This grilled aubergine salad is one of Romania’s most famous dishes, and is prepared in the summer-autumn season. Finding aubergines at the market always marked the beginning of summer, and I can remember even now the hot naked flames of my mum’s stove, the noise of the wooden spoon folding in the onions and oil, and the smell of fresh bread ready to be topped with this silky-crunchy salad.
It is a smokey affair, as the aubergines darken their skin in the griddle pan. You can also use a charcoal BBQ, but if you roast them in the oven, they won’t be quite the same.
If you travel to Greece, you will find a version of this aubergine dip with Feta cheese and walnuts. From Turkey to Egypt, you can taste the similar baba ganoush, which had added tahini, garlic and pomegranate. They are good, but not quite the taste of my childhood.
Brought in by the arabs, the aubergine is one of our most important vegetables. At home, towards the end of the season, we used to put a day aside to grill them like in this recipe, then freeze them for the winter; or to preserve them whole in salt in huge jars; or just to add them to other popular dishes such as Zakusca. The whole family was involved, and those days were filled with a lot of laughter and excitement as we got ready for the winter.
Pick your aubergines carefully, you want them medium size, firm and of an intense black colour. Once in the very hot griddle pan, keep turning them on all sizes to make sure the skin is burnt evenly. You know they are ready when they become soft, and can be lifted with the tongs.
Then sprinkle some salt over the skin, and put them to drain on a tilted chopping board, so any juices will run off. While they are still warm, cut them in half lengthwise, and scoop out the flesh in a bowl, preferably wood or ceramic.
Stir everything well with a fork, breaking up the aubergine strings. The salad doesn’t need to be like a paste, it needs to be chunkier. Taste and add more onion or salt if you’d like. The more onion, the better!
You can serve it on toasted sourdough bread or flatbreads, or just fresh white bread. Top it with slices of tomatoes and a sprinkle of fennel seeds. You can serve it next to the roasted peppers with honey and garlic vinaigrette for complementing flavours.