Oven Baked Aubergines with Tahini and Tomatoes in Acre, Israel

It’s been a while, but I am excited to be back. Israel was the most INCREDIBLE adventure where we were treated warmly by all those we met. I have been pondering on how best to break up the blog posts as I know that some of my blog readers (or social media followers) have trips planned and others that are thinking about going in the future. As not everyone is interested in the travel aspect I will incorporate every Israel blog post with a recipe that was inspired from my trip – therefore hopefully appealing to all readers.

The order of our trip (which maybe useful if you are thinking on going yourself) was as follows:

Tel Aviv (stayed in Jaffa – highly recommend)

Acre (also known as Akko/Akka) – which I will talk about today

Sea of Galilee – and explored all the northern region – Golan Heights

Jerusalem  – mind blowing – absolutely loved the city.

Dead Sea – stayed on the Kibbutz part of Ein Gedi (more on that in another post)

First up I wanted to tell you about the old Crusader city of Acre, which is also known as Akko/Akka. In Israel most places have two or three names – just to keep us on our toes. Acre was recognised in 2001 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is an absolute must if you are visiting Israel. The old city is mainly Muslim, although Jewish and Christians can be found living and working together within its walls.  It is an ancient port city and was the gateway to the holy land. The present day city is 300 years old, but beneath it lies amazing ruins of a 900 year old Crusader city, which as a tourist you can see first hand for yourself, thanks to careful preservation.

The place itself is wonderfully peaceful, a living museum, that was not overrun with tourists when we visited. As an aside the city reminded me of Galle in Sri Lanka – probably because of its ancient stone wall surrounding the city and its walkable size.

As we wanted to experience all that Acre had to offer we bought a combined ticket which allowed us to visit: The Knights Hall, The Hospitaller Fortress,Turkish Bath, Templars’ Tunnel and the Okashi Art Museum. You are given an interactive headset, which really helps bring the city to life, especially when you are in the old city under the present day old city. The exhibitions and sites were really impressively curated and filled a large part of our day. You can find details of all the sites here. I highly recommend embracing all these museums. They are fun and perfect for all ages.

Taking a step back however, I will never forget our arrival through the labyrinth of streets, little changed for hundreds of years, at the boutique Arabesque Hotel, which is a beautiful Ottoman building that has been recently restored and renovated to a high standard. It has three bedrooms, however, in the next couple of months a further four rooms will be available at another equally beautiful building across from Arabesque. The hotel is an oasis of calm and tranquility and the perfect place to rest after a days touring of the city, which is very easy to do on foot.

It is also a few minutes walk away from the old market (suk) where you will find a little shop selling all manner of baklava and the BEST kanafeh I had in the whole of Israel. It is a traditional Arab dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region. It tastes amazing and I urge you to see out this cake shop.

It comes hot, which surprised us, but it utterly addictive; it became our daily tea-time treat whilst we were there. You will recognise the shop as you go down a couple of stairs and all the baklava and kanafeh are on the right, even in the entrance, and the seating is on the left. It’s so close to Arabesque, you can’t miss it.

Whilst staying at the hotel, which offers B&B, we were fed this wonderful offering at breakfast (see above). So much so that I wanted to show you all how to make. Simple to prepare and yet it tastes SO good. I have cooked it quite a number of times since returning home, although I have mainly eaten it for lunch of supper, along with a couple of other dishes. All it requires is a couple of aubergines, tahini – which you can pick up at any supermarket these days, although I did managed to purchase the one below in Acre itself, as the guys at the hotel said it was the ‘best’, – tomatoes, flat leaf parsley, spring onions and a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Tahini, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a sesame seed paste, which is added to hummus in fact. The flavour combinations and textures work really well and I think you will be equally impressed.

 

 

Here is my version of this dish.

Not bad hey! I had some heritage tomatoes in my fridge hence the rainbow coloured tomatoes. Here is a close up.

