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Anatomy of a super trendy recipe

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

Recipe Amanda Lennon Photography Ben Dearnley Styling Emma Knowles Food preparation Harriet Davidson

I'm giving you all that extra information because these days it's not just about the food is it? It's a team effort. And there is so much more to say about styling of food that I shall leave the bulk of my thoughts on that to another day. However, just to look at this one, which is a particularly beautiful example I think. Check out how the colours of the bowls, the artfully arranged tea towel, the sesame seeds the tablecloth - or is it another tea towel, and the piece of wood underneath it all blend together - with the dark metal of the spoon and the stripe in the tea towel complementing each other. Not to mention the seeds on the dish and the eggplants underneath, and the shadow on the right. Then there are the browny orangey things - the bamboo chopsticks, the plate, the fried onions (is that what they are - or are they dried prawns?), the pumpkin, all brought together by the bright green zing of the endamame beans. It's quite stunning really. I wonder how long it took to bring it altogether? And of course one shouldn't forget the photographer who got the lighting just right.

The recipe is the second in a section on slow-cooked vegetarian dishes and I have to say they are all interesting and each one represents a particular kind of trend. This one leapt out of me though because it had just about everything that is currently hot - excepting ramen, some kind of hot sauce and a trendy green leafed vegetable. So let's check it out.

Slow-cooked. Well it's winter and that phrase slow-cooked is very wintry, conjuring up images of warm kitchens and comfort food. There is a distinct nostalgic element in that phrase 'slow-cooked' but the recipe itself is completely modern. Undreamt of and actually impossible in my youth. This recipe is also in a subsection of a larger section focussed on food cooked in slow cookers. Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine had one too. Slow cookers have featured in several editions of these magazines of late. Their moment has come. Although it's sort of a retro moment isn't it? I remember them being a big thing when I was a young cook. And I wasn't tempted to get one then either. Unlike Woolworths though, Coles have told you what to do if you haven't got a slow cooker. This particular recipe is just slow-cooked - well an hour which to me is medium slow really. But for those busy people focussed on quick and easy this wouldn't be for them.

Vegan - yes the inevitable vegan. I'm not sure how many vegan recipes there are in this edition, but the meat-free section in the index lists 16 recipes - not all vegan I'm sure - and there are probably a few others in the snacks, others, and desserts section. Interestingly there is also, in tiny print right in the fold of the page "Always check the label to make sure you're using vegan ingredients" as if it's dangerous to your health not to do this. I imagine that if you are vegan - which to my mind is pretty extreme - then you probably read all the tiny print on everything.

So going down the ingredient list: onions, garlic, eggplant. So far, so not incredibly trendy. Basic really although eggplant is not quite seasonal - no it's not seasonal at all and if you buy it at Coles it will set you back $7.90 a kilo. So this is not a dish for the poor. But then the poor are not going to be vegan I suspect. However, eggplant is a standard vegetarian/vegan ingredient as it is rich and meaty enough to be a good substitute for the real thing.

Miso paste. I really should buy some. It is everywhere. I can't be bothered to count in how many recipes in this magazine it appears but I bet it's a few. And every celebrity chef you see seems to rave about it. So if you consider yourself an up to the moment with the trend kind of cook, then you really should have some miso paste in your pantry. Yet another soy thing I think.

Soy sauce and star anise - I suppose these are pretty standard things for us all these days. Love them both. However, a note. This is not just soy sauce. It's 'salt-reduced soy sauce'. How do you do that? Isn't the salty flavour from the soy itself. Or do those evil bottlers add salt? I wouldn't put it past them I suppose. More for the small print readers.

Frozen edamame - well you can't get them fresh. But wait a minute - aren't edamame just soy beans by another name? So many forms of soy - must do a post on it someday. Whatever they are they are trendy. I think even my sister eats them. Not me. You could substitute broad beans though. Not that David likes them. Or flageolets - if you could get them.

Kent pumpkin - which is the one in season I think. Very Australian - pumpkin. I didn't know what it was when I first came here. I remember asking a greengrocer what it was and him being very taken aback. I mean it's ubiquitous isn't it? It was just an everyday ingredient back then. As common and ordinary as potatoes. Today it has been turned into a super health food beloved of just about every chef here in Australia. I don't know if that extends to the world. It certainly adds bulk to a vegetarian meal. Personally I can take it or leave it. It's not my favourite thing, although Bert Greene's curried pumpkin soup is a favourite.

Sesame seeds - black and white. This photograph was in that old Gourmet Traveller magazine and I couldn't resist including it here, although my scanner doesn't do it justice. In my youth you only ever saw sesame seeds sometimes scattered on the top of loaves, although poppy seeds were more normal. Sesame seeds though have become a bit like soy - so many different forms. A top health food, and the Middle-Eastern vogue has, of course, brought them into our homes in the form of tahini. Another topic for another time.

And finally - tofu - in this instance silken tofu, which for this recipe is just sliced and put on top. If you're vegetarian or vegan I guess you just have to come to terms with tofu. It's the basic meat substitute I think. Soy again.

So how do you cook this appetising dish? Well not quite how you expect. You fry the onion and garlic, then the eggplant, add the spices, mix altogether and cook for almost that hour. The pumpkin is roasted in the oven separately with the sesame seeds and the whole is served with eggplant on the bottom, pumpkin on top of that and the beans and tofu on top of that. Very frustratingly it doesn't really say what the crispy looking things are on top - those crispy onions you buy in the Chinese section in your supermarket?

You could do the same exercise on several other recipes in this magazine - or any recipe you find in any other magazine, on any other blog or from any TV program or cookbook. It's an interesting thing to do every now and then. At least I hope so.

It looks gorgeous, but I don't think it's really for me. Too much pumpkin, and I'm not a fan of soy beans or tofu - soy in general really - other than soy sauce which I do like a lot. Besides eggplant, as I said, costs a small fortune at the moment. More than some meat.

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