Thursday, December 13, 2012

From Russia with food lust: vegan eggplant and walnut rolls

I drooled over these eggplant rolls stuffed with a tasty walnut filling when we were in St Petersburg and vowed to make them on my return home. And I did, a couple of times already.

Like all my recipes this is taste-as-you-go as far as quantities are concerned. Some garlic and chilli is stronger than others, you might prefer the more authentic addition of vinegar instead of lemon juice (I’m a citrus fiend and it’s my go-to acid flavour) and if you want to go the whole hog find some dried, ground marigold leaves to add for colour.

Great finger food for Christmas and summer drinks.

Tip: the cheats version using pre-grilled eggplant slices makes this a very quick dish to prepare. Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver and your 15 minute meals.

Badrijani nigvzit (eggplant with walnut dip)

2 eggplants (aubergines) or buy pre-grilled eggplant slices
1 cup walnuts
1 tab chopped coriander
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp ground fenugreek seeds (optional)
3 cloves garlic
Juice 1 lemon (or 1 tab of vinegar)
1/2 - 3/4 tsp chili powder or cayenne pepper (check for heat)
1 tab chopped parsley

If cooking eggplant, cut into 1 centimetre sliced lengthwise. Freshly picked eggplants don’t need salting but if older need to be sprinkled with salt to draw out the bitter juices. Leave for 10 minutes then pat off the juice. Brush eggplants with olive oil and place under a hot grill or even better, a barbecue. They’ll only need a couple of minutes, turn when becoming golden. Alternatively you can buy pre-cooked eggplant slices from some delis and supermarkets. Pat off the excess oil before using.

For the walnut dip, blend (or smash in a mortar and pestle) all the other ingredients. Lastly add the water a tablespoon at a time until you have a smooth paste. You want a dip-like texture but not too runny. Salt to taste. The predominant flavour is garlicky walnuts with a bit of a chili kick at the end. I use Korean red pepper powder left over from kimchi making and it works well. As herbs strengths vary, always taste and adjust the flavour as needed.

Take the grilled eggplant slices and place a heaped teaspoon of walnut dip at one end and roll.

Traditionally the eggplant/walnut rolls are garnished with pomegranate seeds and served as finger foods with drinks.

This recipe is a tasty cross-post. First published on my website.

The full Russian eating experience here (it was easier than I thought).

Update January 2013: These rolls graced the vegan/omni Christmas table in December. There were a couple of alterations and have adjusted the recipe above accordingly.

Firstly, we used a large mortar and pestle to combine the ingredients, the change in texture is subtle. Don't sweat it if you don't have the equipment, mechanical or by hand - both methods do the job.

Secondly, I overcame my fenugreek aversion and  added a few seeds (as many of the recipes suggest), toasting them with coriander seeds and then pounding to a powder. Once again, the change was subtle but worth it.

Thirdly, in cooking another kitchen and someone else's spice shelf. The old packet of chili powder looked innocuous so didn't taste first. Oops, the mix was way hotter. Forgot the cardinal rule of all things chili - add a little and taste before going the whole hog. But in the end, once rolled in the eggplant the heat wasn't overwhelming.

Finally, unless you've got a stash of fresh eggplant in the garden and want to toss the slices on the grill, buying precooked eggplant from the deli was a worthy timesaver on Christmas day. The filling was made the day before and it only took minutes to assemble and serve on the day.

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