This "recipe" (if you may call it that...rather it's a technique) is for those of you aubergine lovers, who like me, appreciate the SMOKY (in capital letters) flavour of charcoal grilled food (to me almost anything barbecued over wood coals tastes better). I'm saying this because the flavour is really intense and though to me it’s superb, many people who've tried it, to my surprise, find it too strong! So, I'm not sure how many of you might like it, but since I love it, I had to share it.
Do you know Yotam Ottolenghi? He's a talented chef from Jerusalem with Mediterranean influences, who gave name to a restaurant-take away in London (now with 4 branches) with fresh, healthy and appealing dishes, pastries and bread made with produce of the best quality. Their dishes were such a success that he, together with his partner, also chef at Ottolenghi Sami Tamimi, created a beautiful book with some of their most demanded recipes. I discovered this book on the net and had to get it, it didn’t disappoint me; it’s vibrant, the dishes are fantastic and the photographs reflect their philosophy. He recently published a new vegetarian book titled “Plenty” which I couldn’t resist getting as well…
All this, to tell you that in their cuisine, with strong Middle-Eastern influences, they use aubergines in many recipes…In dips they try to impart that aromatic smoky flavour by charring the aubergines, which they accurately name “burnt aubergine”. I’ve always done that with red peppers by roasting them over the flame on a gas hob at work (I cannot do that at home since I have induction! :( It wasn’t a choice!). But, I hadn’t yet tried it with the aubergine that way, so now that at work I have excellent gas hobs, I had to try it! I made the first, and ahhh, the charred aroma on the kitchen was fantastic…but the magic revealed itself once I peeled the completely burnt skin to find a tender, almost caramelised pulp with the most wonderful smoky flavour.
But like I say, to my surprise, not everyone appreciated it as much as I did. Linguini tried it and said it tasted like cigarette!!! Please do not believe him!!It is a really intense smoke flavour, true….But NO resemblance whatsoever to a cigarette! What else can I say? If you like aubergines, when cooked to melt-in-your mouth consistency and you do like smoky notes, you will love this…furthermore, it’s ready in 10 minutes!!!When the usual bland whole oven-roasting takes even longer than 40!!! You can just season it with garlic, lemon juice, salt & pepper, and olive oil to preserve all the aroma or blend it with some yoghurt to lighten it a bit or for other dips like baba ganuj. I hope you like it as much as I do!
Burnt aubergine spread
(for 1 aubergine)
1/2 garlic clove or more to taste
salt & freshly milled black pepper
drizzle of lemon juice to taste
1- 2 tbsp of mild flavour olive oil
optionally: 1 tbsp of greek yoghurt
Like I said, this isn’t really a recipe but a technique to char the aubergine to get that distinctive smoked flavour in a matter of a few minutes if you are lucky enough to have a powerful gas hob.
I guess there’s not really need as you’ll completely burn all the skin, but I like to wash & dry it anyway.
Then, just place the heat to a medium-high flame and with some thongs place the aubergine right above it. (Medium-high on this hob will most likely be high on any home hob…it should start to burn the skin within a minute, if it doesn’t raise it to maximum power).
Then once one side is burnt, you can see it crackles, turn it. This will take less than 5 minutes…
And just keep turning it to make sure all sides are equally burnt. It took me less than 10 minutes but depending on the gas power it may take longer. The idea is to burn it as quick as possible and surprisingly in such little time the inner flesh will collapse to a butter-soft consistency!
You can probably tell the pulp underneath looking a bit golden and the crackled skin. It’s almost ready…Once it is, just let it cool down enough to peel (this one is just off the fire!)
And look underneath the burnt skin! (try to remove as little of the pulp attached as possible)
And with the skin completely off:
As it cools it releases it’s tasty smoky juices. If you want a thicker spread, remove them (you can save them to impart that aroma to another dish) or leave them in for a softer dip.
And to me, it needs as little as the ingredients listed to season it. Just pound it with a pestle into a rough mash, or if you prefer blend it with a processor, but I prefer the texture of the pounded one (it’s so soft, even a fork will do). Then season it with salt and pepper, the grated garlic to taste, I like just a hint, something hot is optional (some dried chilli) and something sour: I use lemon juice, but it’s been over a year that I’m searching for pomegranate molasses (widely used in middle eastern countries and that Yotam Ottolenghi often adds for a sour and tasty kick!). Finally some oil to blend all and smooth the whole and…I LOVE IT!! See what you think!
I made some sourdough and as a bruschetta it was fantastic, no more seasonings, no decoration, no nothing, just tasty bread and sumptuous aubergine spread!
But served on a dish accompanied with some pitta bread to dip in, it should also be fantastic!