Okay, even adamant sceptics of food’s aesthetic merits should be convinced by this dish. Wikipedia informs me that the name refers to the basis of an Iraqi breakfast: fried aubergine and hard-boiled egg on pita. It becomes a lot more exciting than just that, though, when it gets the Ottolenghi treatment in Jerusalem. The recipe is here. Since I had beetroot lying around, l added in his purée recipe for those too, which gave this dish extra colour and vibrancy.
A word of advice: for those with weak Western stomachs, you may want to cut down or eliminate entirely the Zhoug paste: green chillis, cumin, cardamom and garlic blitzed with coriander and parsley was far too hot for my family, and they were sad it ended up overpowering what would otherwise have been a wide variety of flavours, even if folk wisdom has it that Zhoug’s nutritional benefits are vast.
This dish also offers me the opportunity to expand a little on my new dietary position. I was misleading when I declared yesterday that I’ve become ‘fully vegan’. Part of the problem is that I don’t think our ordinary terms for categorising diets track very well what is ethical. But rather than inventing my own terms, I’m borrowing the vegan label as the best approximation of my position in practice.
Here’s where I’ve got to. I think that vegetarianism, whilst commendable, is an inevitably inconsistent position, and once the logic is embraced, that hypocritical half-way house must some day collapse. All the (entirely correct) reasons for refraining from meat – the environmental impact, concerns for animal welfare – apply equally to eggs and dairy produce insofar as cheese’s carbon footprint is larger than pork’s and dairy cows and laying hens live some of the worst lives of any farmed animals. Unfortunately, I just really think someone who avoids the aisle for steak in Tesco only to swap it for industrially-produced cheddar is, in some sense, kidding themselves.
So I no longer buy cheese, yoghurt, or milk. The good news is the latter two at least have decent soy-based substitutes. I also don’t buy any eggs from supermarkets given that ‘free range’ has become a con. But it’s fairly easy to find eggs which are permissible to eat. Any local small-scale farm is likely to be genuinely free range and treat hens well. My home-town of Newport is full of people that keep hens in their garden, and there’s no obvious sense in which taking the eggs from these hens is to exploit them. They’re not living in abusive conditions and having unnatural diets forced upon them. You just have to be willing to pay the higher price. I’m sure I could track down dairy produce made in a similar way, if I so wished, but I’m currently quite content to go without them.
So, that’s why you can see glorious yolks in the above photo, despite my alleged veganism. My commitment to this stance is fairly strong by now. I only compromise occasionally when facing no other choices but to eat cheese in restaurants, because the one vegetarian option contains it. But I do my best to eat out now where that choice won’t be necessary.
You should all, incidentally, strongly consider purchasing Jerusalem. The NYT reported last week on why the book has hit a nerve. It’s now an Amazon best-seller, briefly even sitting above JK Rowling’s new novel.
(Photo courtesy of my Instagram. Also note that I substituted soy for Greek yoghurt in the beetroot recipe, which worked fine).