Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce
I can’t think of a more rustically elegant (is that a contradiction in terms?) starter. Serve with some robust white bread or pitta and you are, literally, in food heaven. In the recipe you’ll find Sami Tamimi’s technique for getting the seeds out of the pomegranate, which I am afraid is now a very well-known secret.
|2||large and long aubergines|
|1½ tsp||lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish|
|Maldon sea salt and black pepper|
|For the sauce:|
|1½ tbsp||olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish|
|1||small garlic clove, crushed|
|pinch of salt|
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
Cut the aubergines in half lengthways, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don’t eat it). Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each aubergine half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shape pattern.
Place the aubergine halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Brush them with the olive oil – keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35–40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavoursome and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.
While the aubergines are in the oven, prepare the pomegranate and sauce. Cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.
For the sauce, just whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.
To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the aubergine halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za’atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Extracted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. (Ebury £26) Photography by Jonathan Lovekin