Israel in the 1950s had rationing. But while meat was in short supply, vegetables were abundant — and a cuisine of substitutes emerged: courgettes were fried like schnitzels, leeks and leafy greens made meatless meatballs and cauliflowers filled pies.
Aubergines were used to make everything but especially a greige-coloured vegetable pâté that involved lots of fried onions and was called, alarmingly, “liver-flavoured aubergine”. It was served in place of that Ashkenazi favourite — chopped liver. Disgusting name aside, this dish was so delicious that it remains much loved today.
That was not the first time these fleshy fruits were used instead of meat and it won’t be the last. Over the years, countless vegetarians have suffered the “charred on the outside, raw inside” aubergine kebab from the BBQ. Yet we know now that an aubergine, or eggplant, is something to celebrate in its own right — for its flavour, its friendliness to other ingredients and its sheer, unparalleled versatility. Remember that episode of Friends, “The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant”? If that were made today it would be called “The One with Six Eggplants”.
Yet they aren’t cheap. At the time of writing, the price of organic chicken liver at a fancy butcher is about £3 per kilo; the lamb shoulder that we use for shawarma is £12.50; and the rather special aubergines from southern Europe that we love so much are £20.
There are many good reasons to wish for aubergine prices to go down but one excellent one is this recipe. Served with all the trimmings, it is a warm, spiced, chin-trickling, shirtfront-destroying celebration of these luxurious purple beauties.
Makes a generous dinner for 2-3 with leftovers
For the aubergine
For the tahini
For the tahiniMix together the tahini ingredients to form a smooth paste.
For the tomato saladMix the tomatoes with the crushed garlic clove, chopped coriander, salt and sugar. Then add the red wine vinegar and olive oil.
To serve, heat the pittas or wraps lightly in a toaster or the oven. Slit open and fill with a couple of spoonfuls of tahini, then the aubergine and tomato salad, and serve hot.
Join Itamar and Sarit at the FT Weekend Digital Festival, March 18-20, ftweekendfestival.com.
Their new book “Chasing Smoke: Cooking over Fire Around the Levant” is published by Pavilion, May 13
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