The cycle of learning has always fascinated me. The generosity of spirit and heart that compels someone to teach someone else a fact, a skill, a life changing ability.
In 2005, our young family journeyed to Greece and we were very fortunate to visit the magical island of Santorini. We were joined by friends there and had a wondrous few days absorbing the island’s beauty and savouring its delicious cuisine together.
One day, while I stayed back at our accommodation so our youngest could enjoy his daytime nap undisturbed, Eugene took the older two, and along with our with friends, visited the small isolated beach of Pori for a swim. Whilst there, they noticed an old boat shed that had been converted into a tavern called, Captain John’s Tavern. After their swim in the tranquil surrounds, they decided to stop at the tavern for a drink and mezedes. Eugene noticed the chef cooking eggplants over an open charcoal fire. He asked the chef about what he was doing. The chef replied to Eugene, ‘This is how we make our melitzanosalata.’ The chef was very generous and allowed Eugene to watch him grilling and smoking the eggplants, and willingly shared his cooking knowledge and know-how. Eugene ordered a serve of the fresh, warm smoky dip and it was the best melitzanosalata he had ever had!
It took Eugene a few years to put the cooking lesson into action; but once he did, there was no turning back! Whoever tries our melitzanosalata always asks, ‘How did you make this?’ – even our children. Now our eldest son makes it for his friends, who in turn make it for their families and so on. The ripples of learning continue to circle far and wide for this dish.
Note: One should see this as the most basic of melitzanosalata recipes. There are many variations of this recipe – some include a splash of vinegar, ground walnuts, pomegranate arils and/or herbs. All of these are delicious additions, but the most important thing is to master the basic dip, as this is the key to really enjoying this robust yet subtle delight.
You will need…
For the Melitzanosalata
- 5 large eggplants
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1 heaped teaspoon salt
- Generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Grill and smoke the eggplants
- Place whole eggplants on the barbecue preheated on ‘High.’ Lower the barbecue lid, but leave it ajar
- Grill the eggplants, turning them over every 5 minutes or so. If there are hot spots on your barbecue, move the eggplants around so they all cook evenly
- Continue grilling the eggplants until all the water in them has cooked off and the eggplants collapse when you press on them gently (approximately 45-50 minutes)
- Turn off the barbecue and leave the eggplants in the barbecue for about 15 minutes, with the lid completely closed. This will allow them to smoke and dehydrate further
- Remove the eggplants from the barbecue
Prepare the Melitzanosalata
- While the eggplants are cooling a little, finely chop 1-2 cloves of garlic. You do not want the garlic flavour to overpower the smoky flavour in the melitzanosalata. If you are unsure about the strength of your garlic, just add one clove at a time until you have the desired taste
- Add one heaped teaspoon of salt to the chopped garlic and mash it into a paste
- Add the mashed garlic to a mixing bowl
- Carefully pull the charred skin off the eggplants and scrape their flesh out onto a chopping board. Discard the charred eggplant skin.
- Coarsely chop the eggplant flesh and add it to the mixing bowl
- Generously drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
- Mix the garlic, eggplant and olive oil together
- Taste for salt and oil
Serve the Melitzanosalata
- Serve on crusty bread or as an accompaniment to vegetables or meat
Melitzanosalata Key Points
The most important part of making this dip is the grilling and the smoking of the eggplants
- The barbecue heat must remain on ‘High’ throughout the grilling process
- The skin of the eggplants will char and blister during the cooking process, even revealing some
eggplant flesh – that is okay
- Use large tongs to gently lift and rotate the eggplants on the barbecue
- All of the water in the eggplants must be cooked off, otherwise the flavour of the dip will be diluted
- Once all the water in the eggplants has cooked off and the eggplants are dehydrated, the flesh of the eggplants will caramelise and brown a little. This will add flavour to the dip
- Be careful when handling the grilled eggplants, as their flesh is very hot. Hold the stalks of the
eggplants and use tongs to remove the skin and scrape the flesh out
- You can add chopped parsley, chopped walnuts, pomegranate arils and even a splash of vinegar to the dip, for additional flavour and texture