Friday, June 23, 2006

Grilled Aubergine Salad

Aubergines - or eggplants as they are called in Australia - are a strange vegetable. They are almost seductively beautiful in all their incarnations - most often sleek and glossy and black as a starless night but they also come in a whole palette of colours ranging from creamy tinged with pale green through mauve stripes to deep purple, always topped with a green cap that looks like it's been hand cut from felt. They have no perfume to give a clue to what they will be like to eat, they are surprisingly light when you lift one and hollow sounding when you tap it, seemingly not quite substantial enough, misleading somehow to the casual shopper.

The first few times I bought one it sat in the fridge till it went bad and I threw it away because I didn't have a plan for it. They are a challenge to use if you have no history with them - I was about 23 before I tried one. They weren't terribly mainstream in suburban Australia when I was growing up! Eventually I bought one with a recipe in mind and discovered the pleasure of baba ghanoush - and I was hooked. There is something about the silky flesh and the slight hint of smoke that works with so many other ingredients, particularly in Middle Eastern inspired dishes. They need a light hand with any oil - they can soak up what seems like a thousand times their own weight in about half a second, but otherwise they are always rewarding to cook with.

This recipe comes from Sam and Sam Clark - the brilliant couple who run Moro in Exmouth Market - on the bbc website. The secret ingredient, I'm convinced, is the smoked paprika. It really is magic in your mouth.

Grilled Aubergine Salad

1kg/2¼lb aubergines
5-6 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers
1 tsp coriander seeds, roughly ground
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 large tomato, skinned and chopped
1½ tsp smoked paprika
5 tbsp roughly chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
6 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander
1½ tbsp lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grill the aubergines whole over the naked flame of a gas hob, or under the grill, turning until the skin of the aubergines is charred and crispy all over and the flesh is soft. When cool enough to handle, cut off the tops and peel off the skin, scraping the flesh off the back of the skin if necessary. Roughly chop the aubergine and set aside.

Place a large frying pan or saucepan over a medium to high heat. Add the oil and when it is hot but not smoking, add the garlic. Fry for a few seconds until it begins to colour, then add the ground coriander and cumin seeds. Stir a little and cook for a further 10-20 seconds to bring out the flavour of the spices, then add the chopped aubergine, tomato, paprika, parsley, three tablespoons of the fresh coriander, and finally the lemon juice. Give everything a thorough stir so that all the ingredients are evenly mixed. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Turn the heat to low and continue to cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring every five minutes to scrape off any caramelised bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. The aubergine is ready when it is no longer watery. To finish, stir in the remaining coriander and taste for seasoning once more.

Serve it warm with an omelette and some pitta bread, and it is fabulous cold next day for an exotic treat for lunch.

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