Fed up with crumbling pitta bread and soggy filo pastry? It's time for food parcels to go first class, says Mark Hix

I touched on the problem of the badly wrapped kebab a couple of weeks ago. I mean the way that, after you've queued for 15 minutes, the meat then falls straight through the stale bread and down your front, so before you know it your dinner's on the pavement. It's the last thing you need after a night out on the sauce.

I touched on the problem of the badly wrapped kebab a couple of weeks ago. I mean the way that, after you've queued for 15 minutes, the meat then falls straight through the stale bread and down your front, so before you know it your dinner's on the pavement. It's the last thing you need after a night out on the sauce.

This week I'm here to tell you about ways of wrapping food that are sophisticated and practical. OK, you probably wouldn't want to risk eating them standing up, but you can approach these parcels with a knife and fork, chopsticks or simply with your fingers and a close friend.

Do you remember the money-bag frenzy? Back in the 1970s and 1980s, and probably to this day in timewarp suburban restaurants, those dainty little filo purses tied up with chives, sitting in a pool of red pepper coulis, were all the rage. I'm just as guilty of buying into the money-bag business. As a young head chef in my mid-twenties I made them with all sorts of fillings from scallops and leeks to wild mushrooms. Trouble was unless they were assembled and cooked straight away, the filling made the bottom soggy, and it would end up stuck to the baking tray while the top of the bag came away in your hand. I think that sort of parcel should be consigned to history.

Wrapped-up food comes in all sorts of forms. A parcel can protect delicate foods, or make it easier to transport or eat on the move. A pastry wrapping can range from the smart version - en croute - to our own Cornish pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies. Ravioli are really miniature parcels, too. Or there are vine, banana and pandan leaves - all ready-made natural wrappings. Others, such as rice-paper sheets used for soft, fragrant Vietnamese rolls, are made for the purpose.

Baked goat's cheese vine leaves with asparagus and broad bean salad

Serves 4

Vine leaves usually have that slimy look, as most of the ones we come across in delis and uninspiring restaurants are straight out of a can. Inside them you'll seldom find anything more exciting than rice. If you have your own grape vine at home, pick large leaves and blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds. Otherwise buy leaves in flat vacuum packs and all you have to do is wash them. Stuffing the leaves isn't difficult, either. They can be filled with spiced minced meat mixed with crumbs, rice or cracked wheat, or chopped prawns, or, as I've done here, goat's cheese. Feta or goat's curd is fine, or any soft cheese come to that.

4 vine leaves, see above
150g fresh goat's cheese (not matured)
Olive oil for brushing

for the salad

450-500g green medium asparagus
120g shelled weight of small broad beans
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
8 quality black olives, stoned and finely chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/390ºF/gas mark 6. Cut the goat's cheese into four equal sizes, place each in the centre of a vine leaf and wrap up like a parcel. Cut the woody ends from the asparagus and cook the tips in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes until tender, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Cook the broad beans in the same water for 2-3 minutes until tender and drain. If the broad beans are large, the skins can be removed as they tend to be a little tough.

Mix the olive oil and lemon juice together with the tomatoes and black olives and shallots, and season. Cut the asparagus tips in half across their length and add them to the broad beans in a bowl, then mix with the tomato and olive dressing and arrange on plates.

Meanwhile brush the goat's cheese parcels lightly with olive oil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. With a spatula or palette knife transfer one on to each salad while still hot.

Stuffed aubergines with black bean sauce

Serves 4 as a main course

I have eaten this dish many times in the New Diamond in Lisle Street in London's Chinatown, in the early hours of the morning. Having failed to find it in any Chinese cook books, I often tried asking the waiters how it was made and what goes into it but it was probably as difficult for them to understand our question as it was for us to decipher their reply. I asked again at Wings in Woodford, Stockport (0161-432 5799), and Wing, the owner, knew exactly what I was talking about. He went straight to the kitchen and magicked up a couple while we sat tight and watched on the screens that show the chefs at work behind the scenes. Even that screening didn't leave me much the wiser about what they'd done, so I have come up with my own version.

In the New Diamond's way, the result can be a bit oily, as the aubergines absorb so much oil as they fry and then release it when the sauce is poured over. Don't worry if that happens: it won't alter the taste.

