Posts Tagged ‘preserved lemon’

Aubergines with chickpeas and preserved lemon

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

When I first learned to prepare aubergines, cooking gurus used to advise inflicting all kinds of torture on this innocent vegetable.

First, we were supposed to leave them covered in salt "to get rid of the bitter juices". All this ever achieved was over-salty and pitifully flabby aubergines. In any event, I’ve never heard anyone complain about aubergines tasting bitter – and even if they do harbour a hint of bitterness, isn’t that one of the five flavours needed in any self-respecting recipe?

Next, we were told to fry our victims in unseemly amounts of oil, leaving them brimming with calories and hard to digest.

I don’t know if these brutal practices persist nowadays… luckily I haven’t seen them mentioned on any food blogs recently.

It’s true that if you fry aubergines in the traditional way, they will keep on soaking up oil as if it were going out of fashion. They can be baked whole, which works well if the recipe requires them to be peeled and mashed, but then they never acquire that appealing russet tinge.

For most aubergine dishes, I prefer to slice and bake them for half an hour or so with just a little oil. They emerge from the oven a lovely hazelnut colour.

Citrons confits
   
Recently I had the good fortune to find some preserved lemons – an ingredient I’d often read about but never used – and the idea of pairing them with aubergines soon sprang to mind.
   
   
   
DSCN4068
   
Some chickpeas added substance while a selection of whole spices underscored the flavours – with a stick of cinnamon linking the Indian and Middle Eastern influences.
   
   

Serves 4

100g (4oz) chickpeas
2 largish aubergines (about 700g or 1½lb)
2 tbs olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
A stick of cinnamon
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
½ fenugreek seeds
700g (1½lb) firm-fleshed tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
Half a preserved lemon

Start the day before by leaving the chickpeas to soak overnight, then cook them for about an hour and a half in fresh water. Reserve the cooking liquid. You could speed things up by using 250g (8oz) of tinned chickpeas, but be sure to rinse them well.

Heat the oven to 200°C (Gas 6). Cut the aubergines into slices 2-3cm (an inch) thick and brush them with one tablespoon of the oil. Place them on a non-stick baking tray and cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through.

Aubergines cuites au four

Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic, and skin and chop the tomatoes. Heat the other spoonful of oil in a large sauté pan. Throw in the whole spices and let them pop for a few moments, until you can smell the aromas. Add the garlic and stir and fry briefly. Add the tomatoes, grind in some black pepper and leave to cook gently for about 20 minutes. (Don’t add salt: there’s enough in the lemon).

Cut the aubergine slices into four and dice the lemon. Add both to the sauce, along with the chickpeas and some of the chickpea cooking liquid or water if it’s starting to stick. Cook on a low heat for another half an hour or so, stirring from time to time.

Aubergines

Remove the cinnamon and serve with rice, quinoa or couscous. As with so many similar dishes, this one is even better reheated the next day.

I used the other half of the lemon to flavour pasta with courgettes and garlic. I also put some in salads. I’d be fascinated to hear about other ways with preserved lemons so if you have a favourite way of using them, do pass it on!

* sweet, salty, tart, bitter and umami (the latter is the rich, savoury taste found in mushrooms and soya sauce).