Bharta, smoked aubergine with herbs
Roasting aubergines over a flame, either a stove if you have a gas burner, or ultimately better for flavour, over the ashes of a wood fire, will make this dish as well as Baba ganoush have a distinct and unbeatable smoky flavour. This roasting should be thorough and slow, until the skins of the fruit have become dry and hard to touch, a dark purple tone that moves into grey. Once this point is reached, which can take up to two hours, the inside flesh has become smooth and creamy, and the flavour of the fire has infused, providing the distinct taste.
Although I recommend this cooking process, to be honest, I live in a small flat, with a small kitchen on a third floor, nowhere close to a gas stove and much less an open fire. I do, when the weather permits, set up a tiny kettle on the balcony to roast the aubergines and the result is sublime. Nevertheless, Bharta is one of my weak spots, a must have every now and then, so I naughtily bake them in the oven. One of those moments when a compromise is at call. The Bharta does turn out delicious, enough to keep me at it, but if you can do it right, please.
2 medium to large aubergines
3-4 garlic cloves finely chopped
3-4 onions finely chopped
3-4 tomatoes finely chopped
1 green or red chili pepper seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
salt to taste
leaves from five branches of coriander, chopped
Prick the skins of the aubergines with a fork so that they do not split when roasted. Roast the aubergines for about 2 hours over indirect heat on a barbecue, or over the flame of a gas burner rotating the aubergines until the skins are charred, or as a last resort in an oven at 180° C for 90 minutes more or less. When the skins are hard and dark and the aubergines feel hollow when lightly pressed, they are done.
Whilst the aubergines are cooking, warm a heavy bottom pan with olive oil. Sautée the garlic, onions, turmeric, cumin and salt, with the chili pepper if using them, until transparent. Add the chopped tomato and continue cooking until the ingredients have become a paste. Once the aubergines are done, cut the skin open on one side and spoon out the flesh into the pan with the onion, tomato and garlic paste, breaking up the aubergine with a wooden spoon as you incorporate it and cook for 6 to 7 minutes more. Discard the skins. Before serving, lightly mix in the coriander leaves. Spread out the Bharta on a flat plate, pour some olive oil over it and eat it with flat bread.