It’s not in Microsoft Project. When we have update meetings about it we don’t sip tea made with a Zip Tap or nurse lukewarm lattes.
There’s a bit of travel on the horizon this year. That’s our project. And this is how our plan works.
Each month of the year has been mapped with a white square and some blue tack. The same has happened to our top destinations. We then match them to a month. When the jaunt is booked, the corresponding square gets a star in its corner from a very fetching green highlighter.
Those ones floating out to right, like a flock of itinerant birds are excursions yet to find a home.
The nights that we spend with the project plan are good ones. In the next couple of months there’s a jaunt to Switzerland, to see if I remember how to ski.
There’s a quick weekend in Cairo planned and a few days Morocco.
There are mooted plans for Amsterdam and a lovely long weekend in San Sebastian with my Mum. We’re looking forward to taking her and my step dad to the magical Asador Etxebarri.
But what I’m really excited about is one that’s affixed all the way down the bottom of the chart- it’s Turkey. And it’s mainly for the food. I love Turkish food. Really, really love it. The murky spices, the pebbles of meat, the way yogurt is bullied around by the assertive tug of garlic. The eggplants. Oh. The eggplants.
It’s a kind of food I very rarely make at home. That’s about to change.
It started with an eggplant.
An eggplant, some green lentils and some basic mince. It’s not quite İmam bayıldı- the famous Turkish eggplant dish that translates as ‘The Imam fainted’- but it’s a riff on it. Here there’s no excess of olive oil to baste it and braise it- but for that, my thighs say thank you.
So this is what we did. We carved out the bellies of the eggplants. The chopped insides joined with a dice of brown onion- fried until brown and soft in a mix of garlic, cinnamon, cumin and ground coriander. They then got jumbled in with a mix of cooked green lentils and beef mince- though I think lamb would also be lovely. For some extra flavour I added a tablespoon of orange zest, because it seemed exotic, a good tablespoon of chopped coriander stems and half a diced chilli.
The eggplant boats sat in a casserole dish that with the contents of a can of cherry tomatoes and two bay leaves. Their bellies were filled up with the meat and lentils and off they went into the oven for an hour and a quarter at 180 degrees. I covered them in foil for the first hour so the eggplants could soften. When they were wilting when pressed I took off the foil and browned the top.
On the side there was a funny little yoghurt condiment- ribbons of carrot made with a vegetable peeler, two cloves of garlic and enough natural yogurt to bind it all together. I then added a handful of coriander leaves and another of sunflower seeds.
We ate it with toasted wholemeal pita bread, mixing the tomatoes into it all and using the bread to scoop up the last good bits.
We ate it out of bowls on the couch, under the shadow of the project plan.
While we ate I looked up at where Istanbul sat on the plan and got a little bit more excited with every bite.
I might have to shuffle some things around up there.
Stuffed Eggplant with some Turkish spices
Serves 2 (though I made triple of the mixture for left overs…it made a great pita bread sandwich filling the next day )
200 grams of beef or lamb mince
1 tin of lentils, rinsed, or 300 grams of cooked green lentils
1 red onion
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of ground coriander
1 bunch of coriander
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon of orange zest
1 tin cherry tomatoes
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of olive oil
(You’ll also want to have some sort of combination of yoghurt and garlic on the side).
1 large dutch oven/ pan. 1 ceramic baking dish. Foil.
Here’s how we roll
1. Cut the eggplant in half lengthways. With the flat side facing up, draw an oval with your knife, so there’s a 5mm border. Score the interior with your knife, like you would an avocado to get cubes out for guacamole. Using a soup spoon then scrape the surface until you have a shell. Try really really hard not to pierce the bottom. Put the shells to one side and finely dice the eggplant you’ve scooped out.
2. Toast the dry spices in the bottom of a dutch oven, over a medium heat for a minute until they smell particularly heady. Add the lentils and the mince to the pan to brown.
3. In a fry pan, fry the garlic, onions and eggplant in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
4. When the onion and eggplant are soft and brown, add them to the mince and the lentils. Add the grated ginger, chopped coriander root, orange zest and chilli to your taste.
5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Empty a tin of cherry tomatoes into the base of a ceramic baking dish. Pop two bay leaves in the bottom. Fill the eggplants with the mixture. It doesn’t matter if it piles up high.
6. Cover with foil and bake for an hour. Check how the eggplants are doing. If they seem soft when you poke them then take the foil off for the last 15 minutes.
7. Serve with toasted pita bread or Turkish bread and some combination of yogurt, garlic and coriander leaves.