In her wonderful book, The Flavour Thesaurus, Niki Segnit, describes how an aubergine’s skin, shiny and tight like a dolphin, squeaks when you squeeze it. This beautiful description perfectly fits and each time I buy one now it pops into my head. The thing I love about cooking with aubergines is how they can withstand strong flavours.
One of my favourite ways is to make a baba ganoush by charring them on a gas stove, until blackened. Then blending the flesh with lots of roasted garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, olive oil and a heavy pinch of toasted cumin seeds. Scooped up with warm flat breads it makes a simple and satisfying meal.
Another ideal match for this robust vegetable is lamb and the inspiration for this week’s lunch box recipe. As Segnit outlines it seems that the aubergine was perhaps designed with lamb in mind. Here we are making little walnut sized meatballs with merguez sausages, laden with harissa, and adding some creamy feta and mint.
Our aubergines are turned into boats, or shells, and roasted until their skin wrinkles in the oven. Then take the meatballs and stuff the shells, some extra feta for good measure, grilled until just bubbling. As this can be quite a rich dish I like to scatter some sliced radish on top for extra crunch and freshness. To turn this into a dinner you could serve with pitta breads and a dollop or two of Greek yoghurt.
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 medium aubergines
4 tbsp olive oil
4 merguez sausages, meat removed from the casings
Small handful mint leaves, finely chopped, plus a few extra leaves to garnish
1 medium brown onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
4 breakfast radishes, thinly sliced
Sea salt flakes, cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways. With a small knife, score a 1cm border inside each half. Scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon. Roughly chop the flesh and set aside. Drizzle the aubergine shells with 2 tbsp olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper. Roast on a baking tray for 20 minutes or until soft.
Meanwhile, in a bowl mix together the merguez meat with 80g feta and the chopped mint. I prefer not to season at this stage, as the sausage meat is spiced and the feta brings extra salt. Shape into walnut sized meatballs. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium frying pan on a medium heat. When the pan is hot, fry the meatballs for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. As the meatballs cook they will release fat. Drain some of the fat off, but I always like to keep a little in the pan for extra flavour. Add the chopped aubergine, onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the onion is soft.
Fill the roasted shells with the meatballs, onion, garlic and chopped aubergine. Crumble the rest of the feta on top. Grill for a few minutes until the feta softens. Scatter with the sliced radish and mint leaves. Serve immediately, with an extra glug of olive oil.
Laoise (Lee-sha) is a chef, food stylist and writer, living in London. Follow her on Twitter @laoisecooks and Instagram @laoisecooks. She studied at Leiths School of Food and Wine, where she now teaches. She has worked in a number of top London restaurants including The Dairy in Clapham and Paradise Garage in Bethnal Green.