My current food obsession is “burning” fruit and vegetables. I bet you are scratching your head and wondering what is wrong with me and why I’m destroying perfectly good food. Actually, by exposing certain fruit and vegetables to open fire or high heat can actually intensify the taste or change the flavour profile. So next time, when you roast a chicken, put in some halved lemons. After roasting, you will realise the juice has transformed from one that is high in acidity to a mild sweet-sour liquid (which you can use to dress salad or squeeze over the roasted chicken).
When you start to “burn” your fruit and vegetables on a high heat, you are also giving them a smoky edge. Mild flavoured fruits like eggplant is a fantastic carrier of this robust flavour. When I first saw this burnt eggplant with tahini recipe from Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, Ottolenghi described it as a potent dip. I thought he was exaggerating. And I was wrong. I was not prepared for what is to come.
By charring the eggplant, this fruit is transformed from bitter and bland to smoky with a hint of sweetness. With the addition of the tahini, it elevates the smoky profile further. I had the dip with baguette. At the first bite, I got hit by the smoky note and it lingered in my mouth and made me salivate further. And it is amazing that this is a pretty light dip – it is not overly rich and is in fact refreshing (thanks to the sliced cucumbers and lemon juice), hence I keep going back for more until my bowl is empty.
Burnt eggplant with tahini
(Adapted from Yottam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)
This dip (or condiment) is pretty intense hence I often have it with salad. You can also serve with a simply seasoned fish or red meat.
Recipe type: Starter
Prep time: 45 – 60 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 60 – 75 minutes
1 large eggplant
⅓ cup tahini paste (80ml)
¼ cup water (60ml)
2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses*
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed and chopped finely
3 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper
3 mini cucumbers (170g-200g, thinly sliced, optional – I like to use Japanese cucumbers which I think are cleaner in taste)
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
Seeds from ½ large pomegranate
A little olive oil to finish
How to burn eggplant
There are a few ways to “burn” the eggplant. My preference is exposing the eggplant to open flame. If you do not have a gas stove, you can use the oven. Be prepared that during the process of “burning”, your house will be smoky and smell like you just had an indoor barbecue.
Using the open flame
– Wash and clean the eggplant and make sure the skin is completely dry.
– Switch on your gas burner to a moderate flame. Using a metal tongs, place the eggplant directly on the flame, and roast for 12-15 minutes. During this time, turn the eggplant frequently with a metal tongs – this is to ensure that it does not catch fire. You will know the eggplant is ready when the flesh starts to soften and the skin starts to char, blister and tear away.
– Set the eggplant aside to cool before you scoop the flesh.
Using the oven
– Preheat your oven to 190oC and line a baking tray with aluminium foil.
– Wash and clean the eggplant and make sure the skin is completely dry. Using a fork, prick the eggplant all over – this is to prevent the eggplant from exploding in the oven.
– Place the pricked eggplant on the lined baking tray and put in the oven to roast for 20-30 minutes or until the skin starts to blister and tear away. During this time, you can turn the eggplant a couple of times.
– Once the eggplant is cooked, set it aside to cool.
– Once the eggplant is cooled, carefully slice the eggplant into half. Using a large spoon, gently scoop out the flesh and place it into a colander or sieve. I usually have a tea towel on standby, or use paper towels to remove any charred bits that have fallen into the flesh. Leave the eggplant flesh to drain for at least 30 minutes (this is to drain off any bitter liquid in the eggplant).
– Once the eggplant is drained, roughly chop the flesh and transfer them to a medium-sized mixing bowl. In the bowl, add in the tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and season with some salt and black pepper. Mix well with a spoon or spatula.
– Taste the dip and adjust the seasoning. If it needs heat and sharpness, add in more garlic; needs more acid, squeeze in a bit more lemon juice; needs a bit more sweetness, pour in more molasses. The dip should have a robust sour and slightly sweet flavour.
– If you wish to bulk up the dip, add in the thinly sliced cucumbers and halved cherry tomatoes and stir well in the eggplant mix.
To serve, place the dip in a bowl, scatter the pomegranate seeds on top and drizzle with a little olive. The dip goes very well with sticks of celery, baguette or flat bread.
Any leftover can be kept in the fridge for up to two days.