olive oil, don't forget that it's an anti-oxidant and will keep you looking young. When the aubergine is done, add 2 and a 1/2 cups of water to the mixture. Add the washed rice and then the seasonings, and stir everything together to blend. When the water reaches boiling point, turn down the heat to the lowest point, and let the risotto cook away on its own, without stirring it (or the rice will break up).

Serve this risotto with a green (or garden-fresh salad), and some red wine. Bread is superfluous today!

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