Baby gem lettuce with charred eggplant yogurt, smacked cucumber, and shatta

By Sami Tamimi
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This works well either as a stand-alone starter or as part of a spread or side. It’s lovely with some hot smoked salmon or trout. “Smacked” cucumbers sounds a bit dramatic but, really, it’s just a way of bruising them to allow all the flavor to seep through to the flesh. Thanks to Ottolenghi chef Calvin Von Niebel for this salad.

Playing around: Some crumbled feta on top works very well, and if you don’t have the Urfa chile flakes, just use a pinch of black nigella seeds or some black sesame seeds.

Getting ahead: Make all the elements well in advance, here, if you like; up to a day for the cucumber and eggplant yogurt. The shatta needs to be made in advance, so you’ll be all set there.

SERVES
4

Ingredients

Eggplant yogurt:

  • 2 large eggplants, charred (instructions below; 500 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Smacked cucumber:

  • 1 medium English cucumber, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, and watery seeds removed (180 grams)
  • 1-1/4 cups/25 grams parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1-1/4 cups/25 grams mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5–6 baby gem lettuces (500 grams), bases trimmed
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon shatta (red or green; see separate recipe) or rose harissa
  • 1/2 teaspoon Urfa chile flakes (or a small pinch of black sesame seeds)

Shatta:

  • 250 grams red or green chiles (with seeds), stems trimmed, very thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Olive oil, to cover

Directions

Eggplant yogurt:

  1. To make the eggplant yogurt, scoop the flesh out of the charred eggplant; you should have about 160 grams Place this in the bowl of a food processor along with the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, and salt. Blitz for about 1 minute, until completely smooth, then set aside until needed. Clean the food processor.
  2. To prepare the cucumber, place each half on a chopping board, cut side facing down. Using the flat side of a large knife, lightly “smack” them until bruised but still holding their shape. Cut the cucumber into roughly one centimeter dice and set aside.
  3. Add the parsley, mint, garlic, olive oil, and salt to the food processor. Blitz for about two minutes, scraping down the sides a couple of times if you need to, to form a smooth paste, then add to the cucumber. Set aside for at least 20 minutes (and up to one day if kept in the fridge) for the flavors to infuse.
  4. Slice each head of baby gem lengthwise to make eight long, thin wedges (per lettuce). Arrange the lettuce on a round platter, overlapping the outer and inner circles to look like the petals of a flower. Lightly sprinkle the wedges with salt and a grind of black pepper, then splatter with the eggplant yogurt. Spoon on the cucumber, drizzle with the shatta, sprinkle with the chile flakes, and serve.

Shatta (red or green):

  1. Place the chiles and salt in a medium sterilized jar and mix well. Seal the jar and store in the fridge for three days. On the third day, drain the chiles, transfer them to a food processor, and blitz; you can either blitz well to form a fine paste or roughly blitz so that some texture remains. Add the vinegar and lemon juice, mix to combine, then return the mixture to the same jar. Pour enough olive oil on top to cover, and keep in the fridge for up to six months. The oil will firm up and separate from the chiles once it’s in the fridge, so just give it a good stir, for everything to combine, before using.

Excerpted from 'Falastin' by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Copyright © 2020 Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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