Summer time cooking is always a bit of a complicated matter for me. Grocery stores, markets, and of course the relentless internet are all heaving with brightly coloured fresh and juicy produce; pinks, reds, yellows and greens popping out from every which way. And yet, my kitchen itself begins to sweat even before I’ve switched on the kettle or stove. I’m over-the-top inspired by the beautiful array of fresh fruits and vegetables on the inside, but completely lazy and in fear of doing anything that will result in my limbs sticking to each other, on the outside. What to do?
There is a certain camp of summer grill warriors out there who believe that open flames were meant for one thing and one thing only; meat (probably said along with some sort of chest beating or guttural grunting etc.). And while my husband knows I throw some mean elbows in order to be first in line when someone says they’ve got a rack of ribs on the barbie, I also think that cooking over open flames and a good charred grill mark can also turn ordinary vegetables into something that is both incredibly satisfying and beautiful, while still scratching that open-air-cooking itch that comes with the summer sun.
Yotam Ottolenghi has become one of this nation’s vegetable heroes- turning pretty much anything that grows out of the ground into a work of edible, delicious art. I’d like to think of a salad like this as a sort of an Otto-inspired, very (very) pared-back version of something he might do; especially on a hot day with two beautiful deeply coloured aubergines hanging around a stiflingly hot kitchen.
I’m probably missing 5-10 ingredients in order for it to be truly Ottolenghi-esk (and as I write this I’m already imagining this dish with some preserved lemon, cumin, sumac, pretty little pomegranate seeds and chilli…) but for a weekend family lunch on the fly I think I’ve done a pretty good job of honouring the aubergine whilst also sparing myself a kitchen/sauna experience.
Grilled Aubergine Salad
2 aubergines, washed and sliced into circles, approx 1cm thick
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 small handful mint, leaves only
1/8 cucumber, de-seeded
1 clove garlic, peeled
100g Greek yoghurt
1 handful coriander, roughly torn to garnish
In a food processor combine the following; lemon juice, mint, cucumber, garlic and yoghurt. Blitz until well-combined and smooth. Tip into a small bowl and set aside in the fridge to dress your aubergine once it’s cooked.
Slice aubergines, place in a large bowl and generously drizzle with olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix well to insure the olive oil is massaged into each slice. Aubergine is quite porous so will soak up a lot of the oil, which is what you want as it will help you get a good char later when grilling without drying it out.
Grill on a single layer, on a medium-high flame, for approx 5-6 minutes a side or until you can see grill marks and a golden carmalised finish.
Remover from grill, placing onto a large serving plate and allow aubergine to cool down to room temperature. Pour over chilled dressing, garnish with coriander and serve.
We had this dish as a side but you could easily make it your main dish, perhaps adding some crumbled feta over the top to bulk it out a touch.