Friday, December 30, 2005

Summer Nights

Nigella's HIGH SUMMER AL FRESCO LUNCH FOR 8 is a table-borne eastern-Mediterranean style lunch to be eaten outside in the garden. We had this menu for dinner tonight, and thankfully, by dinner time, a cool change had come and we were actually able to eat outside!

227. Tabbouleh
228. Hummus with seared lamb and toasted pine nuts
229. Garlic chicken
230. Aubergine slices with pomegranate juice and mint

The day before you have to soak the chickpeas for the hummus in water with a halved onion, some garlic cloves and a bay leaf. Nigella says they need at least 24 hours soaking, and then 1-4 hours cooking, but the packet instructions were a lot more optimistic - they said 6-8 hours soaking and 45 minutes cooking. Having cooked chickpeas many times before, I figured that the actual cooking time would lie somewhere between the two.

Additionally, the chicken wings for the garlic chicken need to be put in their marinade the day before, and left in the fridge. The marinade is an unusual, yet simple one - boil some garlic cloves until soft, then slip them out of their skins, mash them up and add extra virgin olive oil to make a liquid gloop.

The rest of the preparations can be done on the day itself. I started by draining, rinsing and boiling the chickpeas. Surprisingly, they only took 50 minutes to be cooked - truly cooked, as Nigella insistently reminds you that they need to be. Once cooked, you just need to dump them in a processor, with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, tahini (it's called "tahini" in Australia, not "tahina", for whatever reason), cumin and Greek yogurt. Then you can spread it into a shallow serving plate, cover it, and leave it until it's time to eat.

Tabbouleh is (in case you didn't know already) a mixture of herbs, cracked wheat, spring onions and tomatoes (peeled, seeded and chopped), dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The cracked wheat needs 30 minutes soaking in cold water, before being drained and stirred through the rest of the ingredients.

The aubergine slices are griddled (much like the ones we ate for lunch today), and sprinkled with salt, pomegranate juice, chopped mint and pomegranate seeds. I had a bit of a drama looking for pomegranates; they seemed to be everywhere the week before Christmas, but when I went shopping this morning, they were nowhere to be found. But by the time I realised there were no pomegranates, I'd already bought all the other ingredients! GRRRRR! I was going to substitute with diluted pomegranate molasses. But, at the last minute, I remembered that I had a little baggie of pomegranate seeds in my freezer! Hazaa! So I squeezed some seeds with my hands over the cooked aubergines, and reserved the rest for sprinkling over.

The chicken wings just need an hour in the oven while all this is going on.

And at the very last minute, you need to do the lamb for the hummus. Nigella says to stirfry little strips of lamb in garlic-infused oil, so I just used the remaining marinade from the chicken wings. Once cooked, you squeeze some lemon over and then pour the whole lot over the hummus.

Here's the table, with a bottle of champagne, some fresh tomatoes and chunked cucumber. We also had more of that pane di casa bread that we ate with lunch. Notice the rose petals I scattered over the table. They really added a nice touch as we were eating. I've never been one for decorations or table settings, but I think I'll have to start doing it more now.



Garlic chicken - crispy and delicious

Hummus - this hummus is fucking awesome! It's seriously the best hummus I've ever had. It's creamy and soft and sharp and garlicky and full of wholesome chickpea goodness. It makes such a difference when you use dried and soaked chickpeas instead of canned! And the Greek yogurt makes it so light and smooth.


one plate

After those Christmas meals, you have no idea how good it feels to be eating so many green vegetables all at once.

This was a fantastic meal, and it was so lovely to eat it outside during the warm evening. The only criticism I have of it is that it takes a lot of work to put it all together, which could be annoying if you're trying to create a non-fussy, laid-back lunch for guests who don't necessarily appreciate or realise how much energy goes into creating it. However, I found a quiet afternoon of cooking be most enjoyable, and my parents were very appreciative of all the effort.


Dad: Well done. This is really fantastic. It's just as good as eating at Abla's. (The fabbest Lebanese restaurant in Melbourne!)

Mum: I'm really happy you're doing this project.


domesticgoddess said...

OMG it all looks so beautiful! what a perfect summer dinner. i'll have to wait another 6 months to make this menu but can't wait; each and every dish totally appeals.
love the rose petal touch ;)

p.s. ok now i have that song from 'grease' in my head, damn you! LOL.

Lotta said...

Mmmm, everything looks so good! The rose petals too. ;) I don't know if I can wait until the summer! :)

Anonymous said...

mmmm... that looks so delicious! my idea of a perfect dinner!!!!
abla´s got a run for her money!
xo, f

markii said...

Oh my. That truly does look stunning.

Your family must really feel like the luckiest bunch!

I want to show my mum your blog, but if I do she'll hound on me to start something similar! LOL~

Randi said...

It sounds like you have really great parents. I still can't get over how i'm freezing my arse off over here in canada and its so warm in Australia.