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.
1 large and long aubergine
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:
50g Greek yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish off
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of salt
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!