Russian aubergine and green pepper dip – zakuski
My new barbecue waves at me from the patio outside my kitchen window and beckons me at every cooking opportunity. Pears, gingerbread, fish, chicken, tofu, asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli and a full English breakfast have already been transformed on its cast iron bars. My personal transformation when cooking was not always so positive when the temperatures were high and humid here in Dubai. I’d dive in through the back door for a few lungfuls of conditioned cooling air before dashing back out with my tongs, emerging slightly glowing (this is irony). While we were eating the fruits of my labour the other evening I threw a few aubergines and a green pepper under the lid and rescued them about 30 minutes later. They were blackened to perfection and I’d planned to make mutabal or baba ganoush with them. However…
…Nikki from Art & Lemons wrote about zakuski. There are mezze aplenty in this part of the world and tapas is hardly unusual, but zakuski is a new one on me (reminding me of my very strange teacher, Mrs Kus, who determined guilt of a crime in our class of 7 years olds by pressing our noses). Russian travellers would be welcomed back from a journey or guests tempted with these morsels while they waiting for the main banquet. Intrigued, I wanted to join Nikki’s virtual zakuski party right away and found to my surprise that Russians eat aubergine dip too. These Mediterranean fruit are not something I conjure up in my mind’s eye when thinking of the steppes, snow-laden Moscow or the extremes of Siberia. It’s intriguing that ‘aubergine caviar’ a dish so redolent of the Middle East could have a Slavic version but then a map tells me that the Caspian sea borders Iran as well as Russia. It reminds me that although nations have differences, it is very often food that brings people together.
The zakuski party (as part of Meeta’s Monthly Mingle) where people of all nationalities and backgrounds share food, ideas and recipes, albeit virtually is a tiny part of contributing to that understanding.
It’s not the most beautiful dip but deliciously smokey and perfect ladled up with some arabic bread. Infused vodka is also part of the zakuski table so a shot of my pear vodka would be perfect too (served with ice cubes containing a sliver of ginger).
Russian aubergine and green pepper dip
3 medium aubergines (eggplants)
1 large green pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons sour cream
juice of half a lemon
sea salt and black pepper
garlic chives (optional)
Prick the skins of the aubergines and place with the green pepper on a hot barbecue over direct heat with the lid closed for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally. The skin of the pepper should be blackened and the aubergine black and totally soft, almost collapsing in the middle. You could wrap up a whole head of garlic in a double layer of heavy-duty foil and roast it at the same time too. While the vegetables are on the barbecue (or in a very hot oven), saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft but not coloured (about 10 minutes). If you don’t want to roast the pepper you can chop into small pieces and saute this at the same time too.
When the aubergine has cooled slightly cut in half and scoop out the flesh, remove the blackened skin, membrane and seeds from the pepper and chop. Mash all the ingredients together with a fork, stirring in the sour cream. Season and add lemon juice to taste and garnish with garlic chives.
P.S. I’m thrilled to be the host for next month’s mingle, so please come back on 1st November when I’ll announce the theme. Can you guess…?!