Okay, so I am a little delayed in adding Part Two of my Medley of Silk Road Salads, but better late than never. This second (of four) salad recipes is one of my favourite summer/fall sides, and it’s inspiration comes from Turkey.
I must confess that I never used to be an eggplant fan. In fact, eggplants were the one vegetable that I tried to avoid at all costs. In retrospect, I think my disdain for the eggplant came from having only ever tried some poor, waspy attempts at making eggplant parmesan, ratatouille or moussaka – where the eggplant was either tough and spongey or bloated and mushy. I used to hate getting a vegetarian meal at a wedding or function and finding eggplant “imposters” in my dish.
So you can imagine it took Michael a whole lot of pushing to get me to order it at a restaurant. We ordered a side of “bademjan salad” (simply put, eggplant salad) at Montfort Restaurant in Oakville one night and it was an instant love affair. Oh eggplant where have you been all my life? The salad (in most Arabic meals, salad refers as well to what we would call ‘dips’) was smooth, silky, and tangy – rich in tomato, olive oil and spices. Spread on piping hot, fresh baked pita, it was out of this world (and still is – I highly recommend ordering it at Montforts!)
Since falling in love with eggplant – prepared correctly – I have ventured much more intrepidly into the world of the aubergine, sampling such famous dishes as Imam Bayildi (the famous stuffed eggplant salad of Turkey), the smokey, smooth eggplant khoresh of Iran, Georgia’s mouth-watering eggplant strips wrapped around garlic – walnut paste, spicy eggplant and pepper stew in Turkestan, and dill and garlic grilled eggplant salad served all over Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Today’s salad is Turkish inspired because of it’s ingredients – paprika and Aleppo pepper – but you could find something quite similar in just about every Central Asian country. Aleppo pepper is a type of red pepper grown in the Aleppo region of Syria. Rich, red flakes are spicy and aromatic, but lack the bite of the more common red pepper flakes seen in supermarkets across North America. You can just as easily substitute Maras Biber (a pepper grown in the Maras region of Turkey) or Isot Biber (a pepper grown in the Urfa region of Turkey). Now, if you do not happen to have any of these on hand (and chances are you don’t, as it took some pretty dedicated combing of the city to locate all three on our part), here are your options:
1. In the Toronto area, you can go to Ararat Fine Foods, north of Lawrence on Avenue road, and buy your own Aleppo pepper
2. In the Ottawa area, you can go to Istanbul store (and don’t ask me where it is, I can’t remember – except that it is in a strip mall, not to0 far from the MEC) and buy any of the three
3. Visit the Spice Trader on Queen Street near Bathurst (or order online at http://www.thespicetrader.ca) – *very expensive*
4. In the Mississauga area, ask me if I will share some with you, and I will gladly do so
5. Substitute red pepper flakes – but you really wont get the true flavour
6. Make it an Uzbek salad by omitting the Aleppo pepper, and replacing the 2 tbsp of fresh mint with 1/4 cup fresh dill
Finding the appropriate pepper is the hardest part of the recipe. Once you have it, it’s smooth cooking from hereon in
2 Asian eggplants (the long thin kind – if you get the fatter Italian or Sicilian eggplants, you need to salt them for 30 minutes and rinse them after)
1 red bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp vinegar (red wine or white)
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tsp sweet paprika (as always, a good quality paprika from a Middle Eastern store works best)
1 tsp Aleppo pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Slice the eggplant into 0.5 cm thick slices (lengthwise). Salt and rinse if using Sicilian eggplants – skip this step if using Asian eggplants. Chop pepper into about 6 large slices. Heat up barbecue and brush the eggplant slices and peppers with 1 tbsp of the olive oil (just to barely coat). Grill them on the barbecue – eggplant cooks very fast, so don’t leave it; watch it carefully. When lightly charred, remove eggplant and pepper slices and allow to cool. Meanwhile make the dressing by whisking all remaining ingredients together in a bowl (except for the herbs). When eggplants and peppers are cool enough to touch, slice them into bit sized pieces, toss them in the dressing, and adding the herbs last. Allowing the salad to marinade at least an hour is advisable. Serve at room temperature.
This salad serves four as a side dish, 2 as a main dish. It doubles quite well.