My husband and I, not because we want to, live apart for much of the time. Our collective desire is to be together. That would be our happy life. When we are together we cook. When we are apart, we often cook separately what we have cooked together. It makes us feel closer in some way. In Grenoble recently we went back to a favourite little Moroccan restaurant. There is a large North African and Arab community in the city and it is one of the things we love about the place. This is not the grandest, nor the most expensive but it is family run and in the simple surroundings which appear not to have changed in decades you will get a fantastic meal served with grace and style by one of the children and not break the bank. If I could remember it’s name I would share it ….
We had this dish as a starter not for the first time and back home in Cantal decided to try and replicate it. Since then we have made it together and we have made it apart. The restaurant has the edge, of course but I would urge you to give it a go because it is rather luscious.
Peel an aubergine (eggplant) and dice it, put into a pan with sufficient water to immerse (initially it’s light and spongy texture will cause it to float) and a teaspoon of salt. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until really soft. Then drain in a collander and let all the water release. Meanwhile, chop around 3 ripe tomatoes (if your tomatoes are dull and flavourless please use tinned – life is too short to willingly eat uninspiring tomatoes) and crush as much garlic as you dare – I use a fat clove for each tomato. When the aubergine is well drained (feel free to give it a good squish to this end) sautee the garlic and tomatoes in a glug of olive oil with around a teaspoon of crushed cumin seed, twice that of crushed coriander seed and a half teaspoon of paprika (smoked or not depending on your own preference). I add a pinch of sugar too – I find it makes tomatoes more tomatoey for some mysterious reason. When the tomatoes are well cooked down stir in the aubergine pulp. Let it cook for about 10 minutes and then fork it, mash it or even blend it (I blend with my trusty stick blender because I prefer the silken texture it gives). Taste and add salt (mine is black and volcanic from Hawaii but that is not at all necessary – it honestly happens to be what I have in the house and is not any kind of arty condiment affectation) and more crushed coriander seed. You can finish with chopped fresh coriander (cillantro) and it will be all the better for it but it is hard to find here in my coin perdu and I can’t seem to get it to grow successfully – a matter of huge frustration which borders on the obsessional. Last of all drizzle with more olive oil.
This can be eaten hot or cold – we favour just above warm with bread – here in bread heaven we have a ridiculous choice of course, in North Africa I imagine it would be eaten with pitta and, as an aside, I have dipped crunchy raw veggies in it too and it is good and feels rather virtuous.
As a point of interest – the aubergine was once called mala insane (the apple of madness) and it is a member of the nightshade family. Though not deadly, it does contain toxins which will upset a sturdy tummy when turning from flower to fruit. You have been warned.
PS: The title is a Moroccan proverb of which I am very fond