Friday, 15 April 2011

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Every family has a handful of famous recipes, and a famous recipe in my family is my brother-in-law Freddy's Aubergines with Garlic Yoghurt. (We call them brinjals, as do most people in South Africa.) Freddy, who is of Cypriot descent, always makes this excellent dish for family gatherings, along with his equally famous Smashed Olives).

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds
Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds

Freddy's recipe involves salting and rinsing thick slices of brinjal, frying them in hot oil until crisp and golden, then layering them in a dish with thick, garlicky yoghurt and few secret ingredients. (I assume he has secret ingredients, because when I make this, it doesn't taste half as good as Freddy's.)

This recipe is a variation on the theme, except that I have added lemon thyme, and lightly spiced the slices with some warming flavours of the middle east. The combination of aubergines, cumin, coriander and yoghurt brings to mind Persan cuisine, so I've also added a scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds, which pop gloriously in your mouth and provide a bright crunchy contrast to the silken centres of the brinjal slices.

Also, I've baked these, not fried them, to prevent the spices from turning bitter in the pan.

This is a good party dish because you can prepare the brinjals in advance and keep them, covered, in the fridge until you're ready to bake them. You will find that the slices suck up the oil like blotting paper (especially if you haven't degorged them; see below), but don't be tempted to add more before you bake the dish: I promise they'll be beautifully golden and crispy-edged when they come out of the oven.

It's not strictly necessary to degorge the brinjals before you bake them (today's modern varieties are not as bitter as the brinjals yesteryear) but I have found that this process helps to prevent the slices from absorbing too much oil. Choose firm, tight-skinned brinjals with a dark glossy skin, and not too big.

A very rich, creamy Greek yoghurt is essential. Use ordinary thyme if you can't find lemon thyme.

The sumac sprinkled on the slices at the end of cooking gives them a lovely tang. Sumac is available at good delis and spice shops, but if you can't find it, leave it out. Smoked paprika is now widely available, but you can use ordinary paprika. As always, use very, very fresh cumin and coriander (and by that I mean that you bought them less than a week ago!).

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds

4 medium aubergines
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
⅓ cup (80 ml) olive oil
1.5 tsp (7.5 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander
½ tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika
½ tsp (2.5 ml) chilli powder (or more, if you'd like some real heat)
milled black pepper
8 sprigs of lemon thyme
1 tsp (5 ml) sumac

To serve:
thick natural Greek yoghurt
fresh pomegranate seeds
extra olive oil
lemon wedges

Heat the oven to 180 ºC. Remove the tops and tails of the aubergines and cut them into 1-cm thick discs. Sprinkle the slices with the salt, place them in a colander, put a small plate on top and allow to degorge for half an hour. Pat them dry with a piece of kitchen paper (but don't rinse them).

In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, chilli powder and pepper. Take a spoonful of the oil and smear it across the bottom of a baking sheet. Rub each slice, top and bottom, with a little of the remaining oil. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, scatter over the thyme sprigs and season quite generously with black pepper.

Spiced Baked Aubergines with Yoghurt and Pomegranate Seeds
Brush the aubergine slices with the spiced olive oil. 
Bake the slices at 180 ºC for 25 minutes. Now turn the heat down to 160 ºC and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the slices are golden and rustling on the outside and soft and silky inside. Crumble the now-dry thyme leaves over the slices and discard the stalks. Sprinkle the sumac over the slices and season with salt, if necessary (but remember they may be salty enough after degorging).

Arrange the slices on a plate. Add dollops of yoghurt and drizzle with a little extra olive oil. Scatter with pomegranate seeds and serve piping hot or warm, with lemon wedges.

Serves 6 as a starter or side dish.

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Kate Liquorish said...

delectable, I'll have 2 of these please!

Ishay said...

I love the combination of flavours and those brignt jeweled rubies are a feast for the eye.