Something to dip into

Za'atar. Photo: Getty Images
Za'atar. Photo: Getty Images
Nigel Slater turns to the pantry for a cheap and substantial dish.

I’m looking at the storage jars of parchment-hued beans — the oval cannellini and round haricot, the flat butter beans and, of course, the plump little chickpeas — and wondering if I will ever remember to soak them overnight. It is one of those jobs that I mean to do before bed — like soaking oats for Bircher muesli — and then promptly forget. And once soaked, they are then to be watched carefully as they simmer with bay and peppercorns, celery and onion, lest they boil dry. I have ruined a pan or two with my forgetfulness.

I open a jar of ready-cooked chickpeas instead, tip them into a saucepan with a token leaf or two of bay and a few black peppercorns and boil them for 10 minutes. They are in the blender with olive oil and a little of their cooking water, fluffed to a smooth cream, in minutes, their unassuming beigeness lifted with vivid green olive oil and the juice of half a ripe lemon.

You could add the kneejerk garlic (it does have an unshakable affinity with chickpeas), but this time I serve my creamy dip with a golden tangle of onions from the grill, seasoned with za’atar, and its notes of sesame and wild thyme. We dig in with pieces of mottled and scorched flatbread from under the grill.

I keep the onions a few inches from the bars of the grill, letting them take their time — a good 20 minutes — to come to tenderness. If they cook too quickly, their edges will scorch before they soften. You are after a soft, golden, translucent finish, soft enough to be crushed between your finger and thumb.

I serve the puree with warm flatbread, but it also makes a cheap and substantial side dish for baked field mushrooms or grilled steak; it’s good with baked ham and makes the best of all dips in which to stick a grilled lamb cutlet.

Grilled onions, chickpea puree with za’atar and lemon oil

Serves 4

For the onions:

3 medium to large onions,

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp za’atar

For the chickpeas:

800g tinned or bottled chickpeas

5 Tbsp olive oil

2 bay leaves

1 tsp thyme leaves

Half a lemon


Peel the onions, cut them into slices roughly as thick as a pencil. Brush them with a little olive oil and cook them over a hot griddle — or under a preheated overhead grill — until soft and lightly charred. Expect this to take a good 10-25 minutes with the occasional turn. Stir the za’atar into the olive oil. As the onions are approaching softness, brush them with the seasoned oil.

Make the chickpea puree: drain the liquid from the chickpeas, then put them into a small saucepan with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. Add 500ml of water, the bay leaves — crushing them in your hand as you do so — and the thyme leaves, then bring to the boil. Lower the heat and let them simmer for a good 10 minutes.

Drain the chickpeas, keeping back 2 Tbsp of the cooking water and discard the bay leaves. Puree the beans to a soft cream with the reserved cooking liquid and the remaining olive oil then squeeze in the lemon. They may need a little salt. Spoon into a dish, add the grilled onions and squeeze over a little lemon juice before serving.

Bubble and squeak fritters, lemon salsa verde

You could easily veganise this recipe by using a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in place of the butter and by omitting the anchovies, in which case the sauce will need a little salt. When frying the fritters, make sure not to cook too many at once, as overcrowding the pan will lower the temperature of the oil and the fritters will be heavy.

Makes 12, serves 4


1 kg, white and floury potatoes

250g chard or leftover brussels sprouts

3 spring onions

40g butter

Ground nut or vegetable oil for deep frying

For the sauce:

10 large basil leaves

2 Tbsp lemon juice

6 anchovy fillets

6g (a palmful) tarragon leaves

10g parsley leaves

4 cornichons

2 tsp capers

2 heaped tsp Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic

125ml olive oil

1 Tbsp water


Peel the potatoes, cut them into large pieces and steam them in a steamer basket over boiling water covered with a tight lid, or boil them in salted water. Test them with a skewer to check their tenderness, they will take anything from 10-20 minutes depending on the variety.

Separate the chard leaves or brussell sprouts from their stems. Pile the leaves on top of each other, roll them tightly then cut into fine shreds. Finely slice the stems. Finely slice the spring onions. Warm a couple of tablespoons of oil in a shallow pan and fry the stems and spring onions for a minute or two. Add the leaves and continue cooking for a couple of minutes until tender, then drain and set aside.

Make the sauce by putting the basil, lemon juice, anchovies, tarragon, parsley, cornichons, capers and mustard into a blender or food processor. (I find the blender gives a slightly better texture.) Add the garlic clove, peeled, the olive oil and the water then process to a smooth, green sauce and set aside. (It will separate somewhat, so it will need a good stir before serving.)

Drain the potatoes, add the butter and a little salt and mash until smooth with a masher, ricer or electric mixer. If using the latter take care not to overmix. Add the chard or brussell sprouts and spring onions. Roll the mixture into 12 balls or eggs and place on a lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Resting them this way will firm them up and they be less likely to fall apart.)

Heat the oil in a deep pan, then lower the fritters, a few at a time, cooking them for 7 minutes or so, turning occasionally, until lightly crisp. Lift out with a draining spoon and keep warm while you cook the rest. Serve with the sauce.

 — Guardian News & Media