Around the world in 80 dishes No. 50: Aleppo-style cumin scented baba ghanoush

Ingredients to make enough for 6 to share

2 large aubergines
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 small green pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
50g walnuts, roughly chopped

For pomegranate molasses (to serve)

1 litre pomegranate juice (from a carton)
115g sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Method

In Syria there are as many recipes for baba ghanoush as there are people making it. Best made as they do in Aleppo, with plenty of cumin, or as they do in Damascus, without cumin but with lots of fruit olive oil? More than one family has been known to fall out over such matters. I prefer the Aleppo version, so here it is.

Place the aubergines directly on a naked gas flame (or the electric ring) and cook in a medium heat for 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally, so that the aubergines are chargrilled evenly. The skin will blacken and start blistering and the aubergines will be soft, not to mention the fact that your kitchen will be filled with a wonderful smell.

Alternatively, you can bake the aubergines in the oven for 20 minutes at 200C fan/gas mark 7, but the flavour won't be quite the same. Once cooked, place the aubergines in a strong plastic bag and allow them to sweat for around 20 minutes, which makes them easier to peel.

Peel and chop the aubergines. Press the chopped flesh into a sieve. Over a bowl, press down gently to get out as much liquid as possible. (Never be tempted to purée them.) Discard the liquid. Tip the aubergine into a large bowl and, using a fork, combine with the cumin, pepper, onion, tomato, garlic, parsley and lemon juice. Season to taste.

To make the pomegranate molasses, put all the ingredients in a large, uncovered saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for roughly an hour, or until the juice has a syrupy consistency and has reduced to about a quarter. Pour into a jar, allow to cool. The syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Serve the baba ghanoush drizzled with the pomegranate molasses and sprinkled with the chopped walnuts.

Taken from 'Orient Express' by Silvena Rowe (Hutchinson, £20).

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