Mezze: summer vegetables with a new twist for your picnics
What are summer vegetables for us are year-long vegetables for the Lebanese and Syrians.
Choosing your aubergine or eggplant
Aubergine or eggplant caviar is a perfect accompaniment to any summer picnic. Although we don’t really have enough days of hot sun in Switzerland to produce many non-hothouse aubergines, we still manage to produce some pretty good ones. If you can’t find local ones, try and get ones from Sicily, or at least Italy, countries that have a lot of sun. Spanish ones are sometimes available too.
Sicilian eggplants are round, and they do not have to be perfect and waxy to taste good. In fact, they are often tastiest when they look a little tired. You can find these in farmers markets, good Italian shops, and some large supermarkets.
The variety we usually grow is Switzerland, i.e. the elongated ones, are best when long and thin. Choose one that is firm and heavy, because they can often be rather hollow inside, and for making this dish, you need as much flesh as possible.
According to Gwen James, the male varieties tend to be the most dense and tastiest. Males have neat, round “bellybuttons,” and females have elongated ones, which means they have more seeds and less flesh.
Preparation of eggplants for aubergine caviar or caviar d’aubergine
Wash 2 kg of eggplants. Grill in oven or on a charcoal grill. If you grill them over a charcoal fire, they will have that smoky taste you find in Syria and Lebanon.
When the skins are charred, remove from heat. Put them in a paper bag to cool, or plunge them into cold water and dry carefully.
Crush flesh with a large fork, or purée in a moulinette or food processor. Careful not to overdo it in the food processor. Flesh should be smooth, without lumps, but not liquid.
Make sauce in a separate bowl. Mix 8 tablespoons of tahini (sesame paste, available in foreign food section of large supermarkets or in Oriental food stores) or sesame oil with 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add 6 to 8 cloves of crushed or extra finely chopped garlic, depending on how garlicy you want it. Salt to taste. About a teaspoon is usually fine.
Mix puréed aubergines and sauce.
Put in serving dish. Drizzle a little olive oil over it.
Just before serving, decorate with mint leaves or chopped parsley.
Photos courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net.