For some reason in many Western societies the (liberal) use of spices is still considered something exotic. Despite the fact that many spices have a number of nutritional and health benefits which should be enough encouragement by itself to drive more people to learn how to use them, it is still relatively rare to find them on the list of ingredients. Mention fresh coriander, ginger or turmeric and many a nose will twist into disgust. Yet, used correctly, they do not need to overpower the original flavours any more than salt should. Personally, I have been replacing salt in many dishes for years. I prefer to enhance the natural flavours of food rather than smother them in salt.
Mixing spices is common practice in many cultures, and North African cuisine is not an exception. Many of the traditional dishes of this region are the epitomy of Mediterranean food at its best. Fresh, healthy ingredients, vibrant colours and a depth of taste that only the addition of spices can achieve.
In the remaining days of Ramadan, practically on the eve of Eid Al Fitr, I have decided to share a new favourite recipe of mine based on a Moroccan side dish using aubergines as the star. Ever in the search for new ways to cook simple ingredients, I stumbled on this recipe and tried it. It was love at first sight. In the spirit of sharing the love, here goes.
Ingredients ( 2 large/4 small portions)
1 medium sized aubergine (whole)
1 fresh (ripe) tomato
½ small red onion
1 handful of fresh mint
1 tbsp (green) olives
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp fresh (or dried) parsley
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Wash the aubergine, tomato, fresh parsley and mint in water and bicarbonate for 10 minutes. Dry carefully with kitchen roll.
2. Cut the aubergine into half lengthwise, top included. Then cut each half into thin strips without cutting off the top. The result should look somewhat like two fans.
3. Heat a grilling pan, and place the aubergine halves on it. Spread the strips out and flatten them well. Then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Grill, turning half way, so that all sides are cooked.
4. Take a small ceramic frying pan and heat it well, then dry roast the spices (cumin, coriander and sweet paprika) for a couple of minutes. Then allow to cool.
5. In the meantime peel and slice the onion very finely. Place in a bowl.
6. Cut the tomato into small cubes. Place in the bowl.
7. Chop the parsley and mint finely and add them to the onion.
8. Take the olives and pit them (press with your thumb until they open up and you can remove the stone), then cut into small bits. Add to the bowl.
9. Grate the rind of half a lemon and juice the lemon.
10. Add the cooled spices to the bowl with the onion, tomato, olives and herbs. Then add the lemon rind and juice. Mix well.
11. Place the aubergine fans on a serving platter and spoon the onion and tomato mixture on top, spreading it all over. Add some more olive oil . Serve warm.