I seem to have been stuffing and filling a lot of veggies recently, some with more success than others. It all depends on the quality of what you are stuffing and of course, on the the stuffing itself. There are so many variables, it makes you dizzy.
Recipes try their best to keep you on the straight and narrow but at the end of the day, I have to say, you are on your own.
Experience has a lot to do with it. I don’t want to put you off: on the contrary, go for it, try the recipes, adapt them to your own tastes and enjoy!
But here we are, or at least I am, back to Ottolenghi.
Two days ago I was given 4 beautiful, long, narrow aubergines by my neighbour Leyla in Assos, our village overlooking the Aegean. There she was, there I was, it was early in the morning, and she plucked them straight from her garden and passed them to me over the garden wall. How about that?
Are you into aubergines? They are so very popular nowadays and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I have to say, that both of these are important for the success of your dish. I am very used to them – well so I should be after living in Turkey for more than 30 years. I feel comfortable with them and know how they can be cooked.
Best of all is over hot charcoal in the garden, the taste is incomparable, but most of the time this is not possible and we have to make do with the oven, either grilled round the gas flame (terribly messy but great taste) or roasted in the oven itself (not bad tastewise and easier from all points of view).
Even without a picture, this dish appeals to me simply because of the enticing ingredients. I think to myself: yes, I can make this, we have everything.
But as I am discovering with Ottolenghi, nothing is particularly straightforward. It’s not difficult, just a little bit of extra hassle. Here we have two different layers of ingredients and I can’t help asking myself why can’t we just mix everything together and pile it into the aubergine shells?
I have to say that the combination of cumin and sumac is sublime while his idea of using the flesh of the lemon as opposed to just the juice is really inspirational, it really is. Short, sharp little bursts of lemon. Mmmm. Especially when combined with the garlic and green pepper. The sumac accentuates that.
I really wanted to make this recipe today with these garden-fresh aubergines because my friend Felicity who has been visiting with husband Peter, from Cornwall, suggested it. So while she was flying back to Luton, I was thinking of her as I made this dish.
I think I can tweak it next time but it was certainly very tasty as is. Husband TT poured himself a glass of rakı to accompany it as it seemed like a Turkish meze! Ottolenghi himself calls it a ‘starter’.
- Preheat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 7.
- Score the cut side of each aubergine with a criss-cross pattern, brush the cut side with 100ml of the oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray, cut side up and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is golden brown and completely cooked.
- While the aubergines are roasting, add the remaining oil to a large frying pan and place on a high heat. Add the onions and ½ tsp of salt and cook for 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get really dark and crisp. Deseed and chop the chillies, keeping the whole one separate from the half. Add the ground cumin, sumac and one chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the feta. Cook for a final minute, not stirring much, then remove from the heat.
- Use a small serrated knife to remove the skin and pith of the lemon. Roughly chop the flesh, discarding the seeds, and place the flesh and any juices in a bowl with the remaining chilli and the garlic.
- Assemble the dish as soon as the aubergines are ready. Transfer the roasted halves to a serving dish and spoon the lemon sauce over the flesh. Warm up the onions a little and spoon over. Serve warm or set aside to come to room temperature.