Baby Gem Lettuce with Charred Eggplant Yogurt, Smacked Cucumber, and Shatta
Source: Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, Falastin
This works well either as a stand-alone starter or as part of a spread or side. It’s lovely with some hot smoked salmon or trout. “Smacked” cucumbers sounds a bit dramatic but, really, it’s just a way of bruising them to allow all the flavor to seep through to the flesh. Thanks to Ottolenghi chef Calvin Von Niebel for this salad.
Playing around: Some crumbled feta on top works very well, and if you don’t have the Urfa chile 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.
Serves 4 generously
2 large eggplants, charred (instructions below; 1 lb 2 oz/500g)
2 tbsp Greek yogurt
½ garlic clove, finely chopped
1½ tbsp lemon juice
1½ tbsp tahini
½ tsp salt
1 medium English cucumber, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, and watery seeds removed (6⅓ oz/180g)
1¼ cups/25g parsley, roughly chopped
1¼ cups/25g mint leaves, roughly chopped
½ garlic clove, roughly chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
5–6 baby gem lettuces (1 lb 2 oz/500g), bases trimmed
Salt and black pepper
1½ tbsp shatta (red or green; see separate recipe) or rose harissa
½ tsp Urfa chile 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 5¼ oz/160g. 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 ½-inch/1cm 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 flavors 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 chile flakes, and serve.
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. The first, 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 flavor. 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.
Reprinted with permission from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: Jenny Zarins © 2020.