Some while back there was an advert on Greek TV for a brand of feta cheese. It showed a traditional village home with a man eyeing up a tray of freshly cooked stuffed vegetables – he calls out to his wife to see if he can have some. A rather old-fashioned, elderly lady comes into view. ‘No!’ she yells, while taking a photo with her IPad ‘They’re for the blog !’
One of the first things you realise when you start blogging is that great photos are really important for the look of the whole thing – the next thing you discover is that photographing food is really tricky. With everyone snapping their dinners for Instagram and Facebook, there is a common belief that we’re all up to the task. The fact is that, mainly, we aren’t !We’ve all heard of major chef’s banning customers from photographing food in their restaurants – and you can get where they’re coming from. If you have used all your skill and talent producing an incredible dish, only for some amateur to take a really bad photo and post on the worldwide web, you must feel a bit miffed. To be honest, you need to be a real pro to know how to do it.
The fact is that a lot of commercial food photography is managed and manipulated. Meat is photographed undercooked and then ‘grilled’ with a blow-torch, stacks of sandwiches may be held up with cardboard, mashed potato is the body-double for ice-cream… I’ve even heard of green beans being glazed with hairspray. So when the poor newbie food photographer comes to getting pics of ‘real’ food, the results can be extremely disappointing. Let’s face it, most properly cooked food is not photogenic !
I cook a lovely vegan dish, tourlou-tourlou, that is really tasty. It’s a Greek staple, super-easy to make, and perfect for using up any vegetables left at the bottom of your fridge. To be tourlou it must have some aubergines and courgettes in the mix but, to be honest, this is rustic cooking at its best, so you can add anything you have to hand. I love putting in some peppers and green beans but that’s just my preference. A couple of cloves of regular garlic are a ‘must’ but this time I used black garlic. I know it’s not easy to get hold of, but if you do have any, it makes for a much deeper and slightly smoky flavour. Tourlou-tourlou is the kind of dish that would have been taken to the local baker to be cooked in their wood-fired oven – maybe the black garlic evokes a little of those flavours.
So, you take all your veg, sauté it in lovely olive oil, add the crushed garlic, diluted tomato puree and bake it in the oven for about half an hour or so. The result is an unctuous, gooey casserole, crying out for hunks of good bread to mop up the sauces. The problem is that it looks a mess – it’s name, tourlou-tourlou, actually does mean ‘all messed up’.
You can make it look beautiful with crisp, bright green courgettes and beans, distinct chunks of aubergine and slices of vivid peppers. The photos will look great but the taste will be really disappointing. So I’ve decided to share the ‘ugly’ recipe – I gave the photos my best shot but they are what they are !
I’d just like to confirm that no hairspray was used in the presentation….
2 small red onions, cut longwise into sixths or eighths, depending on size.
1 large or 2 medium aubergines, cut into chunks
3 courgettes, also in chunks
1 large green or red pepper (or both) cut into chunks.
Any other vegetables can be added to suit your taste and fridge leftovers. I like a few green beans – it’s probably a good idea to blanch bigger ones for 3-4 minutes before adding them to the pan. Chunks of potato are a nice addition too – these need to be sautéed like the other vegetables.
1 large tablespoonful of tomato purée, diluted in 200ml water
2 cloves black garlic, well crushed
Salt and ground black pepper
Take a large frying or sautée pan and pour in a good glug (probably a couple of tablespoonfuls) of olive oil and heat it up.
Add the onions and sautée them, stirring them frequently until they’re just starting to caramelise. Spoon them out into a large baking dish or roasting tin.
Add a bit more oil to the frying pan and sautée them in batches, putting each batch in turn to the baking dish.
Add the crushed garlic to the frying pan and cook it briefly in the residual oil. Now add the diluted tomato purée and bring to a steady simmer. Season with salt and pepper and then remove from the heat. Pour the garlic-tomato mixture over the sautéed vegetables, drizzle with a little more oil and mix well. If it seems a little dry, it’s fine to add a cupful of water. The vegetables need to be sitting in plenty of sauce but not completely covered in it.
Mix well and bake on a pre-heated oven at 185 degrees for 40 minutes. While it’s cooking, stir the vegetables from time to time, to make sure that they cook evenly.
Serve as a main dish with plenty of bread and slices of salty feta. Tourlou-tourlou goes really well with grilled or barbecued chicken and lamb as well.