Sweeter spices add warmth to vegetables

Autumn calls for aromatic vegetable stews scented with cumin, ginger and cinnamon, writes Nigel Slater.

The leaves are swept, the fire is lit, the evening will be spent around the table, candles burning.

The food this week has been more substantial than it has been for months. A tray of roasted pumpkin, crunchy with coriander seeds, and a tomato sauce thick with mint and basil. We ate an aubergine stew with chickpeas that had the deep warmth of ginger and garam masala.

It was even better the following day.

The sweeter spices — coriander, cinnamon and cumin — are those that are interesting me right now.

Spices with a softness and depth to them rather than the punch of chilli, they work perfectly with the sweet flesh of pumpkin and aubergine, a slow lingering warmth to flatter the vegetables’ sweetness. 

Roast pumpkin with tomato and yoghurt

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
You need a surprisingly hot oven to brown and sweeten the pumpkin slices, but not so hot that the spices burn. Plenty of olive oil is essential, as is the occasional turning of the golden squash as it roasts.

Serves 4

For the pumpkin

40g ginger

2 cloves garlic

3 tsp coriander seeds

5 Tbsp olive oil

1kg pumpkin

For the sauce

2 onions

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic

750g tomatoes

10 basil leaves

15 mint leaves

200g yoghurt


Heat the oven to 220degC. Grate the ginger to a puree on a fine grater into a large mixing bowl. Peel and crush the garlic and mix it with the ginger. Add the coriander seeds and oil and a grind of salt and pepper.

Cut the pumpkin in half and then into slices about 2cm thick, removing the seeds and fibres, but leaving the skin in place. Put the pumpkin slices into the mixing bowl, then toss with the aromatics, so the pumpkin pieces are evenly coated. Transfer the pumpkin to a foil-lined baking tray, tip over any remaining seasoning and oil then bake for about 40 minutes until soft and patchily brown.

To make the sauce

Peel and roughly chop the onions. Warm the oil in a large deep pan, add the onions and let them cook until soft and pale gold. Peel and finely slice the garlic and add to the onions.

Roughly chop the tomatoes and stir into the onion and garlic, season with salt then leave to cook over a moderate heat for about 35 minutes, giving the occasional stir to stop the mixture sticking.

You might find it helpful to partly cover the pan with a lid.

Put the yoghurt in a small bowl. Shred the basil leaves and the mint and stir into the yoghurt. When the sauce is thick, serve with the roast pumpkin and spoon over the herbed yoghurt.

Spiced aubergine with chickpeas

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
The addition of a teaspoon of sugar is essential to balance the spice paste. Make it the day before if you wish, heating it slowly on the hob before serving with lightly scorched flatbread or steamed white rice.

Serves 4, with steamed rice

For the spice paste

100g bottled roast peppers

2 cloves garlic

30g fresh ginger

2 Tbsp groundnut oil

2 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp ground coriander

1 Tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp paprika

1 Tbsp garam masala

For the chickpeas

2 aubergines

6 Tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil

1 onion

400g tomatoes

1 medium hot red chilli

1 400g can chickpeas

handful coriander

small handful parsley

12 large mint leaves

100ml yoghurt


Heat the oven to 200degC. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways, then score the cut sides in a lattice pattern, almost down to the skin. Put the aubergines in a baking or roasting dish, cut side up, and spoon over 4 tablespoons of the oil. Bake for 30 minutes until the flesh is soft enough to scoop out with a spoon.

Drain the peppers and put them in a blender or food processor. Then make the spice paste. Peel the garlic and crush it finely. Peel and grate the ginger. Warm the oil in a frying pan over a moderate heat then stir in the ginger and garlic. Let it sizzle for a moment or two then stir in the cumin seeds and coriander and fry until fragrant. Stir in the tomato puree and fry briefly, then add the sugar, paprika, a little salt and the garam masala. Tip the spice paste into the peppers, pulse to a rough puree, then scrape into a small bowl.

Peel and roughly chop the onion. Warm the 2 reserved tablespoons of oil in the vacant pan over a moderate heat and add the onion. Let it cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring regularly, until soft and sweet. Stir in the spice paste and continue cooking for a minute or two.

Chop the tomatoes and add them into the spice paste. Finely chop the chilli and stir it in, together with the drained chickpeas.

Remove the aubergine from the oven and scrape the flesh from the skin with a spoon, stirring it into the tomato and chickpeas. Partly cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.

Just before serving, chop the coriander, parsley and mint and fold in. Serve, with a trickle of yoghurt and steamed rice.

 — Guardian News and Media



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