In his (vegetarian) cookbook Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi mentions that this is the meal he cooks to impress people, and I do too – especially if I’m heading to a picnic. That said, unlike many of his dishes, it’s actually surprisingly easy, with no very unusual ingredients. You can find rice vinegar (and soba noodles) in Sainsbury’s ‘special selection’ area, but I’m sure any light, low-flavoured vinegar will do if you can’t put your hands on it (especially since it’s a little expensive). Ditto other noodles, but soba does have a deliciously nutty buckwheat tang.
“Delicious salad, with the freshness of mango, sumptuousness of fried aubergine and oriental bite of lime and chilli dressing”
Basically you just fry the aubergine, mix the dressing, and combine the rest of the ingredients. Easy!
This is based on his recipe, in the fantastic bible of fresh and delicious veggie food that is Plenty. You can see a (slightly different) version on Guardian Food.
I have made a couple of changes, for my preference:
Firstly, don’t use 300ml of oil. That would be COMPLETELY disgusting. The recipe in the book actually says 220ml (and 250g noodles rather than 300g, which is handy, since they tend to be sold in 250g bundles), but I used about 100ml, doing it in three batches (which is only moderately disgusting). The most important thing to realise about the step of frying the aubergine is that it will immediately suck up all the oil in the pan. But just keep stirring when it’s on the heat, and slowly but surely most of the oil will leak back out into the pan. Each batch will take about 5-8 minutes.
Don’t peel and chop a mango: life’s too short. Buy it pre-diced (though you might want to chop it a bit smaller).
- 120ml rice vinegar
- 40g caster sugar
- ½ tsp salt (plus 1 tbsp to dust aubergine when draining)
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 lime, zest and juice
- 300ml sunflower oil
- 2 aubergines, cut into 2cm dice
- 250g soba noodles
- ½ red onion, sliced as thinly as you can
- 1 large pack chopped mango, cut into 1cm dice
- 40g basil, chopped
- 40g coriander, chopped
- Heat a third of the sunflower oil in a large pan (I use a wide-based wok-like pan with a flat centre), and heat on a really hot hob. Carefully fry a third of the aubergine for 5 to 8 minutes until golden-browned. Be patient, and you’ll see that whilst the aubergine soaks up all the oil initially, after a while quite a bit will leak back out. Remove and drain in a colander, sprinkled with a tsp of fine salt. Add some more oil and repeat with another two batches.
- Cook the noodles according to packet – 5-8 minutes. Rinse with cold water, and pat dry.
- Mix vinegar, sugar and salt in small pan, and heat for a minute to dissolve sugar. Add garlic, chilli and sesame oil, cool, then add the lime zest and juice and stir together.
- If you’re eating straight away, mix all the ingredients and serve. Otherwise, reserve half the herb and the dressing while combining everything else, and mix in just before serving.