Updated: Dec 6, 2018
A visit to Istanbul several years ago left me with a faint feeling of disappointment. It was not the beauty of this celebrated historical city which did not live up to expectation but its food. Its reputation had preceded it and I was excited at the thought of trying it out on its home turf. But it did not deliver on flavour or oomph and I lost interest in it on my return home. If only I had known about Huseyin Ozer’s La Sofra in London’s Mayfair……..
Having received an invitation to attend a Guild of Food Writers’ event which promised to highlight the splendour of Turkish cuisine, I arrived at La Sofra only modestly hopeful although hungry – but oh how thrilling dinner proved to be! Dish upon dish made its way to our table and the array of vegetable mezzes in particular was truly entrancing. It was not that they were all unknown to me, that they were a totally new experience as I had come across most of them before. It was the deep savouriness, the accuracy of the seasoning, the aromas, the sparkle and the zest – vegetable cookery at its most satisfying and alluring.
Two specific dishes were the stars of the meal for me: a smoky, garlicky, punchy aubergine purée and some herby, spicy, lemony broad beans sitting on a bed of thick, tart yoghurt. I promptly set about recreating them in my own kitchen and the results definitely restored my faith.
And what about Patlican Ezmesi's nutritional talents? Garlic is powerfully antibacterial and has been found to be protective in cardiovascular health and high blood pressure as well as the common cold, provide cancer support and regulate blood sugar levels, and its antioxidant properties may help combat dementia. What about pomegranates: packed with antioxidants. Vitamin C and cancer-fighting compounds, helpful in dementia, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral, thought to improve fertility and might even increase hair thickness. Olive oil is also powerfully anti-inflammatory, and coriander helps to remove heavy metals from the body. All of this in just one dish of smoky aubergine dip!
SMOKY AUBERGINE PURÉE – PATLICAN EZMESI
The key to success in this case is the charred flavour which is best achieved on a BBQ or over naked flames. I start the cooking process under an electric grill and then finish the aubergines off by holding them with tongs over a gas flame on my hob – a bit messy but they only need a few minutes. In the absence of real fire, the electric grill still does the trick sufficiently well while a spell in the oven, however long, does not. Or if you have a well equipped kitchen, a blow torch produces good results.
The garnish of bright red pomegranate seeds is a must, the dried rose petals optional but very pretty.
Serves 4 as part of a selection of mezzes, 2 as a light lunch with bread
800 g/1 3/4 lb aubergines/eggplants – about 3 medium
1 fat garlic clove, peeled and chopped
75 g/3 oz tahini
45 ml/3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
15 ml/1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or to taste
Seeds from 1 small pomegranate
Dried rose petals, to garnish (optional)
Fresh coriander/cilantro leaves
Pitta bread, to serve (optional)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the grill to its highest setting. Place the aubergines on a foil-lined baking tray and cook about 4 cm/1 1/2 in from the heat, turning as necessary, until soft and cooked through. Then holding the aubergines with tongs, char the skin over a gas flame or with a blow torch for a minute or two, just until it sizzles. Place on a plate and leave to cool.
Remove the stem and carefully peel off the skin in long strips and discard. If some of the flesh sticks, scrape it off with a knife. Holding each aubergine in your hands, gently squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Place the aubergines in a food processor, add the garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and some seasoning and blitz briefly until the aubergines are broken down and everything is well blended but the mixture retains a bit of texture. Check the seasoning.
Spread the purée out on a shallow plate and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, rose petals and coriander.
Serve immediately with pitta bread.