I fell in love in Turkey. With aubergine.
I know it sounds a little surprising, but believe it or not, before this trip I wasn’t so smitten with this oddball veggie. Part of the reason for my former uncertainty was simply the name: eggplant. Of all the unappealing things to call such a delightful vegetable, eggplant has got to be the worst. It sounds totally gross. I think we could all stand to get a tad pretentious and call them aubergines from now on. Same vegetable, now far more appealing.

Okay, that’s the first hurdle. The next question mark for me was undoubtedly the texture. So mushy, so slippery…what is one to do? Unless you are going to deep fry the health out of aubergine and turn it into crispy bliss, there is only one thing to do about its inherent consistency, and that is to embrace it. Aubergine is pillowy when cooked, soft and velvety. Instead of trying to make it something it is not, I have learned to love its unique creaminess. It works wonders pureed into a dip, such as babaganoush, as a sandwich spread, or as a bed for a saucy topping.

And lastly, the taste; aubergine is not majorly captivating in the flavour department. The flesh somehow manages to be slightly bitter and bland at the same time, so the trick is to use it as a base for building taste upon. Think of aubergine like a sponge that can soak up all the bold and exciting flavours you can pair it with. From this perspective, aubergine really is a versatile veggie with boatloads of potential only limited by your imagination.

Aubergine, What A Dream 
Now that we’ve discovered that aubergine is not a complete dud in the culinary department, we can move on to celebrating its surprising nutritional value.
Aubergine is crazy-low in calories (only 19 calories per cup! what?), but high in fiber, making it a delight for anyone watching their weight. This veggie will fill you up, but not out. It should be noted however, that aubergine’s sponge-like texture soaks up oil extremely quickly and it’s easy to add a lot of fat and calories without realizing it.

As mentioned above, aubergine is an excellent source of digestion-supportive dietary fiber. This fiber can bind to cholesterol in the digestive tract so that fat is not absorbed into the bloodstream. Aubergine also contains bone-building manganese and vitamin K. This vegetable can enhance immunity, boost tumor-fighting activity and inhibit the production of cancer-causing nitrosamines. [1]

The thing that really inspired me about Turkey was the freshness. The landscape was bursting with life, purity, and abundance. As a result, Turkey seems to be a produce-centric culture focused on seasonal and local foods. A typical breakfast included lots of veggies; cucumber, tomato and piles of greens – my kind of party! I was very inspired by that, and by then end of the week I was mowing down watercress at sunrise like a little lamb.

From the crisp mountain rivers that ran into the clearest turquoise sea, to the verdant mountain ranges radiating the scent of orange blossoms, to the markets overflowing with rainbow colours and vibrant people, Turkey completely captured my heart and my appetite.
This recipe was inspired by the amazing flavours I savoured in Turkey, all of them with a back-story. It was fun to create a dish where every single element reminds me of a time or place on the trip, right down to the teeny sesame seeds we bought from a woman on the side of the road, harvested from her own garden. Of course, when you take inspiration from a harmonious experience, you end up with harmonious flavours. That’s just how it works!

Aubergine n’ Greens
Serves 4
4 large aubergines
plenty of fresh greens  (arugula, watercress, spinach, purse lane)
olive oil
good finishing salt, such as Maldon
fresh mint
goat’s feta (cow feta also works)
liquid honey
3 Tbsp. sesame seeds
pinch crushed chili flakes
1 lemon
Spicy Tahini Sauce (see recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 400 °F/200°C.
2. Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant. Remove from pan to cool.
2. Cut each aubergine in half lengthwise. Score across the flesh on a 45° angle and then repeat in the other direction to achieve a diamond pattern (this allows the steam to escape). Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes until the flesh is very soft and golden.
3. While the aubergines are roasting, make the Spicy Tahini Sauce.
4. Remove aubergines from the oven, crumble a bit of feta on each half and turn on the broiler. Broil just until the cheese softens and takes on some colour (watch the aubergines carefully so they don’t get too dark). Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
5. Serve aubergines on a bed of greens doused with lemon juice. Sprinkle with roasted sesame, crushed chili flakes, flaky salt, lots of mint, a generous drizzle of honey and the Spicy Tahini Sauce.

Spicy Tahini Sauce
Makes about 1 cup/225ml
1/3 cup/80ml tahini
1 large clove garlic
1 ½ Tbsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. crushed chili flakes (or to taste)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. honey (or agave)
water to thin

In a food processor or blender, add all ingredients and blend on high until smooth. Add water to thin to desired consistency (I added almost 2/3 cup water). Remember that this sauce is meant to drizzle, so it shouldn’t be thick and gloppy. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.

[1] Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Dietary Wellness. New York, NY: Penguin, 2003.

 Copyright 2012 My New Roots at mynewroots.blogspot.com

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