It’s the time of the year when I tend to eat vegetables three times a day. Raw veggies make up my breakfast – a chopped salad of cucumber, tomatoes and feta drizzled with some good olive oil, more often than not – but I still like to get the oven or barbecue up and running for the bigger meals. Served with crusty bread, today’s sweet, tender, vegetable dishes work as part of a summer spread or as meals in themselves.
Charred okra with soybean, orange and chilli dressing (pictured above)
A while ago, I went to a Malaysian cooking demonstration hosted by the lovely Debbie Teoh, a dedicated pioneer of Nyonya cooking, who served up some of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had. One of the standouts was boiled okra with a sweet and tangy dipping sauce made from jarred soybean paste, which she’d brought all the way from Malaysia. Here’s my very different take on that dish, using Korean soybean paste, which can be found in the world food aisle of some large supermarkets and, more likely, Asian food shops. If you find the Malaysian variety, which is somewhere between a sauce and a slightly yellow paste, you’ll need to reduce the amount of sugar in the marinade.
Prep 10 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 4 as a side
30g soybean paste
2 oranges, juiced, to get 90ml
2 tbsp rice-wine vinegar
3 tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 red chilli, thinly sliced, seeds and all
700g okra, stems carefully cut off and discarded without exposing the seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2½-3 tbsp (10g) coriander leaves, picked with some soft stems intact
20g crisp fried shallots, shop-bought or homemade
In a large bowl, combine the soybean paste, orange juice, vinegar, sugar and sunflower oil, whisk well to combine, then stir in the chilli and set to one side.
Toss the okra with the olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt and a good grind of pepper, to coat, then set aside.
Put a large frying pan on a high heat until smoking, then char a third of the okra for about two minutes, turning them over as they cook, so they get nicely charred and soft all over. Transfer to a tray and leave to cool for about 15 minutes while you cook the remaining okra.
Transfer the cooled okra to the dressing bowl, add the coriander and half the shallots, and toss gently. Transfer to a platter, top with the remaining shallots and serve.
Baby aubergines in tomato sauce with anchovy and dill yoghurt
This is lovely served warm or at room temperature as a main course with lots of crusty bread or as part of a spread.
Prep 20 min
Cook 1 hr
100g unsalted butter
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced (400g)
14 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole (40g)
Salt and black pepper
500g baby aubergines, slit open lengthways, but not all the way through, and with stems still attached
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 fresh plum tomatoes (800g net weight), blitzed until smooth
200g cherry tomatoes
For the anchovy and dill yoghurt
200g Greek-style yoghurt
20g dill, plus a few extra sprigs, to serve
30g anchovy fillets
1½ tsp lemon juice
For the cumin burnt butter
60g unsalted butter
1½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and roughly crushed
1 tsp chilli flakes
Heat the oven to its highest setting 240C (220C)/475F/gas 9. Put the butter in a medium, ovenproof saucepan on a medium-high heat and, once it’s melted, add the onions, garlic and half a teaspoon of salt, and cook, stirring from time to time, for 25 minutes, until the onions are caramelised.
Meanwhile, toss the aubergines in a medium oven tray with a tablespoon of olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, then roast for 15 minutes, until partly cooked. Remove from the oven, but leave it turned on.
Stir the tomato paste into the onion pan, cook for five minutes, then stir in the blitzed tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes more. Gently push the aubergines into the sauce, so they’re submerged in it, dot the cherry tomatoes in between the aubergines, then transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the tomato skins are blistered.
Put all the ingredients for the anchovy yoghurt in the small bowl of a food processor, blitz until almost smooth – you want a few flecks of green and bits of anchovy – then scrape into a bowl and set to one side.
Now make the cumin butter. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat, and leave to cook for three to five minutes, until the solids at the bottom start to brown and smell nutty. Remove from the heat, then stir in the cumin seeds, chilli flakes and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
Spoon half the anchovy yoghurt and half the cumin butter all over the aubergines, and save the rest to serve on the side. Scatter with the picked dill and serve warm or at room temperature.
Sweet’n’sour peppers with pine nut crumble
This simple summer salad is lovely with a soft cheese or grilled fish. Get ahead by marinating the peppers the day before (the flavours will intensify as they sit), and double up on the crumble, if you like: it’s great sprinkled on leafy green salads or lightly steamed vegetables.
Prep 10 min
Marinate 30 min+
Cook 35 min
Serves 4 as a side
1kg red romano peppers
75ml olive oil
2½ tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1¼ tsp cumin seeds
30g pine nuts
1⅔ tbsp (5g) coriander, finely chopped
Heat the oven to its highest setting – 240C (220C fan)/475F/gas 9 – and line a large baking tray with kitchen foil. Put the peppers and a tablespoon of the oil on the tray, toss to coat, then roast for 20 minutes, until the peppers are charred in places and softened. Leave to cool slightly and, once they’re cool enough to handle, gently pull away and discard the stems, skin and seeds (don’t worry if you don’t get all the seeds). Tear each pepper in half lengthways.
While the peppers are roasting, make the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, maple syrup and garlic, then add the sesame oil and remaining four tablespoons of olive oil, and whisk again to combine. Pour this into a large, shallow baking dish, then add the peeled pepper halves and toss gently to combine. Leave to marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes (and longer, if possible), or in the fridge overnight.
Put the cumin in a small frying pan on a medium-high heat, and toast for two to three minutes, until fragrant. Tip into a mortar and roughly crush the seeds. Return the pan to a medium heat, add the pine nuts and toast, stirring, for three to four minutes, until nicely browned. Tip into the mortar, add an eighth of a teaspoon of salt, then roughly crush the nuts with the cumin – you don’t want it too fine. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then stir in the coriander.
To serve, spread the peppers on a plate with a lip (if they’ve been refrigerated, bring them to room temperature first), pour over the dressing and top with the crumble.