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A good aubergine should be sweet and flavoursome rather than bitter and full of seeds. The process of finding the perfect aubergine takes some effort and nous from the cook, and a tiny bit of luck. There are certain signs though, and any aubergine that enters our kitchen must first pass some rigorous tests. Its skin should be smooth, shiny and taut, with an even colour all round. When you lift it, it should feel light enough to be tossed in the air and caught with one hand (try it). When you press down, it should feel firm and have no give whatsoever. Shape should be taken into account as well: if you plan to stuff aubergines, they should be straight and smallish; if you plan to burn them on the stove or on the grill, go for the bigger ones so they have time enough to get the smoky flavour you are after (we tend to favour the long ones to the round for this specific preparation as the latter tend to collapse on themselves). We try to find those from warmer climates: Spain, Turkey, southern Italy or France, though we did once source some delicious ones from a hothouse in Kent.
When you do get your hands on a good one, the possibilities are endless, and whatever you do with your aubergine, you have the makings of a good meal.
This dish has served us well and often. We add tomatoes for crisp juiciness and peppers for sweetness. The roasted aubergines become little flavour sponges, taking up those precious juices from the tomatoes. With some basil to freshen things up and tahini for a creamy finish, it all comes together beautifully. We serve it as a starter for guests at home and in the restaurant, and we make it for ourselves when a light, satisfying meal is in order — just add some toast and a fried egg on top.
Roast aubergines, peppers and shallots with cherry tomatoes, basil and tahini yoghurt sauce
Serves six to eight as a starter or four as a light dinner
For the tahini yoghurt sauce
- Preheat oven to 240C conventional, 220C fan. Lay the aubergine wedges on a baking tray, skin side down, and drizzle generously all over with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and place in the oven to roast for 20 to 25 minutes until they are golden.
- On a second tray, place the pepper rings, the shallot rounds, most of the garlic (keep two halves aside for marinating the tomatoes). Drizzle with more olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper and place on the other shelf in the same oven. Roast for about 15 minutes until the peppers and shallots go a bit golden and caramelise.
- Marinate the tomatoes by combining them with the chilli rings, the two garlic halves (smash them up a little), the red-wine vinegar, a generous sprinkling of sugar and salt. Mix well and set aside for at least 30 minutes, then drain the liquid off and keep it for the sauce.
- Make the tahini sauce by mixing the ingredients to form a smooth sauce.
- Spread the sauce all over the plate, then top with all the roasted vegetables, tomatoes and basil, and serve.
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