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The bleak January weather makes me long to be in sunnier climes. The next best thing is to be eating something delicious from somewhere beautiful and exotic, so I’m perusing my Claudia Roden Mediterranean Cookery and Moro Cook books. Both make the connections between southern European and Middle Eastern cuisines and are inspirational.

I can’t resist aubergines (though I hated them as a child). Two favourite dishes are Baba Ghanoush – a garlicy aubergine dip served with flat bread and Imam Bayildi – ‘the Imam fainted’ as apparently he did on tasting such a delicious dish. For Baba Ghanoush we bake our aubergines in the oven with the skins on but do remember to pierce them first as we once had a dramatic explosion. We like a good dry sherry with this or the sherry-like Domaine Ferrer-Ribière.

 

Imam Bayilidi

 

Middle Eastern meat dishes are very interesting because the flavours hark back to ancient times when cinnamon, dried fruits and indeed sugar were used (remember that mince pies were originally made with mince meat). This can be quite strange for our modern palates so I tend to leave out sugar from recipes. However a lamb tagine with apricots has enough sharpness to balance out the sweetness and manages to be both wintery and exotic at the same time. I serve it with bulgur wheat cooked with cinnamon and broken vermicelli which gives off a heavenly scent. Try a robust North African wine with this – Alan Graillot’s Tandem: Syrah Du Maroc 2009 would be perfect.

Shop baklava and dates are an easy way to finish off a Middle Eastern feast – Christine Campadieu’s heady Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls Réserva would be an ideal accompaniment.

By: Pippa Goldfinger