I love this method of cooking aubergines – it’s so very versatile and I use it as a dip, a purée, and I’ve even used it in a vegetarian lasagne in place of the béchamel sauce. That lasagne is definitely a topic for another post as it’s pretty fabulous. Most recently, however, I’ve used this as a purée paired with some spiced pork loin and made a more rustic version for a Persian style menu I cooked recently for an Iranian friend of mine and his lovely girlfriend (she’s also organising my Stag Do later this year – I’m officially a little terrified!).
When I paired this with the spiced pork, I was cooking for four generations and I must admit I was initially a little nervous that the little ones wouldn’t like it. I shouldn’t have been though, because not only did they gobble it up, when I saw them next they made me make it again and had it on crackers. Apparently this is a brilliant way to get kids to eat some veg. Though, to be fair, these guys are not really picky eaters – the 7 year old had sushi for his last birthday party… perhaps atypical! They’re brilliant little kids though and I was chuffed they liked it.
Because I had kids coming, I kept the spicing fairly neutral, just a little garlic and cumin. However, you can really go wherever you want with this – I have in the past added blitzed up preserved lemon (delicious and tangy) or I’ve added a lot of heat from paprika, cayenne pepper and garlic for a fiery, smoky and vibrant purée. I even tried the fusion route by spicing it strongly with Spanish/Moorish spices (paprika, cumin, sumac) and mixing it into a croquetta base (essentially a very thick béchamel) before breading and frying into aubergine croquettas – to be honest they were fairly epic!
Maybe I shouldn’t get so over enthusiastic about a dip, but I love the smoky, garlicky, tahini kissed flavour and the texture can be changed to suit the dish or your own taste. Shredded aubergine I find works very well or you can go for velvety smooth as I have above – it’s your choice. You can make it four or five days in advance – if you’re serving as a dip then just allow it to come to room temperature but as a warm purée you just heat in a little oil gently before plating. The secret to it is in the roasting and draining of the aubergines. If you’re lucky enough to cook with gas (or have a coal barbecue) then it will be even better as you can get more smokiness into your aubergines. I have to use our oven, but you still get a fantastic smoky note which is totally brilliant. You’re trying to get some char on the aubergines, almost as if you burnt them – don’t worry you’ll take off the skin and get rid of it.
However, the real secret step is draining the cooked aubergine. Here, I drained them in a colander set over a bowl for about 25 minutes, if you want to speed the process up, you can actually use a salad spinner and they’ll be drained in under a minute. I’m a patient soul, however, and so the 25 minute wait was ok for me (actually no, I just don’t own a salad spinner). If you don’t drain the aubergine then your dip/purée will end up watery and insipid, it will also have a lightly bitter flavour which seems to leach out with the water. I can’t stress the importance of this step enough – hope you enjoy!
Aubergine Purée (Dip)
(this is a fairly large serving but I tend to make it in these quantities and keep in the fridge as it keeps for over a week)
- 4 aubergines
- Olive oil
- 2 tbsp tahini (or to taste)
- 2 cloves garlic (puréed with the flat of a knife – see below for tip)
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- Optional spices to taste (see above)
- Preheat your oven as high as it will go (in my case 250) or place it on the grill setting. Place your aubergines in a roasting tray (no need to prick them) and roast in the oven until starting to blacken. Essentially cook until you think they’re done and then add another 15 minutes. It tends to take an hour in my oven. If you have gas or are doing on the bbq, cook in the flame until charred all over and very soft.
- Allow to cool enough to handle and remove the skins. Place the very soft aubergine in a colander set over a bowl to drain for half an hour. Discard the smoky water
- Whilst the aubergine is draining, take two peeled garlic cloves and chop roughly. Salt with coarse seal salt and leave for a minute on the chopping board. Then with the flat of the knife, scrape the garlic whilst pressing down until you have a paste. This is the best way to get the garlic flavour out of the bulb, although you could use a garlic press, I find you lose a lot of the garlic in the press and the pressure squeezes out the liquid first leaving a more insipid end product. You could also blitz garlic in the food processor but that seems wasteful washing up for only two cloves.
- Take the drained aubergine and either shred with a fork before whisking in the tahini and olive oil and then seasoning or transfer to a blender and blitz with the tahini and olive oil a smooth purée, add a squeeze of lemon juice and season liberally with salt and pepper.