Baby Gem Lettuce with Charred Eggplant Yogurt, Smacked Cucumber, and Shatta

Baby Gem Lettuce with Charred Eggplant Yogurt, Smacked Cucumber, and Shatta

This recipe, from the cookbook Falastin, is fresh, vibrant, and works well either as a stand-alone starter or as part of a spread or side.

Serves4 to 6

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Credit: Jenny Zarins

This salad 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.

This recipe also includes a recipe for shatta. This fiery condiment is as easy to make as it is easy to become addicted to. Shatta(ra!) is on every Palestinian table, cutting through rich foods or pepping up others. Eggs, fish, meat, vegetables — they all love it. Our recommendation is to keep a jar in your fridge at all times.

Baby Gem Lettuce with Charred Eggplant Yogurt, Smacked Cucumber, and Shatta

This recipe, from the cookbook Falastin, is fresh, vibrant, and works well either as a stand-alone starter or as part of a spread or side.

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

Eggplant yogurt:

  • 2

    large eggplants (1 lb 2 oz)

  • 2 tablespoons

    Greek yogurt

  • 1/2 clove

    garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    lemon juice

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    tahini

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    salt

Smacked cucumber:

  • 1

    medium English cucumber, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise, and watery seeds removed (6 1/3 oz)

  • 1 1/4 cups

    parsley, roughly chopped

  • 1 1/4 cups

    mint leaves, roughly chopped

  • 1/2 clove

    garlic, roughly chopped

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 5 to 6

    baby gem lettuces (1 lb 2 oz), bases trimmed

  • Salt and black pepper

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    red or green shatta, or rose harissa

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    Urfa chile flakes (or a small pinch of black sesame seeds)

Instructions

How to char eggplants:

  1. Unless you don’t mind your whole house smelling of charred eggplants, ventilation is key. Open the windows, open the door, put on the fan! We char our eggplants in one of two ways. The first, if you have a gas flame on an open stove top (as opposed to an electric stove), is to put one eggplant over each gas ring, turn the flame on high, and leave it there for 15 to 20 minutes, turning halfway through with long tongs so that all sides get charred. The advantage of doing this is that it is a really quick and very effective way of getting the flesh smoky. The disadvantage is that it can cause a bit of a mess on your stove top if the eggplants leak once they’ve been turned and their skin gets pierced. This mess can either be cleaned up with a bit of elbow grease or minimized in the first place if you cover your stove top with aluminum foil. Make holes in the foil for the burners to pop through and then proceed.

  2. If you have an electric stove, you’ll need to heat up a grill pan until it is very hot—place it over high heat for at least 5 minutes, until smoking—then add the eggplants directly to the pan. Pierce them a few times with a sharp knife before doing so. This method takes longer than the open-flame option—35 or 40 minutes, again turning throughout with long tongs so that all sides get charred—but you will get the same result. At the end of the 40 minutes, transfer the eggplants to a foil-lined baking sheet and place under a broiler for a final 10 minutes. Once charred (whether on a gas ring or in a grill pan), place the eggplants in a colander. Once cool enough to handle, slit them open to scoop out the flesh and place in a clean colander. Don’t worry if some of the charred skin sticks to the flesh; this all adds to the smoky flavor. Set aside for an hour or so (or overnight), over a bowl, to drain. You’re then all set for the smokiest of all smoky spreads, soups, and sauces.

To make the salad:

  1. To make the eggplant yogurt, scoop the flesh out of the charred eggplant; you should have about 5 1/4 oz. 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 1/2-inch dice and set aside.

  3. Add the parsley, mint, garlic, olive oil, and salt to the food processor. Blitz for about 2 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 1 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.

Recipe Notes

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.

“Reprinted with permission from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photography credit: Jenny Zarins © 2020

Shatta

This fiery chile condiment is from the cookbook Falastin.

Makes 1 medium jar

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 9 ounces

    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

Instructions

  1. Place the chiles and salt in a medium sterilized jar and mix well. Seal the jar and store in the fridge for 3 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 6 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.

Recipe Notes

Equipment note: As with anything being left to ferment, the jar you put your chiles into needs to be properly sterilized. Sterilizing jars is a necessity when preserving foods; makdous, for example, or shatta. It ensures that all bacteria and yeasts are removed from a jar so that the food remains fresh. There are various ways to sterilize a glass jar; including a water bath, where the jars go into water, with their lids added separately, the water is brought to a boil, and then the jars are “cooked” for 10 minutes, or filling the jars with just-boiled water and then rinsing and drying with a clean dish towel. We tend to just put ours into the dishwasher, though, and run it as a normal wash—it’s a simple solution that works very well.

“Reprinted with permission from Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photography credit: Jenny Zarins © 2020