Charred Aubergine with Tahini & Yogurt

Charred Aubergine Dip

I’ve just come back from Puglia in the south of Italy with a group of friends. It was a cycling trip where we essentially cycled our bikes, swam in the azure seas and cycled some more until we were hungry, then proceeded to eat and drink an awful lot. The food there is so earnest and simple. They have access to some of the most incredible ingredients in the world because of their amazing climate, so they’re only interested in basic cooking to elevate the natural flavours. I’m really in to that.

Back in London we are in the midsts of this weird Summer vibe where it seems that the general en-mass willing of summer not to be over *just* yet has resulted in some pretty warm october nights. This dip is something I prepared as part of a romantic picnic in the summer solstice, so it seems only fitting to revisit it again with the warm hazy glow of Puglia and my own Londonian attempts to squeeze the very last of summer out. It’s simple and delicious.

Charred Aubergine with Tahini & Yogurt (Serves 2-4):
1 large aubergine
70g tahini paste
60 ml water
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 generous squeeze of a lemon
1 garlic clove - crushed
3 mini cucumbers - diced
seeds from half a pomegranate
3 tbsp parsley - roughly chopped
2-3 generous dollops of greek yogurt
a drizzle of olive oil
1 tsp paprika
salt and pepper

On a gas hob, place the aubergine directly onto a medium flame and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently. The flesh should end up soft and smoky with the skin burnt all over. Alternatively, if you haven’t got gas hobs, crank up that oven high, 200°C maybe, and whack your aubergine in and keep turning it in that heat. 20-40 minutes in, the skin should also char and the aubergine should sag telling you the flesh is all lovely and soft. On a similar warning to my last aubergine post: Poke a couple of holes near the stem part of the aubergine to stop it exploding in the oven.

Once your aubergine is done, transfer all that lovely soft flesh into a medium mixing bowl. To this add the tahini, molasses, water, lemon juice, garlic, cucumber, parsley, paprika, yogurt, half the pomegranate seeds and some salt and pepper. Adjust the seasoning to your liking. Drizzle with olive oil and the rest of the pomegranate seeds to finish. Eat!

Warm Butternut Squash & Kale Salad with Tahini Yogurt Dressing

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Autumn is officially here, and after a cycle ride home through the brisk chill where I’m definitely justifying those natty leather gloves I spied in the winter sports shop (I mean, I’ll use them for cycling as well as snowboarding…totally worth it!), I’m also feeling the need for a hearty warm salad.

This is quite heavily influenced by the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghi, who’s thoughts behind seasonal ingredients and saving meat eating for special occasions I greatly admire. So with the chilly weather still in mind, think of the following as an off piste Ottolenghi dish.

Salad Ingredients:
1 large butternut squash - skin on, cut into wedges
2 red onions - cut into quarters
2 ample handfuls of curly leaf kale - roughly shredded
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp raw nuts - I went with peanuts
2 pinches of dried herbs - I went with rosemary & oregano
Sea salt & black pepper - approx 1/4 tsp each
A few basil leaves to garnish

Get your oven to 220°C. While that’s heating up, toss your butternut squash and onions in a bowl with the olive oil, dried herbs, salt and pepper. When evenly coated, put onto an oven tray lined with some foil or parchment and whack it into the oven. Cook for 30-40 mins, the onions may cook a bit faster so keep an eye on them. Take this time to toast your nuts in a bit of olive oil and salt until nicely brown – set them aside. The kale will only take around 5 minutes to cook so make your dressing beforehand.

Yogurt & tahini dressing:
2-3 tbsp Greek yogurt
2 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lemon
1 clove garlic crushed
Salt to taste
Water for preferred consistency

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and tahini. I only had Chinese sesame paste, which let’s face it is basically tahini…only more toasted tasting. Add the lemon juice and crushed garlic. I was fresh out of garlic so opted for garlic salt instead so I omitted the ‘salt to taste’ bit. Keep whisking and add your water a little at a time until you get the right dribbly consistency for dressing. You only need a couple of tablespoons of this, keep the rest in the fridge for later.

In the last few minutes: get your kale cooked in some boiling water. Once done strain and shake out the excess water. In a bowl gently toss the kale, squash and onion with half of your toasted peanuts. Now dress on a plate and drizzle some of that creamy yogurt sesame goodness. Finish with the rest of the toasted nuts and basil leaves. I gobbled the lot, but as a side dish I’d imagine this would feed two.

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