“Another bite” is a series of occasional posts about food, presenting the delicious local products, tasty dishes and other gastronomic delights we encounter on our tours and cruises.
Aubergine, or eggplant in American and Australian English, but also Melanzane (Italian), Melitzana (Greek) or Patlıcan (Turkish), is one of the most widely used and tasty ingredients in several traditional cuisines all over the world; there are abundant recommendations as to how to best prepare it. Even if your palate is not very familiar with this vegetable, at least everyone should have heard about (if not tasted) the French Ratatouille, the Greek Moussaka, the Turkish İmam Bayıldı and the Italian Parmigiana di melanzane or Ciambotta, typical Mediterranean dishes with vegetables and virgin olive oil, where aubergines play the first fiddle.
On our tours in Greece and Turkey, we have several opportunities to taste such dishes in many variations that blend the aromas of fresh Aegean vegetables with succulent summer tomatoes and local cheeses.
All around the world there are so many different varieties of aubergines – long, round, purple, white – and also so many great ways to cook them – fried, roasted, grilled, steamed, stuffed – that you can easily find ways to experiment, to play with the flavours and textures. To me, aubergines conjure up sun-soaked memories from my summer vacations, when the countryside orchards gush fresh and sensuous scents, or even when my local city market is filled with colours.
This delicious vegetarian recipe – tested (and tasted) at many lunches during my holidays in the Greek islands and reproduced slightly differently when back home – combines the fresh Mediterranean ingredients with halloumi; the famous white cheese originating from Cyprus. Halloumi is made mainly from goat’s milk, but can be also be based on a combination of milk from cows, goats and/or sheep. What distinguishes it from feta and the other white cheeses (i.e. mozzarella) is its semi-hard texture and salty taste. You can find it in good supermarkets or delicatessen stores, and of course, fried or grilled halloumi is a fantastic addition to vegetables or to fresh salads.
Serves 4 as main, 6-8 as appetiser
4 medium aubergines, cut into round slices
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves crushed garlic
2 cups fresh tomatoes chopped in small cubes
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 sprig fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely sliced
10-15 sliced black olives
250g block halloumi cheese, cut into small slices
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice up aubergines into 1 cm thick round slices, dust with salt and allow them to stand in a strainer for about 30 minutes to remove the bitter juices. Wash, drain and dry on a paper towel.
Drench the halloumi cheese in fresh water to remove its strong salty flavour and dry on a paper towel before cutting into slices.
Heat oven to 200C. Drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil over the aubergines and grill/roast in the oven for 3-4 min on each side until tender and golden.
While the aubergines are grilling, put 3-4 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for 4-5 min until the onions are soft and the garlic has a tiny bit of colour. Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer for few minutes (5-6mins) until the sauce has thickened. Stir in the herbs and fresh pepper. Remove from the heat.
Pour half of the sauce into an earthenware dish. Top this successively with the aubergine slices, preferably two layers of aubergines, and finally with the halloumi slices until they cover the whole surface. Pour the rest of the sauce on top and place the dish in the oven, at 180 -200°C (350-400°F) for 20 minutes. Add the sliced olives and the chopped fresh parsley and replace in the oven for another 15-20 minutes until the aubergines have turned a golden-brown colour.
The dish can be eaten straight away to take advantage of the soft texture of the melted halloumi.
Enjoy your meal, kali orexi or afiyet olsun!