For anyone trying to do Veganuary, or maybe just trying to have more meat-free meals, aubergines are really useful. They offer a really substantial texture to plant-based dishes. They can be dressed up with a sauce, or chopped up and fried they are the basis for things like the classic pasta ‘Alla Norma‘. There are any number of recipes for turning the grilled flesh into dips, perhaps Baba Ganoush, or the Greek version,‘melitzanosalata‘. One of the loveliest and most surprising things I’ve ever eaten was in Crete – fried slices of aubergine rolled and filled with chopped walnuts, parsley, garlic, and chili. Stunning!
I’m going to ignore moussakas here, I know that’s a big ask, but the classic version isn’t even vegetarian let alone vegan. That takes you to one of the best Greek dishes for aubergines, the not very Greek-sounding, ‘Imam Bayaldi’. It’s the staple of any mezé selection and is totally moreish, with that intense tomato and onion jammy topping. Delicious as it is, it’s probably not the dish for every day – it is a bit heavy and even the best of us will struggle to eat a whole plate.
Amongst the recipes of Brother Epiphanios – my food hero from the last post – there is a fresher, lighter version, which he simply calls ‘Baked Aubergines’ – Melitzanes Tou Fournou.
Although basil grows everywhere in Greece – a potted basil plant is the must-have accessory for any kitchen window sill – it is not much used in cooking. It is mainly prized for its amazing scent and its use in keeping pesky flies away. For Brother Epiphanios though, it makes up an essential ‘trinity ‘of herbs, basil, mint, and parsley, that come up again and again in his cooking. The freshness of this particular recipe comes from this magical combination.
There are two slightly unusual instructions in the method here. The most obvious is to peel the aubergines and, although it seems a bit odd, it actually makes a real difference. Although it’s a bit counter-intuitive it adds to the lightness of the dish and the peeled aubergines seem to absorb less oil when frying. They almost seem to become a sort of aubergine fondant!
The other process is to grate the tomatoes – this is very common in Greek cooking. There’s no real substitute for grated tomatoes and, to be honest, it actually makes fresh tomatoes go a little further. To grate tomatoes, cut them in half, around the middle of the fruit, and scoop out the seeds. Then take a coarse grater and rub the flesh across it. Inevitably, you will grate some of the skin and that’s fine. If you do have to use tinned ones instead, take whole plum tomatoes out of the sauce (keep that in the fridge for later use) and chop up the tomatoes into as fine a dice as possible. You must do it by hand – not in a blender! I have recently come across frozen chopped tomatoes in one of the main UK supermarkets (Tesco) and that serves as a really good alternative.
I discovered these Melitzanes Tou Fournou in August and it has become one of my absolute favourite vegan recipes. I even made it for a Zoom dinner party! Enjoy !
Aubergines 'Tou Fournou' - Baked Aubergines
- 4 aubergines They must be peeled.
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
- 4-5 tomatoes They need to be grated not chopped
- 1 tsp Fresh mint - finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Fresh parsley - finely chopped
- 3-4 Fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Honey
- 125 ml Olive oil - and some extra for frying the aubergines
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- Salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the aubergines and tomatoes.
- First of all peel the aubergines, a bit like you would peel potatoes, then cut them in half lengthways. Sprinkle them with salt and leave them while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Cut the tomatoes in half around the middle and scoop out the seeds. Using a box grater, grate the tomatoes. Some of the skin will be grated too - that's fine.
Make the sauce.
- Heat 125ml of olive oil in a frying pan and then add the chopped onions. Once they have started to sizzle, reduce the heat, stir in the garlic and cook slowly for about 15 minutes until it's golden and soft and sticky.
- Add the grated tomatoes, the honey, cumin, paprika and about 150ml of water. Increase the heat and allow it all to simmer for a few minutes. Season to taste and take it off the heat.
Fry the aubergines
- The aubergines have been 'salting' for a while, now rinse then under the cold tap. Squeeze them really well and dry with some kitchen paper or a clean towel.
- Heat some oil in a frying pan and add the aubergine halves and fry slowly until they are golden brown. You will need to do this in batches, depending on how big your pan is and you will probably need to top up the olive oil as you go.
Put it all together
- Heat the oven 180 degrees
- Put the cooked aubergines in an ovenproof dish and spread over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the chopped herbs and cook in the oven for about 40 minutes.