Chargrilled Aubergine Salad with Fennel Seeds

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.

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium size firm black aubergines
  • 1 medium size red onion – finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar – it will give it a delicious sweetness
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • tomatoes – sliced for decoration
  • fennel seeds – optional for decoration
  • sourdough, flat breads or white bread – to serve

The aubergines

  • 3 medium size firm black aubergines

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.

 

Add the rest of the ingredients: onion, vinegar, oil and salt.

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!

Serve

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.

Tips

  • Keep the chopped onions in a bit of cold water to take the bite out of them. Make sure you drain and dry them before using.
  • Fennel seeds go very well with aubergines, you can toast them in a pan without oil before crushing them in a pestle and mortar.
  • The aubergines are quite watery, so the dip will split while waiting to be served. Just stir quickly before adding it on to the bread.
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Starters