My son gave me three aubergines. Jonathan is known for giving me foodie things. Some of my best kitchen items are gifts from him: my wonderful Global chef’s knife; a boning knife; my Microplane. When he goes to the local farmers’ market on Saturday morning and negotiates a good deal for multiple chickens – the more he buys the cheaper each is (well, he is an accountant) – he gives me one. But he’s never given me three aubergines before. He’d planned to make Imam Bayildi for the party on Saturday but in the end didn’t have time and thus was left with many aubergines in his fridge. He gave three to me. My party bag 🙂 Coincidentally, while checking the recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini & Za’atar in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, which we did have time to make (a family essential for any party nowadays), I came across this wonderful recipe for aubergines. Going home with my party bag, I knew exactly what I’d be doing with my gift.
I was a bit addicted to Jerusalem for a time. Well, it is a beautiful book. It became something of a food bloggers’ favourite when it was published in 2012. I tried many of the recipes, all somewhere on the blog, and it set up a deep longing in me to visit Jerusalem, which I haven’t managed to do yet. However, I do love cooking Middle Eastern/North African food – like Ottolenghi’s or Moro’s more Spanish version, or Moroccan food – and that is at least one way to bring a bit of the exotic into my day. With summer returned to UK – at least for a time – warm days and evenings mean a salad meal is perfect. The great thing about these spicy stuffed aubergines is they’re best eaten at room temperature, so like me, you could prepare and cook them earlier in the day and they’re all ready waiting for you when suppertime comes around.
The first thing to do is heat the oven to 200C/180 fan. Then make the chermoula. Chermoula is a punchy, spicy sauce used as a marinade; sometimes made into a paste. It can be used for fish or meat but here works fantastically well with the aubergines. Mix the following together in a bowl: 2 garlic cloves crushed, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1 teaspoon chilli flakes, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, 2 tablespoons chopped skin of a preserved lemon, 100ml olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
It all comes together into a brown sauce. I guess you could blend it to make it a paste if you like, but I left it as it was and the way Ottolenghi described. Now cut the aubergines in half lengthways. I had three; Ottolenghi says 2 medium ones. Cut deep diagonal scores through but don’t cut through the skin. Then spoon the chermoula over and spread evenly.
Put the aubergines in the hot oven for about 40-60 minutes, or until they are completely soft and cooked through. Ottolenghi said 40 mins; mine needed an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the bulgar. Put 150g bulgar in a bowl and add 140ml boiling water. Soak 50g sultanas (or I used raisins) in warm water for 10 minutes. Prepare the other ingredients: 10g fresh coriander chopped, 10g fresh mint chopped, 50g pitted green olives cut in half, 30g flaked almond toasted, 3 spring onions chopped (I didn’t have any so used shallots), 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and 50ml olive oil.
Strain the sultanas and add to the bulgar with the other prepared ingredients. Mix well. Taste and add seasoning as needed.
Now spoon the bulgar over the cooked aubergine halves. It’s fine if some falls to the side. Spoon some plain Greek yogurt over the top and sprinkle with a little fresh coriander. Drizzle over a little olive oil. I did this final putting-together just before eating; even though everything had been prepared a little in advance I thought a last-minute composition of the final dish would be better.
It was a fabulous taste experience. The aubergines were quite fiery with the spicy mix but the soft, sweet bulgar married with them well, topped off with the fresh, slightly tart yogurt. I ate two halves as a main course supper but just one half would make a great starter for a more formal meal.