You know what happens when I go downtown at 9:30 AM, only to learn that my first Photoshop class is cancelled? I end up in Chapters, that's what. And I spend $100. For real. Bad, bad!
I can kind of justify at least $40 of it as an educational investment. See, I was thumbing through Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi thinking that this is the food photographer I want to be. Jonathan Lovekin, the man behind the gorgeous pictures throughout this book, is my food photography inspiration. His work is colourful and not overly stagey; these are the two key characteristics of what I like when looking at other people's pictures of food. There seems to be one style of food photography that people aspire to nowadays - perfectly staged and overexposed with blown-out whites - in pursuit of the traffic spike that comes with being accepted to Foodgawker or Tastespotting. Irony of ironies, if ever any of my photos were to be accepted there, it would probably be the one above, because it fits well with this trend. But regardless, I believe that there's room for creativity and individualism in food photography, and that people shouldn't worry so much about getting their pictures accepted to these websites.
Learn from others, but take the photos that you want to take. Develop a style that you are truly happy with instead of working toward a style that will bring you popularity. Wow. I sound like your high school guidance counselor.
Anyways, to food.
Good food photography should of course inspire you to eat, and that's exactly what Lovekin's picture did for me and burnt eggplants. Seriously. I would probably never have made this if there were no photograph to back it up. I'm not crazy about eggplants, but I burnt some and I loved the final product. It had a smoky depth of flavour brightened by pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and parsley. You can make it with or without the vegetables depending on your mood.
How to make homemade pomegranate molasses: You can find pomegranate molasses at specialty shops or places like Trader Joe's in the US. You can also make it yourself - it is so easy and the ingredients are readily accessible. I now have two books (Plenty and Turquoise) that use pomegranate molasses, so it was definitely worth it for me to make it. Here's what you do: Reduce one 473 ml bottle of POM juice, 1/4 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice to just over half a cup of total liquid. It should be quite syrupy. It will take about an hour to reduce that far.
burnt eggplant with tahini
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi
1 large eggplant
1/3 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt and pepper
3 mini cucumbers, diced (optional)
3/4 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (optional)
seeds from 1/4 large pomegranate
olive oil drizzle
- Turn your oven onto its hottest broil settings, put your oven rack on the second-highest spot and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Pierce your eggplant all over with a sharp knife (this is a very important step to prevent eggplant explosion!)
- When the oven is hot, broil your eggplant, allowing it to fully deflate and the skin to burn. Rotate it a few times. Mine took 45 minutes, but the book recommends a full hour.
- Allow your eggplant to cool, then cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh. Drain it for half an hour in a colander or sieve, then chop roughly.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Balance your seasonings by adding more molasses, lemon juice or garlic if necessary. Ottolenghi describes the desired flavour as "robust sour/slightly sweet."
- If using the optional vegetables, toss them in.
- Serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. With warm pita on the side, this makes a perfect lunch for two!