Sunday, October 9, 2016
Condiment: Betengam Milkhalil (Pickled Eggplant )
Would you believe I've had this recipe ready for months now? T'is true...but life and likely laziness got the best of me.
But here we go.
Today's recipe is so simple to make it hurts, but if you can't stomach spicy (i.e.hot chili), then you'll have to sit this one out.
Egyptian cooking is by no means spicy. In fact, the spiciest it normally gets comes from lots of garlic, or up north in Alexandria, where chilies sometimes create a more punchy ful madammas.
But by comparison to our other north African neighbours, who came up with Harissa (red chili paste), our cuisine is far from hot and spicy.
Except for this wondrous condiment.
My mother used to make this for us as children. It wasn't one of those items we knew she was making, or even asked about, but you would open the fridge and see the these little eggplants glistening in their juices and bursting at the seams with chili and garlic. And the smell.....oooo such a smell that you'd have to eat one then and there.
First bite. Heaven. Then five seconds later, it hits you. All that garlic and chili...but the subtle eggplant to balance it out and give it an underlying sweetness is what made you come back for more. But this time armed with a hunk of bread.
And so it goes. And that's how we had pickled eggplants. As a side dish with your meal, as you would with some olives, or in sandwiches for some extra kick Or I now add it to salads for some punch.
In Egypt, you'll find this as an extra condiment that you would normally add to any meal for some additional kick. It's not terribly popular....or not that I've noticed, but it's common enough that most people know about it.
I've discussed before the origins of eggplant or betengam in arabic. You can read about it here: http://abissadacooks.blogspot.fr/2010/03/dinner-masa-ha-moussaka.html
In this particular recipe, it's best if you can find the baby eggplants or the small ones (the size of a finger). But they are not easy to find, so I've adjusted this recipe to be used with regular fat ones.
But ideally the small ones are best since you can slice the open and stuff them.
Now as I mentioned earlier, chilies or hot peppers do not play a major role in Egyptian cooking. But they are readily found across other North African countries. How did they worm their way into Egypt? Easy: the Ottomans.
Chilies were first cultivated in Mexico as far back as 7000 B.C, but it wasn't until our friend Christopher Colombus, who encountered them during his voyages in the Americas, brought them over to Spain at the end of the fifteenth century. The Portuguese then took them over to India, Asia, and Africa which were then was picked up by the Ottomans. With Egypt being a province in the Ottoman empire, and with much of its innovative cuisine being centralised out of Istanbul, the use of chilies eventually made their way into Egyptian homes.
I initially thought it would have been via the Moors after they took over Spain in the early 700s, but that would have been before the Americas were discovered, and thus no chilies in sight to be brought over.
As for the pickled eggplants, try to make them a night in advance, so they have time to soak in the flavours.
Total cooking time: 1 hour
Yield: six plus people
4 large eggplants OR 15 small eggplants
1/2 cup olive oil (if using regular eggplant)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 tablespoons chopped green chili
1. Keep the skin on and cut into round slices
2. Cut the slices into halves
3. Place the halves onto a baking sheet and brush each side with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper
4. Place in the oven under grill, until both sides are cooked (around 10 - 15 mins)
5. When done, place eggplant in bowl and add chopped garlic and chili
6. Add a tablespoon of vinegar
7. A pinch of salt
8. Mix and taste. Mixture should be the consistency of a relish
9. If too vinegary tasting, add a dash of olive oil
10. Cover bowl and let set overnight (in fridge or on counter top)
5. Boil the eggplants in salty water until soft in the middle
6. Remove from water and slice a small hole in each one
7. In a separate bowl, add chili and garlic with a tablespoon of vinegar and a pinch of salt
8. Mix and taste; mixture should be the consistency of a relish
9. Place eggplants in a bowl and stuff each with one the mixture
10. Add remaining mixture into bowl
11. Cover and let set overnight (in fridge or counter top)