RECIPE: Rosemary and basil aubergines in za’atar recipe

Food writer Mark Diacono says this is his favourite way with aubergines, and one that shows how they take beautifully to so many herbs.

He enthuses: “The oregano in the za’atar and the rosemary lend flavour to the cooking aubergines, while the fresh basil scattered to serve completes the picture. Adding the rosemary for the last few minutes aromatises the aubergines; I know ‘aromatise’ sounds like the sort of unwelcome thing a garage unexpectedly does to your car when you’ve taken it for an MOT, but I promise it is the best word for it.

“It is as if resinous smoke has been blown through every pore of the aubergine, without a trace of the bitterness that comes with roasting rosemary sprigs until they resemble the skeletons of sparrows’ legs. Try this with roast lamb, griddled courgettes, couscous and pretty much any cold cuts.

Ingredients:

(Serves 4)

4 aubergines (eggplant), quartered lengthways

4 tbsp olive oil

A few good sprigs of rosemary, broken into 3cm (1in) pieces

4 tbsp za’atar (see below)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the za’atar:

(Makes a small jarful)

3 tbsp sesame seeds

1½ tbsp ground cumin

2 tbsp sumac

2 tbsp dried Mexican oregano, dried marjoram, oregano, savory or hyssop

1 tbsp salt

For the dressing:

50g (2oz) tahini

1 tbsp yoghurt

Juice of 1 lemon

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

To serve:

Pomegranate molasses

Hot sauce or chilli flakes

Handful of Greek basil leaves, or other basil finely shredded

Method:

1. Make the za’atar. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a pan over a medium heat, shuffling them around a bit to ensure they don’t turn too dark.

Combine all the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, as much as anything to encourage the flavours and scents to be released as they mix. Store in a sealed jar, where it will keep for a few months, losing intensity over time.

2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.

3. Lay the aubergine quarters in a single layer on baking sheets, brush with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place in the oven, turn the heat down to 180°C/350°F/
gas mark 4, and cook for 20–25 minutes until tender and brown.

4. Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together with two tablespoons water; use a little more water if required, to reach a consistency of double (heavy) cream.

5. Mix the rosemary, za’atar and a heavy grinding of pepper in a bowl. Remove the aubergines from the oven, top with the za’atar mix, drizzle with more oil and return to the oven for five minutes.

6. Drizzle with the tahini dressing, pomegranate molasses, hot sauce or chilli flakes and scatter with basil.

Herb by Mark Diacono is published by Quadrille, priced £26. Photography Mark Diacono. Available now.

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