The poor man’s caviar at its best, chargrilled aubergine with melting paneer and refreshing mint, simple yet delicious. This has turned out to be better than expected…seriously who would have that just five ingredients could be turned into a gourmet delight and yet be a feast for the eyes.
This afternoon when I was rummaging through the fridge for lunch, I wanted to make a departure from carbs, yet turn out something light and healthy. So, while the aubergine or eggplant may not be top of the wish list of many I know, it certainly is a standard ingredient in my vegetable tray and in all kinds: big eggplants, thorny ones with purple and white lines, small deep purple ones that are great for stuffing, or long green ones that make for a great stir fry. And they keep inspiring me to explore new ways with this humble vegetable. I have used the big plump eggplants in this recipe and grilling them gives them a lovely smoky flavour. Paneer is the Indian version of cottage cheese, made with splitting the milk and letting the separated solids drain out from the liquid through a muslin cloth overnight. What you are left with is this beautiful creamy cheese that can be used in so many different ways. You can find paneer in Indian grocery stores in the freezer section but make sure you thaw it thoroughly and take out any excess liquid before using it. Alternatively, you can use a tub of cottage cheese – just drain out the whey before using it. This dish makes for an excellent anti-pasti or appetizer, just on its own and if you have some left over, use it as filling for a hearty sandwich or as a variation for pizza topping.
- Aubergine – 1 large
- Paneer or Cottage Cheese – 1 cup / 100 grams
- Cherry Tomatoes – 8-10
- Fresh Mint Leaves – Handful
- Garlic – 2 cloves
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 1/2 cup
- Salt to season
Wash and dry the whole aubergine with a clean kitchen cloth and cut off the ends. Slice the aubergine into even slices, about 1/4 inch in thickness. Try not to make them too thin as they will reduce in density when grilled and need to hold their shape. Heat a ribbed grill pan on a medium flame with a few lugs of good quality extra virgin olive oil which gives it a lovely mellow flavour. Aubergines are like sponges and soak up a lot of oil, so be generous. Place the aubergine slices on the pan and press lightly and brush some oil on the top side. Turn it over a few times till they are tender, golden brown and have taken on the lovely grill marks. Make sure they are fully cooked – there is nothing worse than half-cooked aubergines. In a mixing bowl, crumble the paneer, add finely minced garlic, salt, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a few of the mint leaves, finely chopped and give it a good mix. Chop the cherry tomatoes into halves. To serve, you can either pile on a platter and pass it around at an informal gathering or arrange a couple of slices on a plate for a sit down dinner. Arrange the aubergine slices on a plate while they are still warm, top it with a couple of teaspoons of paneer filling, tomato halves and a mint leaf on top. You can drizzle a little more olive oil on top to finish off. Absolutely delicious and so simple to make. Just as I was writing out the recipe, I am thinking this would be so good as part of a salad in the Summer, with something like rocket or watercress to add a bit of extra peppery punch. Go on, have a crack at this and let me know what you think.