There are few things that please me more than making something that sounds tricky, but actually isn't. A nice example of this is roasted bell peppers. You read the instructions about "char them till the skin blackens, then pop them in a Ziploc plastic bag to cool and the skin will come away easily".
You catch yourself thinking yeah, right. Has this person actually tried pulling the skin off a bell pepper? Shucking an oyster springs to mind, in other words, trying to persuade something to do the one thing it really does not want to do. And this is very much the same train of thought that I follow when I read recipes for aubergine dips where you are told just to roast the aubergine and then the skin will practically fall off by itself. Hmmm. We're talking aubergines here, not clementines!
But then one day you find yourself with one aubergine in your fridge, still good but no longer in the first blush of youth. It had been bought a week earlier at the Queen's Market – and please allow me to digress here for a minute to share a mystery with you. Queen's Market is a Newham treasure. Yes, it's a little shabby and neither the stalls, merchandise nor shoppers are as chi-chi as Borough Market. But you can buy an excellent selection of fresh vegetables at rock-bottom prices, including a fantastic selection of Asian and Oriental vegetables. The back end of the market feels so exotic, you'd never guess you were still on English soil!
A couple of years ago, plans were announced to sell off the site to a developer who planned to demolish the quirky shops around the perimeter of the market (selling all manner of Caribbean and Asian products) and build apartments and a supermarket. Of course the stallholders could still trade… but how is a produce market going to survive in the forecourt of a national supermarket chain? And so the traders and locals mobilised and in 2006, the planned supermarket tenant (ASDA) pulled out. Hurrah! Battle won! Only… the developer has still not pulled out of the plan and no doubt if another supermarket were to step into the breach, plans would proceed apace. You'd think this is the sort of place where anything to do with a supermarket chain would be unwelcome. So then can somebody please explain to me: a) why Tesco appears to be sponsoring the carrier bags (most of the stalls had a wad of virgin Tesco bags in which they packed the produce after sale); and b) why I discovered Tesco stickers on all the beef tomatoes we boughtthem?! Answers on the back of a postcard, please…
But I digress. So there I was with a lonely aubergine (its partner already having made a delicious ratatouille-style dish earlier in the week) in my fridge and guests expected for a lunchtime BBQ. Using the aubergine would serve the dual purpose of creating some pre-lunch snacks and clearing enough space in the fridge for another bottle of wine – bonus. So I decided to try out the crazy idea of roasting an aubergine, and whaddaya know – it's just as easy as the description woud have you believe. Once the aubergine is cooked, the flesh pretty much peels away from the flesh like a roasted pepper, and after that, the recipe is easy enough for a child to make. One taste of this and believe me, you won't give prepackaged dips another glance!
GARLICKY ROASTED AUBERGINE DIP
1 large aubergine
2 or 3 shallots, depending on size
1 or 2 large cloves of garlic
a handful of flat-leaf parsley
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
2-3 Tbsp plain yoghurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Cut the aubergine in half lengthways, brush the cut sides with olive oil and place skin-side down on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes or until the cut flesh starts to turn brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
While the aubergine is cooling, chop up the shallots finely and crush the garlic. Heat about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a spall saucepan over medium heat and sautee the onions and garlic together with the paprika. When the onions are soft (but not browned), remove from the heat.
When the aubergines are cool enough to touch, either scoop the flesh out of the skins with a spoon or peel the skin away from the flesh with your fingers. Place the aubergine flesh, cooled onion mix and flat-leaf parsley in a food processor and pulse briefly until a chunky paste forms. Don't over-process – you want some texture!
Spoon the mixture into a bowl, add the yoghurt and mix well. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. I served my dip with toasted slices of baguette, but warm pita bread would also be delicious.
Apart from being super-easy and delicious, this dip is also low fat and healthy for your heart. In addition, if you make it really garlicky, you get the added heart-healthy antioxidant benefirts of garlic, which is why I'm submitting it to this month's Heart of the Matter event where the theme is herbs. The host this month is Michelle from The Accidental Scientist – do go and check her site for the roundup on Monday or Tuesday!