Oven Baked Aubergine with Tahini and Tomatoes

Serves 4

2 aubergines, cut in half lengthways

2 tbsp olive oil

270g tomatoes, cut into bit sized pieces

1 spring onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, roughy chopped

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat an oven to 260C (I use a fan oven) –  basically you want the oven really hot.
  2. Place the aubergines on an oven proof dish and score the top of the flesh along the top like a lattice (see the photo below)
  3. Evenly distribute the olive oil over the flesh.
  4. Place in the oven for 20-30 minutes so that the flesh has turned dark brown – to the point that it has almost blackened.
  5. Meanwhile in a bowl prepare the tomatoes, spring onion and flat leaf parsley.
  6. When the aubergine is cooked you can either allow the aubergine to cool down completely or serve it hot with a dollop of tahini on each aubergine half, followed by the tomato mix and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Two other suggestions when you go to Acre are:

  1. Go and have drinks on the roof of the beautiful Efendi Boutique Hotel. It would also be another wonderful place to stay in Acre. The sunset views from the roof are pretty special.

2. Book a table at Uri Buri – the food at this restaurant was exceptional and the owner, the award-winning head chef  – Uri Jermia , is a larger than life, ‘Father Christmas’ looking culinary wizard. It was tricky to photograph all the food due to the light, but you can see them on my instastories under ‘Israel’ if you are interested. We opted for a tasting menu where they bought out dish upon dish of beautifully presented (and tasting) Mediterranean fish and seafood. This is not your typical Levant restaurant – it is more fine dining, but in a relaxed setting, overlooking the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Maharashtrian Stuffed Aubergines with Cashew, Coconut and Tamarind

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I’ve been having quite a number of requests recently for aubergine recipes. At my local Indian grocers they have the full range from the small round ones, which I used for this recipe, to the small finger looking ones, to the more regular sized ones that you find in your general supermarket.

As far as recipes go I have quite a few already on the blog so do check them out:

miso aubergines

fried indian aubergines

aubergine, pork and rice noodle salad

moussaka

red Thai tofu, aubergine and egg curry

Indian aubergine peanut and tomato curry

baba ganoush (one of my favourites)

soba noodles with tofu, aubergine and mango

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The one that I wanted to show you today is very similar to the Indian aubergine, peanut and tomato curry, however it uses small oval shaped aubergines that are easy to find at Indian grocers. It also uses cashew nuts, desiccated coconut and tamarind and does not include onion. This recipe is a traditional Maharashtrian dish often prepared over religious festivals. As diwali – the hindu festival of light – is fast approaching this coming Sunday 30th October I thought it was apt to show you how to make it.

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Do not be put off by the length of ingredients as it really is pretty easy to make.

Maharashtrian Stuffed Aubergines with Cashew, Coconut and Tamarind

serves 6-8 if serving with a couple of other dishes (reduce the amount of aubergines if serving a smaller number)

12-14 small oval aubergines – slit (but not all the way through) crossways

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 Kashmiri chilli powder

10 fresh curry leaves

pinch of asafoetida

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 tsp salt

150ml water

Paste

70g cashew nuts

2 tbsp white sesame seeds

3 tbsp desiccated coconut

2 tbsp coriander seeds

30g fresh coriander – leaves and stalks

1 tsp salt

1 tsp tamarind paste

1 tbsp jaggery/brown sugar

 

  1. First make cross incisions in all of the aubergines being careful not to cut all the way through. Place in a bowl of cold water with pinch of salt added.
  2. Next make the paste. First dry roast the cashew nuts and when they begin to brown very slightly add the sesame seeds and keep them moving around the pan for about 20 seconds before adding the coconut and stirring for a further 20 seconds. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before adding to your spice grinder along with the coriander seeds.
  3. As my spice grinder cannot take liquid I then move to my mini blender where I then add the fresh coriander, salt, tamarind paste, jaggery and a splash of water to loosen it slightly – although it is important it remains a paste as opposed to a runny liquid.
  4. You then want to stuff each of the aubergines with the paste and place to one side. If you have any paste left over this will go into the pan so also leave to one side
  5. Heat a deep pan and add the vegetable oil. When it is hot add the mustard and cumin seeds, followed by the asafoetida, curry leaves, Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric powder. Move around the pan for 15 seconds before adding any leftover paste and the diced tomatoes. Keep on a gently heat for a couple of minutes before adding the aubergines.
  6. Add around 150ml of water – you can add more later if it becomes too thick and keep on a gentle simmer for 25 minutes with the lid on. Turn the aubergines over at intervals.
  7. Taste the sauce and add more water if too thick. Add more salt or jaggery if need be.
  8. Serve with a scattering of freshly cut coriander.

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