Oh aubergine! For so many years I sort of liked you, but could not find it in my heart to love you. You were fickle and so often sucked up too much oil, then sat there sadly in your intense oiliness. Yes, I was even a a little suspicious of those people who declared that they did love aubergines.
OK, perhaps a little dramatic, but it has taken me a while to get comfortable with cooking aubergines and to produce something delicious. I have had quite a few disasters over the years, coming to a head with what one dinner guest described as aubergine oil surprise (the surprise being just how much oil I had been able to use, but I was 21, a student and thought I was demonstrating the height of sophistication). What has probably come over to any regular readers by now is that I am always on the lookout for recipes that are tasty and dependable, and frankly, those that don’t involve too much effort if they are not for a special occasion.
Well, aubergine my love, I think I have found the recipe for you. This is one I saw at an Ottolenghi cookery demonstration recently, but in my normal way, I just took it as a rough guide and started making tweaks and improvising based on what I had in the cupboard. It is somewhere between a salad and a rich dip. The aubergines are burned over a gas flame, so they take on a charred, smokey quality. In doing this, I went for broke. Full flame, then stand back and mutter burn, baby, burn as the smoke rises and sparks fly off from charred aubergine skin. The fire alarm went off a couple of times, before I realised it would be smart to open all the windows. Also, don’t leave these things unattended in case you set fire to your kitchen. Can you imagine the shame? Well officer, I was charring aubergines on the hob in the quest for the perfect way to use them, and wouldn’t you believe it, they’re quite flammable…. Yes, a lot of drama, and all in the quest for flavour!
With the aubergines well and truly cremated, the magic comes with the rest of the ingredients – pomegranate molasses (thick, sweet, tart reduced pomegranate juice) adds kick, and a lot of tahini and a good glug of water combine the make a thick, creamy “sauce”. I know, it seems like a lot of water, but tahini plus water does the strangest thing, and actually thickens up. An extra spoon of tahini will also save a runny batch of hummus.
So how much do I love this? I think I will start to make this with all my aubergines from now on. I love it that much. Fellow diners agreed that this was fabulous. It is, by turns, rich, creamy, smoky, tangy, nutty and utterly delicious.
To serve 4:
• 2 large aubergines
• 140g tahini paste
• 120ml water
• 1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 30g chopped parsley
• 1/4 cucumber
• 180g cherry tomatoes
• Olive oil to finish
• Salt and black pepper
To cook the aubergines: pierce the aubergine a few times. Turn on a gas cooker, place the aubergine on top, and allow to char. You will need to turn it a few times to ensure it is burnt all over, and watch them in case they start a fire! It is done when the flesh is tender (10-15 minutes). Allow to cool.
To prepare the salad: remove the burnt skin from the aubergines. If there is a lot of liquid, place in a sieve and allow to drain for 30 minutes.
Chop the flesh roughly (we still want some texture), and place in a large bowl with the tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper. Mix well, and add salt and pepper to taste. If it seems a little too liquid, add another spoonful of tahini and mix again.
Remove the seeds from the cucumber. Slice the cucumber finely and add to the salad. Halve the tomatoes, and add to the salad. Stir gently to distribute them in the mixture.
Serve in a wide bowl. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and scatter a few halved cherry tomatoes and some chopped parsley.
Worth making? This salad was sensational. I tried it at the cookery demonstration and was wowed by it (I stood there making mmmmmm noises, much like everyone else), and I was thrilled that I could reproduce this at home. It is a much more robust dish than typical aubergine dip, and makes a lovely addition to a summer lunch. The only tricky bit is charring the aubergines, which you could easily do ahead of time.