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Baby gem lettuce with charred eggplant yogurt, smacked cucumber and shatta from Falastin.
Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley.
Our cookbook of the week is Falastin by chef Sami Tamimi and writer Tara Wigley. Over the next two days, we’ll feature another recipe from the book and an interview with the authors.
To try another recipe from the book, check out: Ful medames .
“It’s a showstopper when you serve it,” says Sami Tamimi of his baby gem lettuce with charred eggplant yogurt, smacked cucumbers and shatta. “When you have all the elements of Palestinian flavours put together really cleverly in one dish, it’s so nice and refreshing.”
Adding to the appeal of this vibrant salad is the fact that you can prepare all of the components ahead of time, and assemble immediately prior to serving. Shatta — a fiery Levantine condiment made with red or green chilies — needs at least three to four days of fermentation time in the fridge before you use it, so plan accordingly.
“When people eat it they start off being very polite, but then they realize how good all the elements are and you’ll see them picking up a little gem in their hands and then definitely going back for the double-dip,” says Tara Wigley. laughing. “It’s my absolute favourite — it’s just delicious. You can bulk it out with some feta if you want, or have it alongside some salmon or whatever else you’re eating.”
BABY GEM LETTUCE WITH CHARRED EGGPLANT YOGURT, SMACKED CUCUMBER AND SHATTA
2 large eggplants, charred (instructions follow; 1 lb 2 oz/500 g)
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp tahini
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium English cucumber, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and watery seeds removed (6 1/3 oz/180 g)
1 1/4 cups (25 g) parsley, roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups (25 g) mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 garlic clove, roughly chopped
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
5–6 baby gem lettuces (1 lb 2 oz/500 g), bases trimmed
Salt and black pepper
1 1/2 tbsp shatta (red or green; recipe follows) or rose harissa
1/2 tsp Urfa chili flakes (or a small pinch of black sesame seeds)
To make the eggplant yogurt, scoop the flesh out of the charred eggplant; you should have about 5 1/4 oz (160 g). Place this in the bowl of a food processor along with the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and salt. Blitz for about 1 minute, until completely smooth, then set aside until needed. Clean the food processor.
To prepare the cucumber, place each half on a chopping board, cut side facing down. Using the flat side of a large knife, lightly “smack” them until bruised but still holding their shape. Cut the cucumber into roughly 1/2-inch (1 cm) dice and set aside.
Add the parsley, mint, garlic, olive oil and salt to the food processor. Blitz for about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides a couple of times if you need to, to form a smooth paste, then add to the cucumber. Set aside for at least 20 minutes (and up to 1 day if kept in the fridge) for the flavours to infuse.
Slice each head of baby gem lengthwise to make eight long, thin wedges (per lettuce). Arrange the lettuce on a round platter, overlapping the outer and inner circles to look like the petals of a flower. Lightly sprinkle the wedges with salt and a grind of black pepper, then splatter with the eggplant yogurt. Spoon on the cucumber, drizzle with the shatta, sprinkle with the chili flakes and serve.
Serves: four generously
Playing around: Some crumbled feta on top works very well, and if you don’t have the Urfa chili flakes, just use a pinch of black nigella seeds or some black sesame seeds.
Getting ahead: Make all the elements well in advance, here, if you like; up to a day for the cucumber and eggplant yogurt. The shatta needs to be made in advance, so you’ll be all set there.
EGGPLANTS: how to char
Unless you don’t mind your whole house smelling of charred eggplants, ventilation is key. Open the windows, open the door, put on the fan! We char our eggplants in one of two ways.
If you have a gas flame on an open stove top (as opposed to an electric stove), is to put one eggplant over each gas ring, turn the flame on high and leave it there for 15–20 minutes, turning halfway through with long tongs so that all sides get charred. The advantage of doing this is that it is a really quick and very effective way of getting the flesh smoky. The disadvantage is that it can cause a bit of a mess on your stove top if the eggplants leak once they’ve been turned and their skin gets pierced. This mess can either be cleaned up with a bit of elbow grease or minimized in the first place if you cover your stove top with aluminum foil. Make holes in the foil for the burners to pop through and then proceed.
If you have an electric stove , you’ll need to heat up a grill pan until it is very hot — place it over high heat for at least 5 minutes, until smoking — then add the eggplants directly to the pan. Pierce them a few times with a sharp knife before doing so. This method takes longer than the open- flame option — 35 or 40 minutes, again turning throughout with long tongs so that all sides get charred — but you will get the same result. At the end of the 40 minutes, transfer the eggplants to a foil-lined baking sheet and place under a broiler for a final 10 minutes. Once charred (whether on a gas ring or in a grill pan), place the eggplants in a colander. Once cool enough to handle, slit them open to scoop out the flesh and place in a clean colander. Don’t worry if some of the charred skin sticks to the flesh; this all adds to the smoky flavour. Set aside for an hour or so (or overnight), over a bowl, to drain. You’re then all set for the smokiest of all smoky spreads, soups and sauces.
SHATTA (red or green)
Equipment note: As with anything being left to ferment, the jar you put your chilies into needs to be properly sterilized (see note).
9 oz (250 g) red or green chilies (with seeds), stems trimmed, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp (15 mL) salt
3 tbsp (45 mL) cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
Olive oil, to cover
Place the chilies and salt in a medium sterilized jar and mix well. Seal the jar and store in the fridge for 3 days. On the third day, drain the chilies, transfer them to a food processor and blitz; you can either blitz well to form a fine paste or roughly blitz so that some texture remains. Add the vinegar and lemon juice, mix to combine, then return the mixture to the same jar. Pour enough olive oil on top to cover and keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. The oil will firm up and separate from the chilies once it’s in the fridge, so just give it a good stir, for everything to combine, before using.
Makes: 1 medium jar
Note: Sterilizing jars is a necessity when preserving foods. It ensures that all bacteria and yeasts are removed from a jar so that the food remains fresh. There are various ways to sterilize a glass jar; including a water bath, where the jars go into water, with their lids added separately, the water is brought to a boil and then the jars are “cooked” for 10 minutes, or filling the jars with just-boiled water and then rinsing and drying with a clean dish towel. We tend to just put ours into the dishwasher, though, and run it as a normal wash — it’s a simple solution that works very well.
Excerpted from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Text copyright © 2020 by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020