aubergine stew

for the past 17 years, i have tracked the passing of seasons with an obsessive zeal of a proustian meteorologist. i am not sure where this comes from: i've never been too concerned with time: most years i can't even remember how old i am, and i couldn't tell you what year it was when i met rich or started work. it's probably more of a worry that things will pass away and disappear. the inbetween seasons, spring and autumn, when the change is actually happening, are the ones that make me slightly mad.

at the beginning, i had harboured a mild disappointment with the english seasons: i remember thinking (and writing) that the springs were colourless, and the wet, mild winters induced only despair.

i guess this has changed and, probably precisely because the four seasons are not as distinct as at home, i have learnt to appreciate the nuances. i'd still rather have a full-blown frozen february of my childhood, or the sticky august of car journeys to the croatian seaside. but all this week i have been desperate to go for a walk in the woods somewhere, just to enjoy the changing colours, even if they do make me melancholy.

and this week, walking past the little park on the way to the station in the morning (which has become my only real insight into what's going on in nature), i suddenly realised that when i really miss sarajevo, it is actually its autumns that i miss.

you'd think i'd miss the snows, the white winter mornings, the springs in full bloom or the summers of overgrown hillsides. i do but the real nostalgia is for sarajevo at its ugliest - cold, dirty, grey and full of smog. the summers would end abruptly - by the time the school started, you'd need more than a tee shirt. octobers it would rain, clouds hanging off the side of the mountains, slopes into the city dark green and dripping with fog. sometimes wet snow, with unmelting slush on the streets for days. dirty shoes and wet feet. then november - colder (now in full winter gear) and more rain and snow. and that was it. december was winter, and it would last until the end of february.

this is a recipe from nigel slater's new book - it's the kind of thing i've made before in various guises but this was pretty good, so i thought i'd note the recipe. perfect for a dull october day.

for four, greedy ones

2 very large aubergines
3 medium onions
8 ground cardamom pods
2 tbs coriander seeds
2 level tsp black peppercorns
4 cloves of garlic
a thumb sized piece of ginger
2 rounded tsp ground tumeric
10 medium sized tomatoes (or a couple of tins)
500ml stock - i used chicken
2 400ml coconut milk tins
4 red chillies, finely chopped
a small bunch of mint - i didn't have any
2 small bunches of coriander

cut the aubergines into quite large chunks - i find if you cut them into bitesize pieces, they dissolve into mush during cooking. sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander to drain for half an hour.

while they're doing that, peel and roughly chop the onions, and cook with oil in a large pan until soft and translucent. don't burn them.

crush the cardamom pods with the back of the knife and get the little black seeds out. add those, the coriander seeds and the peppercorns to a spice grinder - or pestle and mortar, but i struggle with that.

crush the garlic and chuck it into your pan with the onions, together with the tumeric, the ground spices and the peeled and finely chopped ginger. peel and seed the tomatoes and add those too.

now pat the aubergines dry and dry fry them - no oil - on a griddle pan until they are starting to soften. turn them as they cook so all sides get those black lines.

when you've done them all - and you'll probably have to do it in batches - add them to the pan as well, and pour in the stock and the coconut milk. add the chillies and a little bit of soft, then simmer for 45 minutes.

there is a final step in the original recipe which i missed as it's too much of a faff: slater suggests taking out the tomatoes, aubergines and some of the onions and whizzing the rest in a blender before returning the veg in and sprinkling with the chopped herbs. i just sprinkled.


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