I need to make it clear first of all that the finished version of this lunch dish did not look like the picture in the book. To say I had a crisis of confidence mid-way through is an understatement, but I re-grouped and the finished version tasted good despite being non-photogenic. The fact that it was different is down to a) my inability to cook aubergines; and b) laziness on my part about roasting aubergines correctly. I have never toasted an aubergine over an open flame before, a task required for this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. I love his recipes, we have two of his books and watch his TV programmes. But my experience at toasting an aubergine did not go as described in the book. Perhaps my aubergines were too big, perhaps I got impatient [very likely]. So here I am including two versions. The first is if you are patient and an excellent toaster of aubergines, the second is my cobbled-together version for impatient cooks. The ingredients are the same.
2 medium aubergines
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
200g small dark lentils, rinsed
3 carrots, peeled
1 bay leaf
½ onion [I used two large]
3 tbsp olive oil
3 thyme sprigs
12 cherry tomatoes halved [I used a can of tomatoes]
1/3 tsp brown sugar
3 tbsp of fresh herbs [I used parsley and mint]
1 small pot of Greek or natural yogurt
Salt and black pepper
Yotam’s original version
To cook the aubergines on a gas hob, line the area on top of the hob around the burners with foil. Put the aubergines directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them all the time so they don’t catch fire. Remove the aubergines from the heat. Cut a slit down the centre of the aubergine and scoop out the flesh with a spoon and put into a colander over the sink. Avoid the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes, then put in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and ½ tbsp of the vinegar. Set aside.
Place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Add to the pan one carrot cut into chunks, ½ an onion, bay leaf and fresh thyme. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil then simmer on low for up to 25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Drain in a sieve, discarding the vegetables and herbs. Transfer to a bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tbsp olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Set aside somewhere warm. Cut the remaining carrot into 1cm dice and mix with the fresh tomatoes, the remaining oil, sugar and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for 20 minutes, until the carrot is tender but still firm. Add the cooked lentils to the warm lentils, add the freshly-chopped herbs and stir gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Spoon the lentils onto serving plates, pile some aubergine on top of the lentils, and on top of it all put a spoonful of yogurt. Finish with a trickle of oil.
My ‘life is too short to roast an aubergine’ version
I gave up after 30 minutes of roasting the aubergines, and scraped the part-cooked flesh into a bowl, avoiding the black skin. I left it to drain, then seasoned it with salt, pepper, and ½ tbsp of the vinegar. I cooked the lentils the Yotam way.
As we rarely use our oven [it uses too much of our precious solar electricity] I cooked the vegetables on the hob. I also added more onion. I put 2 tbsp olive in a large frying pan, and cooked the diced onions on low for 3 minutes then added the carrots. After 10 minutes I stirred in the tinned tomatoes, and the diced aubergine flesh, and cooked it until the carrots were tender.
I served it up the Yotam way. Our final verdict? A very satisfying tasty dish, given the edge by the wonderful smokiness of the aubergine which lingered on our tongues after the last mouthful. With reflection, I needed more patience when cooking the aubergines. Perhaps also the aubergines could have been smaller. But the roasting over the gas flame produces the most wonderful smoky flavour. I just wish it was quicker/easier and I was more patient.
‘Plenty’ by Yotam Ottolenghi