Burnt Aubergine

Burnt Aubergine

Under direct heat and roasted whole, with the skins and stems still on, these aubergines steam inside their own skin as it chars.

Although I’d roasted aubergines whole before, I never thought of peeling and serving them whole until I saw someone do it.

I cook them as high up as possible in the oven – close to the broiler/grill but without being in direct contact. Despite it being an oven and not a BBQ (which I would highly recommend using if you have one), the result is subtly smokey.

As it chars, the skin blackens and tightens. Once both sides have charred, and after letting them cool a little so you don’t scald your fingertips, the crispy skins peel easily, leaving the whole but tender and squishy aubergine meat behind. If you leave the stem on (don’t eat it!), they even keep their shape (almost).

They are delicious warm or cold. I treat them as a stand-alone dish, with a salad or something fresh on the side.

I usually make a spiced dressing to drizzle over (the spice blend below is just an idea), and finish them off with a sprinkle of nuts to bring some crunch to balance the buttery aubergine.

If, on a general note, you’re on the fence about aubergines in general, pick any of the many recipes for it on one of Ottoleghi’s books, make it, and if you’re still not converted, it’s probably because you’ve followed the recipe wrong.

If all else fails and you’re lucky to befriend (or as in my case date) someone from the Caucasus (or middle east) – ask kindly to be invited for dinner.

I used to just about tolerate aubergines, until the Azerbaijani mother of a (then) boyfriend came visit and and started cook for us. If the charred aubergines smothered in garlic and smetana (soured cream I guess), or under a layer of finely chopped tomatoes doesn’t convert you, then nothing will.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized aubergines
  • A handful of crushed dried edamame beans, or other roasted nuts

For the dressing

  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small garlic clove, grated
  • 1 small piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1pinch of chilli powder
  • 1 pinch xylitol
  • A splash of apple cider vinegar (or lime juice)
  • 2 tsp tamari
  • A good lug of extra virgin olive oil

Method

Place the whole aubergines side by side onto parchment paper in an oven tray or dish. Ideally the tray will be lipped to collect some of the juices that will ooze out during the baking process.

Put the tray high up under the broiler/grill of the oven, for 15-20min or so. Keep an eye on it, but you want it to properly blister.

Once the tops are blackened, take the tray out of the oven and carefully flip the aubergines upside down trying not to smush or pierce the skins. I do it by grabbing the stalks (if you do it quickly it doesn’t burn much), and use a spatula to flip them over.

Place back in the oven for another 15-20min to char the other side.

When done the skin might be tight, but the aubergine will feel squishy inside.

Take the aubergines out of the oven, cover them with a clean kitchen towel, and let them steam as they cool for 10min or so while you make the dressing.

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients except the vinegar, oil and tamari in a peste and mortar and grind it to a paste. Add the tamari and vinegar, and grind the liquid into the dry ingredients for a few moments. Then drizzle in the olive oil, and stir to create a homogenous runny liquid paste.

By now the aubergines should be cool enough to handle. To peel them, simply grab the stem with one hand, pick a little corner of the skin with the other, and start peeling it away in strips. It really does come off that easily if the aubergines are fully cooked and soft.

Gently place the soft flesh onto a serving bowls, and finish it off with the dressing and chopped nuts.

Don’t forget to also add the juices leftover on the baking tray – these mix with the dressing and are great for dunking bread into or scooping up with the spoon as you go.

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