taste, flavour, snack, relish
As the hazy, orange sun sets over these lazy summer evenings and the insects clumsily fly through the shimmering evening heat, the scents and flavours that I want to immerse myself in are those of the Eastern Mediterranean. However, it’s not just the food that I’m after, even though that would be no great loss (!) but the whole culinary, cultural approach. No procession of courses, eating with your hands; food to get stuck into. I envisage a multitude of different delicious dishes along a table that encourages conversation, sharing, food passed around and the tearing of bread. To me, this can only mean one thing – mezze.
“Mezze are an integral part of life in much of the Muslim Mediterranean and are considered to be one of the most civilised and exciting ways to eat.”
Mezze: the word is found in all the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and comes from the Turkish meze meaning, “taste, flavour, snack, relish.”
At home, creating a mezze spread of eight to ten dishes is unrealistic, but creating individual pieces of a mezze every now and again can be fun.
Traditional mezze dishes include: fattoush (bread and vegetable salad), hummus (chickpea dip), falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), köfte (minced lamb meatballs), mutabbal (aubergine salad), souvlaki (lamb kebabs), tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and olives. There are several more dishes that can be seen on a mezze table with each region of the Mediterranean creating alternatives and variations.
And with BBQ season in full swing why not try to create your version of a classic mutabbal?
Whether you know it as mutabbal, aubergine salad, poor man’s caviar or baba ganoush, this smoky aubergine dip is the grown up version of the ubiquitous hummus and is a classic part of any mezze.
Levantine in origin, it comes up under a variety of names from Turkey to Egypt and can be presented in different guises: a dip, a salad, a vegetable side dish. It can be served loose and smooth to be scooped up by your flatbread or served chunky needing a fork to assist but no matter which variation you choose it will still be exceptionally good.
Gastrorob’s Baba Ganoush
The principal ingredients are:
The only strict rule that I insist you adhere to is that the aubergines must be blackened on open flame – too many versions fail to recognise the importance of this. It is this process which gives this dish its distinctive, smoky taste. Cooking them in a smoking hot oven will not give you the depth of flavour you require here – a grill set to max would work but it will smoke out the entire house. Those who have gas hobs can blacken the skins on the actual hob but this will make a mess! Basically, a BBQ is the most effective and convenient method to achieve aubergines as desired. Understandably, this is not the best dish to try to recreate in winter!
Ottolenghi, chars his directly over a gas flame, where Lebovitz chars them over a flame before baking in the oven until they have collapsed all the way through
My method borrows from both, I tend to cut into the aubergine creating a few incisions (face up) along the length of the vegetable, drizzle oil over and place into the hottest oven for 20mins and then grill on open flame until scorched and black.
Remove the scorched aubergine from the flames and then scoop all the flesh and juices into a blender (or bowl and use a fork). Add the juice of half a lemon, one table spoon of tahini paste, a garlic clove per aubergine and a good drizzle of olive oil to slacken the mixture. Season to taste. Add chopped fresh mint and coriander. Taste your baba ganoush and tweak the flavours to suit your palate.
Some recipes include tomatoes, after all it is sometimes referred to as an aubergine salad with tomatoes or a tomato salad with aubergine depending on which side of the Mediterranean you come from, but I find this just dilutes the intense smoky flavour that you want from your Baba Ganoush.
Drizzle olive oil in a dark green ribbon around the dish and if you’re in an extravagant mood rain over pomegranate seeds for that jewel-like touch of decadence that inspired this dish.
NB: You lit up your BBQ to cook something other than aubergines on it! Pinchitos (our beef versions of lamb souvlaki kebabs) is a perfect accompaniment to baba ganoush; serve with some BBQ-warmed pita/tortillas/flatbreads/naan bread and fresh coriander and mint sprinkled over.