Over 10 years ago I spent some time in Greece at a close friend’s house. At that time I was pursuing a completely different career, far from the culinary world. But already one of the things that fascinated me most during my stay was watching my friend’s mom cook. She was a brilliant cook, from her I tried (and did my best at learning) the best spanakopita I have ever had, phyllo also from scratch! amongst other things. The family had a restaurant and one of the things that was love at first bite was “melintzanosalata”, the Greek take at a dip like baba ganoush. It literally means aubergine salad and even more than on baba ganoush (or muttabal) it’s focus is further on the aubergine, the smoked flavour of the aubergine in particular. That was the first time I ever encountered that “smoky” taste, I didn’t even know how they achieved it, but it blew me away.
Since, I am addicted to that flavour, which they later showed me it was imparted by roasting the whole aubergines over coals (I’ve achieved it by roasting it over flames, see the photo below). Anyhow, the dip was simply that smoky aubergine flesh, a tiny bit of garlic, lemon juice, a tiny amount of olive oil and after analyzing the dip day after day biting into tiny white speckles scattered in the creamy dip, what I figured to be feta cheese (here is a simpler version without the feta); all barely adorned with chopped fresh parsley. Aside from that dish, my friend’s mom also made a dish she named “melintzanosalata” by roasting the aubergines, opening them in half and turning the flesh into a paste quickly grating with a fork and mixing the same ingredients over it for a more appealing presentation served with red peppers roasted at the same time. It was heavenly!
Since this week I’ve been compulsively testing a few recipes that just don’t get where I want them to be, I present you that simple yet super tasty version of that melintzanosalata. You’ll find that not much explanation is needed as it’s a very simple dish which just involves roasting (whole or halved) seasoning to taste with salt, lemon juice and olive oil, that bit of garlic and scattered feta and some fresh herbs. Just decide if you’d rather roast whole for smoky notes (and less than 10 minutes once the fire is going!) or halved in the oven to not even waste the skin!
Roasted aubergine and feta salad
1 red pepper
salt & pepper to taste
1 small clove of garlic
40g olive oil plus extra to finish
drizzle of lemon juice
about 50g greek feta cheese (more or less to taste)
fresh parsley or oregano (I also used some lemon thyme)
If you are going to roast the aubergines in the oven, turn the heat on to about 220ºC. It’s pretty high so the aubergines roast rather than stew). Halve them, make 3 or 4 parallel cuts with a knife across the flesh (not reaching the skin) and repeat in the other direction to form a diamond pattern.
Brush the 40g of oil amongst all halves. It’s generous so that the aubergine cooks to a meltingly soft texture, without the oil it dries up and feels spongy. Then, season with some salt and pepper (just take into account that fetta is fairly salty, so don’t be overly generous!)
Roast with the pepper on the side over some foil to avoid dirtying the oven. I made more peppers for other dishes…
Roast the peppers until blackened on the outside or very blistered so it get’s buttery soft inside and very flavourful.
Roast the aubergines for about 25-30 minutes or until nicely golden and soft (sorry I forgot to take a shot!)
Serve on a platter, board or dish (or even on the baking dish if it’s nice looking!) grate the tops with the tips of a fork and taste to make sure it isn’t bland, in which case add a bit more salt…then will come the feta!
Finely grate a garlic with a microplane or pound well to a paste (otherwise you’ll get chunks that are not nice to find) and distribute amongst all halves.
Drizzle a bit of lemon juice, scatter the feta over, the peeled and chopped pepper and herbs of choice (as you know I like coriander a lot…well, here it goes well too, just a different flavour, not so mediterranean but still good). Drizzle with olive oil and serve!
If you prefer it cool, you can roast the aubergines a day ahead and then just do all the seasoning and scattering when you are ready to serve. Easy, simple, quick and tasty!
You can eat it all up with fork and knife…you’ll be just left with the stems of the aubergines!