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Russian aubergine and green pepper dip – zakuski

October 30, 2011

Aubergine dip taskuskiMy 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…

Russian dolls

…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.

Blackened aubergines

Blackened empty aubergine shells

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).

Pear vodka

Russian aubergine and green pepper dip


3 medium aubergines (eggplants)
1 large green pepper
olive oil
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.

Pear vodkaWhat’s your favourite food to share?

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…?!

  1. October 30, 2011 9:46 am

    I was recently given a recipe for a Croatian version of this, I absolutely love it. Your photos are very impressive 🙂

    • October 30, 2011 9:47 am

      Thanks Cindy – I’d never heard of it until this event.

  2. October 30, 2011 10:12 am

    This sounds delicious! I will definitely try this!

    • October 31, 2011 8:46 am

      Definitely worth giving it a go.

  3. October 30, 2011 12:22 pm

    oh yum!!! love eggplant! especially roasted one!

    • October 31, 2011 8:46 am

      Yes – you forget quite how good they are. The flesh doesn’t look that exciting …and then you stick your spoon in for that gorgeous smokiness. Divine.

  4. October 30, 2011 1:04 pm

    I’m a huge fan of baba ganoush, mutabal and all things mezze. But never heard of this dip with eggplant. Sounds intriguing!

  5. October 30, 2011 2:09 pm

    A lovely dip!



    • October 31, 2011 8:45 am

      Thanks for stopping by Rosa

  6. October 30, 2011 2:10 pm

    That’s a lovely dip. Aubergines are a big favourite of mine – relatively inexpensive, seemingly always in season, and they are so good for you.

    • October 31, 2011 8:44 am

      I do so agree – they are a Middle East staple here so try to use them as much as possible.

  7. October 30, 2011 3:33 pm

    Yummy…Pakistani cuisine also has its own burnt aubergine version called Bhurta…charred aubergine fried with onions, tomatoes and coriander and sometimes served with yoghurt….I am growing lots of aubergines and am looking forward to trying out your Zakuski!

    • October 31, 2011 8:43 am

      I’ve never heard of the Pakistani version (although love Pakistani food) so thanks for sharing this. I’ll give it a try.

  8. October 30, 2011 11:59 pm

    This recipe sounds delicious, and like you, I’d never heard of it either! And I’m complete awed by your photos of those gorgeous babushkas!

    • October 31, 2011 8:40 am

      Thanks Celia – I bought them in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia can you believe. They are well-loved (i.e. a bit grubby) as they were put played with by tiny hands so many times.

  9. October 31, 2011 8:30 am

    Your food photography is just fantastic! I clicked over to the gingerbread/pear recipe and I’ll need to be trying that one soon! Is treacle not the same as molasses? I thought is was the UK version? Still so much to learn 🙂

    • October 31, 2011 8:39 am

      I think treacle and molasses are the same thing…although I’ve been meaning to double check for a while. I use molasses as I can get it here in Dubai (treacle is sometimes unavailable). Thanks for nice comment about pics.

  10. October 31, 2011 10:42 am

    OMG. I can’t believe we both posted about aubergines at the same time….this is foodaliciously freaky. Wanna start a new blog called ‘Aubergines in Arabia’? 😉

    Oh, and lemme guess your theme for the monthly mingle…would it be…. CUSTARD? tee hee…

    • October 31, 2011 8:56 pm

      Aubergines in Arabia – love it. …my lips are sealed until tomorrow. 🙂

  11. October 31, 2011 11:38 am

    It was interesting to read your post as we spent a few years in Russia and yes zakuski are very popular as is “shashlik” – delicious babrbequed kebabs. I was really pleasantly surprised to find these things as I’ve always loved this kind of food in the eastern mediterranean and middle east and like you didn’t expect to find it in Moscow! Best surprise of all were the fantastic “mezze’ in the city’s many Georgian restaurants. The cuisine resembles a hearty Turkish style of cooking, chock full of herbs, white cheese, pomegranates, plums, aubergine, cumin and walnuts and they even bring pickles and the lovely vegetable “bouquet” you find in Lebanese restaurants. Every Moscow expat has their favourite Georgian restaurant and it’s always a popular choice when people come to visit. It’s just a shame you can’t drink Georgian wine anymore. It was part of the fallout of a deterioration in Russian/Georgian relations :-(. Your pear vodka sounds ideal though.

    • October 31, 2011 8:53 pm

      I’ve been hearing a lot about Georgian food but I didn’t know it resembled Turkish cooking so closely. Sounds fantastic – thanks for your really interesting comment. Living in Russia must have been quite an experience.

  12. November 1, 2011 12:26 am

    Sally – you have outdone yourself. Fantastic post and I LOVE the pear vodka shots!!!

  13. November 1, 2011 4:38 am

    I’m not a big fan of aubergines but everyone at home is, so i should make this delicious looking dish for them!

  14. November 3, 2011 3:34 am

    I like this one very much. Expecially because it is vegetarian

  15. November 4, 2011 6:12 pm

    Thanks for being part of the monthly mingle zakuski party. Your photos are gorgeous and I’m excited to make your smoky eggplant and pepper dip along with the pear vodka because one can always use more at these sort of gatherings!


    • November 5, 2011 9:33 pm

      Really enjoyed it Nikki – great theme and so glad I found your lovely blog.

  16. November 8, 2011 7:14 am

    interesting! love to explore all versions of our mutabbal!

  17. November 10, 2011 8:49 pm

    How interesting, in bulgarian “zakuski” refers to something supposed to be eaten in the morning or in the midafternoon and usually it’s made out of dough.
    As for the aubergine dip – it’s one of my prefered summer dips.

    • November 25, 2011 1:24 pm

      Really – that’s so interesting. I had never heard of the word – but I’m a bit light on Russian recipes due to my Polish heritage.

  18. November 13, 2011 4:22 pm

    Your pics are very pretty!!

  19. November 29, 2011 1:59 am

    the matriyoshka’s soooo cute!

  20. November 24, 2012 11:42 pm

    Oh my God! The pictures are so so so pretty… super, super, superlike this post Sally!

    • November 26, 2012 8:12 am

      Thanks Ishita – it’s nice to have old stuff revisited.


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