Tag Archives: eggplant

Ottolenghi’s aubergine with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Spongy, meaty, melting flesh.

Sounds revolting, you say. I couldn’t agree more – but aubergine defies seductive prose; it is what it is. Most people I know (whose opinion on aubergine I have heard) either love it or hate it. You’re lucky if you love it, there is this entire galaxy of yummy dishes involving this pretty purple vegetable that you’d miss out on if you didn’t!

This vegetable has been present in my world for a very long time. When I was a child growing up in Southeast Asia, we called aubergine “brinjal” and I remember tasting it in spicy, slow-cooking curries; braised with minced pork, tofu and chilli, etc. The texture interested me; so different it was from [less defined/straightforward than] crunchy carrots or leafy kai-lan or soft chewy mushrooms. And the taste – so bland and so distinctive all at once. Always different, it seemed, depending on how it was cooked. It was a mini mystery. I didn’t like or hate it, but it certainly always held my attention if it was anywhere on the table.

In recent years, I’ve experienced this vegetable in whole new ways, and grown to really enjoy it. Baba ghanoush. Roasted/stuffed eggplants. Ratatouille. Aubergine cooked with pasta. And I’ve mostly called it “aubergine” or “eggplant”, along with everyone else here in New Zealand.

As I write this post, I realise that I haven’t associated this vegetable with the brinjal of my childhood for some time… Shakespeare might have been on to something when he wrote “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but to me, a brinjal by another name spells entirely different types of dishes (and borders on appearing to be a different vegetable entirely).

Anyway. Today, I chanced upon a lovely recipe with a photo so pretty I couldn’t resist trying it – especially when I saw aubergines for sale at less than $3 each!

Enter Ottolenghi, an aubergine, and an oven…

And this was my dinner tonight: colder than most dinners in terms of temperature, but warm in the thoughts it brought. For some reason, the dish made me think of Christmas and Morocco, and I started humming Christmas carols midway through dinner (flatmates out this evening, thank goodness ;-).

This dish would be better as a starter than as a main, I feel; but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and was satisfied afterwards. The colours are beautiful (my photos here are too bright; the real life version was great). It leaves your mouth feeling clean and good. The flavours take some getting used to when you first taste it – but what you get in the end is the tender strength of the aubergine, a tzatziki-type garlic-scented yoghurt and buttermilk sauce, heady and smoky sweet herbs, crunchy sweet pomegranate, notes of citrus from the lemon, and salt and pepper to finish it. It’s hard to adequately describe… but the combination works. I suspect the original version, with za’atar (which I haven’t tried but which Google says is amazing), would be delicious too.

A bonus? Not much prep/washing up for this one! Second bonus: this is one of those recipes for which you can double/halve the ingredients exactly and have it turn out – great for dinner parties.

    Ingredients:
    1 large and long aubergine
    Olive oil
    Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 pomegranate (I used 1/2 of a pack of pomegranate seeds from the supermarket)
    1 tsp za’atar (with no za’atar, I used mixed herbs + fennel seeds + salt + pepper)
    1 wedge of lemon
    For the sauce:
    700ml buttermilk
    50g Greek yogurt
    1 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish off
    1 small garlic clove, crushed
    Pinch of salt
    Method:
    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Wash the aubergine and cut it in two lengthways through the green stalk (retain the stalk for decorative purposes only). Make three or four deep parallel incisions in the cut side of the aubergine (do not go as far as the skin). Then, make three or four diagonal cuts – you will now have a diamond pattern.
    Line an oven tray with foil or baking paper, and place the aubergines, cut side up, on it – brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 30-35 minutes. When you can smell something delicious, and the flesh is soft and well-browned, remove the aubergine from the oven and leave to cool.
    While the aubergine halves are in the oven, cut the pomegranate in two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, and knock the skin with the back of a wooden spoon, letting the seeds fall into the bowl. Once all are out, sift through the seeds to remove any white skin bits. I just used a packet of pomegranate seeds, so I didn’t have to do this step.
    In a separate bowl, whisk together the ingredients listed under “sauce” above, taste for seasoning and pop it into the fridge.
    To serve, put an aubergine half on a plate, flesh side up. Add a generous amount of sauce on it without covering the stalk, then sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and za’atar if you have it (or a herb/spice rub – see my notes above), and finish with a drizzle of olive oil + a sprinkle of lemon juice.
    Yields two entrée-sized servings, or one refreshing main.

P.S. This was published a while ago, but oh still so good to read!

It started when he said “baba ghanoush”

I visited the Auckland City Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning with K, where we lapped up sunshine, pastries and creamy ginger lattes. I also picked up some salad leaves and edible flowers (sandwich ingredients for the week), and a tub of some very delicious tahini!

…Tahini. Back in 2007, this lovely couple introduced me to the wonders of tahini on toast (amongst other things along the lines of havarti and gouda cheese – dangerous!) I remember a time when I spread tahini on every slice of bread I ate. It was like a sesame version of peanut butter – except nuttier and lovelier… novel, I guess, is the word to describe it.

This last Saturday, I chanced upon this stall at the market and chatted briefly with Yinon, the friendly owner and he mentioned the magic words – “baba ghanoush” – which got me thinking…

I’ve only ever had baba ghanoush out of a tub from the supermarket – and in my mind, it’s always been something under the same category as pesto and hummus. Something to slop on bread or on crackers, occasionally with cheese and cracked pepper. It’s never crossed my mind to try making it.

So when Yinon talked a little about the process of making baba ghanoush – baking the eggplants, scooping out the flesh and all, I thought I’d give it a try. I looked up recipes online and jotted down the ingredients I would need, and headed to the supermarket with Mandy late on Saturday evening.

In the end, I didn’t make baba ghanoush. I added capsicum to the list of standard ingredients and didn’t measure ingredient proportions. Mostly because we were running out of time and I was trying to bake a brownie for an evening gatherine too…

So we ended up with something not quite bona fide baba ghanoush, but fun to eat nevertheless. I sliced the eggplants in half and baked them for around 30 minutes – then fried the eggplant flesh with garlic and sliced capsicum, then added the juice of one lemon, a pinch of cumin, a tablespoon of my spices from Morocco, salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of tahini to the mix.

One marvellous thing about food, I find, is that one idea leads to another, one ingredient to many great things. In cooking, I don’t believe it is necessary to follow all recipes with biblical obedience – far better to read it like a story, work with basic methods and leave it to experimentation/inspiration when implementing (one exception is certainly this magic brownie from Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette which requires no modification).

Dinner loosely resembled a mezze platter – eggplant and tahini dip, toasted Turkish bread, fresh cucumber slices, fried venison meatballs and sauteed mushrooms.

Overall a fun dinner, and we all agreed the texture of the eggplants may not have been a bad thing after all (more ‘solid’ than baba ghanoush) but I think next time I will include a little less tahini in it, and skip the meatballs. Alas, meatballs and I have trouble getting along in the kitchen – they turned out browner than burnt chocolate and still rather flushed in the middle after 40 long minutes in the pan. Pfft!

For fresh tahini, harissa chilli and other such yummy foods, stop by:
The Chilli Factor – Saturday mornings at Auckland City Farmers’ Market, behind the Britomart Trainstation on Gore Street – look for Yinon! – Phone: 021 141 7348

For more information on your local farmers’ markets or to vote for your favourite market/producer/stallholder (and be in to win a fantastic prize) – visit
http://www.tastefarmersmarkets.org.nz :-)