Aubergine Tagine with Spinach

I bought two huge aubergine at a knock down price from my high road fruit and veg stall and one of them went into this very successful tagine. It was a big bruiser at 600g with its seeds noticeable when I cut it in half, so bothered to soak it in salted water to draw out any bitter juices but wouldn’t bother with smaller (say 200-300g fruit). It cooked to a buttery mess, mixed with chopped onion and tomato, pitted green olives and salt-preserved lemons (I keep an opened jar in the fridge for weeks on end but Belazu now sell a usefully small 220g jar), flavours sparked up with saffron and ras al hanout.  I served it with cous cous (1 full mug to 1 ½ mugs of boiling water with half a stock cube, squeeze lemon and dash of olive oil; left to hydrate then forked up 20 minutes later), sheep’s milk yoghurt and masses of coriander.

Serves 3
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 45 min

600g aubergine
2 large onions
4 tbsp olive oil
300g tomatoes
8 green pitted olives
2 salt-preserved lemons (Belazu Beldi)
2 tsp ras al hanout
generous pinch saffron
200ml vegetable or chicken stock
handful of baby spinach
handful of coriander

Trim and cut the aubergine in kebab-size pieces. Dissolve 2 tbsp salt in a mixing bowl, add aubergine and use plate to keep the pieces immersed. Leave for 20 minutes while you halve, peel and finely chop the onions. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a spacious, lidded frying/sauté pan over a medium heat and stir in the onion. Add a generous pinch salt and cook briskly, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes until beginning to soften. Tip the semi-cooked onion into a mixing bowl. Add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil. While the aubergine salts and the onion cooks, boil the kettle and pour boiling water over the tomatoes in a bowl. Leave for 45 seconds. Drain, cut out the core in a pointed plug shape, cut in quarters and swipe away the skin. Chop the flesh. Halve the olives round their middles. Quarter the lemons, scrape out the seeds and slice down the quarters in thin strips. Now back to the aubergine. Drain, rinse and pat dry the pieces. Heat the oil in the frying/sauté pan over a medium heat and stir in the aubergine. Keep tossing. It will suck up all the oil but adjust the heat and keep tossing until eventually the pieces will begin to wilt slightly, darken, turn glossy and juicy and soften. Add a tad more oil if necessary. Return the onion to the pan, stir to mix and heat through and sprinkle ras al hanout and saffron over the top. Stir in the stock, olives and lemon and establish a steady simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until you’re happy that everything is tender, flavours merged and the tagine is juicy rather than overly wet. Stir in the spinach, stirring until wilted. Chop the coriander and stir into the tagine just before serving now or later.