2 medium aubergines
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp top-quality red-wine vinegar
200g small dark lentils, such as puy or castelluccio, washed and drained
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery sticks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
½ white onion
3½ tbsp olive oil
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, coriander and dill
2 tbsp crème fraîche (or yogurt)
Put the aubergines on an oven tray lined with foil and place under a very hot grill for 45 minutes (not too close, though, give them 10cms distance). Turn them a few times, until the skin cracks and dries in places and the flesh is cooked through and tastes smoky - don't worry if they burst. Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes, then season generously and mix in half a tablespoon of vinegar.
Meanwhile, put the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot and half a celery stick into large chunks and throw them in. Add the bay, thyme and onion, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil and simmer for up to 25 minutes until the lentils are tender - skim the froth off the surface from time to time. Drain into a colander, discard the carrot, celery, bay, thyme and onion, and transfer to a bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar and two tablespoons of oil; season generously. Stir and set aside.
Set the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Cut the remaining carrot and celery into 1cm dice and mix with the tomatoes, a tablespoon of oil, some salt and the sugar. Spread in an ovenproof dish and roast for 20 minutes, until the carrot is semi-cooked. Add the cooked vegetables to the lentils, followed by the fresh herbs, and stir gently. Adjust the seasoning to taste, then spoon on to serving plates. Pile some aubergine in the middle, top with a dollop of crème fraîche and finish with a trickle of oil.
I made this as a side dish to go with spiced lamb for a pre-christmas get together with our neighbours. I also made the tomato and pomegranate salad here. This one was new to me but combined two favourites: grilled aubergine and puy lentils. It is a bit of an overload of earthiness for some people, but as we had a coupel of vegetarians at the feast it also served as a main for them as well
Universally approved, it was another Ottolenghi success, and will become one of that pantheon of not-quite-salads that make a rolling buffet through the summer months that can go with grilled meat, fish or wood-fired pizza equally well.It an seem a bit complicated (especially the charring of the aubergine which is a bit time consuming) but it is worth the effort. Aubergines treated this well take on an almost meaty quality which means they can form the centrepiece of many a buffet or meal. Enjoy.