THIS may look like a bowl of beige sludge but boy oh boy it packs a flavour punch.

There are lots of versions around, also known as Baba Ganoush, as it’s a staple of Mediterranean and North African cooking, and I have combined a few here but mostly the flavour bomb is the smoking of the aubergine.
Shortly before lockdown I invested in a smoker – it’s a small, table-top model (not much bigger than a backpack) that can be easily stored in the shed – and I’ve been experimenting with cold-smoking, which is a low and slow way to infuse meat, fish and vegetables with that deep, smokiness that doesn’t come from a bottle like so many ‘smoked’ goods.

The critical different between hot and cold smoking, unsurprisingly, is temperature.

You can hot smoke foods in any closed-lid barbecue – it’s a guaranteed side benefit of cooking over charcoal. With hot smoking you are cooking AND smoking at the same time – the smoke is generated by wood chips placed on top of the coals to make sure there’s enough smoke to permeat, and the temperature is high enough to cook the foodstuff quickly and safely.

Cold smoking is cooler (duh), because the intent is not to cook the food, but to keep it at a foodsafe temperature while the smoke infuses. So a cold smoke attachment is designed to keep a small amount of woodchips smouldering for hours without raising the temperature inside the cabinet. It’s clever!

I began with the obvious things like salmon, bacon, cheese, garlic and now I’m experimenting with veg, butter, nuts etc.

The conventional way to prepare aubergine for puree is to scorch it over a direct flame, often on a gas hob, until it softens and collapses. The alternative is to oven-bake on a relatively high heat to achieve the same effect but without the smokiness.

You will need:

  • 1 med-to-large aubergine, pricked all over
  • 1 green chilli, slit from top to toe
  • 1 bulb proper garlic from the greengrocer (not the tiny-cloved ones you get in supermarkets)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons good, full-fat Greek yoghurt (eg Total, Tim’s, Yeo Valley etc) – you can substitute a good dairy-free product if necessary
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Sea salt

For this recipe, I started the aubergine off whole in the oven to get it cooked – at 200C it takes around 45 minutes on a baking sheet – BE SURE TO PRICK IT WITH A KNIFE FIRST, to avoid explosions! I then cut it down the middle to expose the innards and placed it on the tray in the smoker where it rested for 3 hours while gentle puffs of beechwood drifted over, under and into it. On the shelf above it I placed a green chilli, sliced vertically, and a bulb of garlic.

If you don’t have a smoker, you can improvise using an old roasting tin, with wood shavings and any other aromatics you like (jasmine tea leaves, peppercorns) on a foil plate in the bottom, a rack placed in it to hold the food and a very good tent of tin foil around it (make sure you get a good seal). You want the lowest heat possible, just enough to ignite the wood chips, and it will be a lot quicker so probably only allow 30-45 minutes of smoking time. You definitely don’t want a fire or naked flame in your tin.

Method

  • In a blender (or a jug if you are using a stick blender), place 1-2 large smoked garlic cloves, the green chilli (deseeded and chopped), and scrape out the inside of the aubergine leaving behind the skin.
  • Add a tablespoon of tahini, a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, a heaped teaspoon of sea salt, the juice of half a lemon, and 3 tablespoons of green yoghurt. Blitz until you get a smooth puree, and check the seasoning as you may need more salt or lemon juice.
  • I love the green notes from the chilli, the bite of raw garlic and the mellowness of the aubergine and tahini. The smoke is foremost but not overpowering, although it will resonate for hours afterwards, and remind you, every time you open the fridge, to have another spoonful!
  • This dip is delicious on its own with bread, goes really well with cold roast chicken or fish, as part of a mezze platter with houmous or you could add a spoonful to salad dressing for a rich, smoky note.