Last year, I attempted to solve the age-old problem of what do you serve vegetarians for Christmas dinner? with a mushroom, chestnut and spinach Wellington. I was happy to see that a couple of my friends did actually make this dish over the festive period and enjoyed it, but it was not to everybody’s taste. A conversation thread on Facebook after posting the recipe alerted me to the fact that many vegetarians are exasperated by the prominence of mushrooms in meat-free recipes. One friend, who is allergic to mushrooms, said that he often went hungry at weddings due to the never-ending mushroom risottos, mushroom stroganoffs and wild mushroom tarts that caterers tend to favour. A couple of other vegetarian friends simply couldn’t stand them. I can see why mushrooms are often the go-to for vegetarian dishes – they are cheap, have a strong savoury flavour and provide a robust, almost meaty texture to a dish that is difficult to achieve with other vegetables. In this conversation, I mentioned that I once had an aubergine and red pepper strudel at a friend’s house, and they seemed far more interested in this.
It’s not a very seasonal recipe for the bleak mid-winter, but the ingredients are readily available and it’s a break from the abundance of root veg that I seem to be cooking with at the moment. I had some filo pastry in the freezer from some samosa-like parcels I have been working on and half a bag of spinach from the weekend’s curry. I also had a jar of red peppers and a jar of olives in the fridge. Roasted red peppers in jars are one of my all-time favourite storecupboard staples – they taste great and take away the need to laboriously roasting and peeling fresh peppers. My local shop, Barry’s Food Store in East Dulwich, sells a large jar for £1 and when you consider that one fresh pepper from a supermarket costs in the region of 85p, this is very cheap indeed. This is also a very simple dish to make – the only tricky part is cooking the aubergine over the gas burner on the cooker, which can smoke out your kitchen if you don’t keep an eye on it. The reason for doing this that it gives the aubergine flesh a wonderfully smoky flavour. You can roast it in the oven instead, but you won’t get the same effect.
This recipe serves four, if you need to feed a larger group, I would suggest making two strudels, rather than trying to make one larger one as the filo sheets often come in a standard size.
Smoked Aubergine, Red Pepper and Spinach Strudel
- 1 medium aubergine
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
- 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 roasted red peppers (from a jar, see above)
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
- Zest of half a lemon
- 75g green olives, roughly chopped
- 150g baby spinach
- 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
- Sea salt and black pepper
- 6 sheets filo pastry
- 1 egg, beaten
Pierce the aubergine a few times with a fork and place on the open flame of a gas cooker. As the skin blackens, use tongs to keep turning the aubergine to make sure that it is cooked on all sides. This should take around 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you can roast the aubergine in the oven for around 20 minutes. Leave to cool slightly then peel off the blackened skin and roughly chop the flesh. Seat aside.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and cook the sliced onions until they soften, around 10 minutes. Add the roasted red peppers, chopped aubergine, cherry tomatoes, garlic, cumin seeds and all-spice and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives and lemon zest.
Wilt the spinach under boiling water, then drain and squeeze out any excess liquid. Roughly chop and stir into the vegetables. Stir in the Greek yoghurt, salt and pepper and check the seasoning, adding a little more if necessary.
Place a sheet of filo on a work surface and brush with olive oil. Place another sheet on top and repeat the brushing. Repeat this process until you have six layers of filo – do not brush the top layer with oil. Spread the filling along the short end of the pastry, leaving a couple of inches at either side and a large space at the bottom. Tuck in the sides and roll the pastry towards you until the filling is completely encased. Carefully transfer to a baking sheet, seam side down, and brush with a little egg wash. Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes until the pastry is golden. Serve in slices.
Adapted from a recipe by Pieminister.