This is a traditional village method of cooking aubergines. When the communal oven was fired up for bread, villagers would often put in vegetables, a piece of meat, or a stew to profit from the heat. Although many villagers now have simple gas or electric ovens, the tradition still carries on in some regions, and I have enjoyed these hot, freshly baked aubergines with a garlicky tomato sauce and with melted goat’s cheese, but my favourite way is with cool, creamy garlic-flavoured yoghurt spiked with fresh mint and eaten with a spoon like a melon.
6 baby or 2 long, slim aubergines
1-2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500ml thick, creamy yoghurt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped (reserve some for garnishing)
2 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
Cut the aubergines in half, lengthways, right through the stalks and place them on a lightly oiled baking dish or sheet. Brush the tops with some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place them in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
Using your fingers, lightly press down the middles of the aubergines if the flesh is soft enough, brush with oil again, and return them to the oven for 15 minutes, until the flesh is soft and nicely browned.
Meanwhile, beat the yoghurt with the garlic in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Beat in most of the mint.
Take the aubergines out of the oven and arrange them on a serving dish. Using a sharp knife, make two or three criss-cross incisions into the flesh and press down the middle to form a hollow for the yoghurt. Spoon the yoghurt into each one and garnish with the reserved mint and pomegranate seeds.
Serve immediately, while the aubergines are still hot, and eat them with a spoon, scooping out the flesh with the yoghurt, leaving the skin behind.
Extracted from Mezze: Small Plates to Share by Ghillie Basan (Ryland Peters & Small, approx €8). Photograph by Jan Baldwin.