2 aubergines weighing about 400g each
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

for the sauce

1tbsp sesame oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
30g root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1tbsp rice or cider vinegar
4tbsp sugar
100 light soy sauce
200ml water
1 12tsp cornflour dissolved in 2tbsp water
2tbsp Chinese salted black beans, washed in cold water and drained

for the stuffing

350-400g fatty minced pork
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
20g root ginger, scraped and finely chopped
4 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1tsp Chinese five spice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the sauce. Gently cook the onion, garlic and ginger in the sesame oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft. Add the rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then stir in the cornflour mix. Bring back to the boil, add the black beans and simmer gently for a further 10 minutes before removing from the heat.

Meanwhile cut the ends off the aubergines and cut into 1 12cm-thick round slices. Lay them on a board and lightly sprinkle with salt on both sides and leave for 10 minutes.

While the aubergines are salting, mix all the ingredients together for the stuffing and season. Wash the salt off the aubergines and dry on a clean tea towel. With the point of a sharp knife make a 2-3cm slit through the skin of each aubergine slice and work the point of the knife into the flesh, almost to the edge of the skin but taking care not to pierce it, to make a pocket as large as you can. Push as much stuffing as possible into the pockets with your fingers, again being careful not to break the slices. Don't worry if the stuffing bulges out a little. It's hard to gauge exactly how much stuffing you need, and you may find you have either slices or stuffing left over.

Heat a non-stick pan with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and fry the aubergines on a medium heat, adding another tablespoon or so during cooking, for about 5 minutes on each side until a nice golden colour. You may need to do this in 2-3 batches depending on the size of your pan. Take out and drain on kitchen paper to absorb oil. Then return all the aubergines to the frying pan and add the black bean sauce, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 4-5 minutes turning the aubergines over after a couple of minutes. Serve with some sprigs of coriander.

Cinnamon fruit cigars

Makes about 10

Earlier this year I was in Havana. Not exactly a holiday, as I was doing dinner for 700 people at the annual cigar festival. But I wasn't on my own; our company, Caprice Events, worked with the chefs at the Hotel Nacional. Doing events abroad is never easy and what was to have been a sit-down dinner had to be converted into a stand-up cocktail party on the morning due to a heavy storm coming our way. Luckily the starters were large canapé-type snacks. One of these was spiced chicken stogies, with a paper band bearing the hotel logo around each one, presented in cigar boxes. You can use the same cigar-style wrapping for almost any filling, savoury or sweet, as long as it's not too wet. Cigar band optional.

150g dates, stoned
100g dried apricots, stoned
50g raisins
30g nibbed almonds
30g pistachios, chopped
1tsp ground cinnamon
40g butter, melted
1tsp icing sugar mixed with 1tsp ground cinnamon
10 sheets of filo pastry measuring 15cm x 15cm

Soak the dates, apricots and raisins in warm water overnight. Drain the fruit and chop it quite finely with a heavy knife, but don't be tempted to put it into a food processor as you may end up with a purée on your hands that won't bind in the filo pastry and will simply be a mess.

Mix the fruit with the nuts and cinnamon. Have the filo pastry sheets covered with a clean tea towel, otherwise, being pastry made without fat, they'll dry out.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/390ºF/gas mark 6. Lay a sheet of filo on a flat surface and put a couple of heaped teaspoons along the edge of the pastry nearest to you, spreading it into a strip, leaving about 1cm at either side. Fold these ends over to form a hem down each side, then brush all the pastry right to the edges with melted butter.

Now roll the pastry up as tightly as you can into a cigar shape and put it onto a buttered baking tray with the join facing down. Repeat with the other sheets of pastry and the rest of the mixture. Space the cigars out, leaving 3-4cm between them on the tray, then brush them with melted butter.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes until golden, then leave to cool on the tray for about 5-10 minutes for the cigars to crisp a little. Put the icing sugar and cinnamon into a fine-meshed sieve and dust the cigars by tapping the rim of the sieve against your hand over the cigars. Serve warm, with thick cream or yoghurt to dip them into, if you're eating standing up (these would end an evening barbecue nicely), or on the plate.

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