Serdakh (aubergines and tomatoes)

Ingredients

    8-10 baby aubergines or 3 large

    100g clarified butter

    10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

    6 flavoursome tomatoes, halved across the equator, or some small, colourful tomatoes, left whole, or a mixture of both

    200ml water, vegetable or chicken stock

    pinch of caster sugar, if needed

    lavash flatbreads or any other flatbread, torn

    1 small bunch of each or any of the following: dill, coriander, basil

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Main serves 2

"There are many excellent aubergine and tomato dishes to be found all over the world, but this one slipped down so amazingly well and we just couldn’t figure out what it was that made it extra moreish. I’ve never cooked aubergines in butter before, so it was a revelation to discover that clarified butter was the key, along with a copious amount of roughly chopped and caramelised garlic. Of course you can use oil instead, but – trust me – clarified butter makes the dish taste so unusual but strangely not heavy or buttery in a French way. Make a big pot and eat it hot or warm with a hunk of lovely bread and bunches of herbs." This recipe is taken from Olia's new book Kaukasis (Mitchell Beazley, £25); photography by Elena Heatherwick

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1.

If you are using baby aubergines, make 2 incisions in the shape of a cross in their rounded end as if you were going to quarter them lengthways, but don’t cut into them further. I leave the stalks intact, as they look so pretty. If using large aubergines, trim and slice them about 15mm thick.

2.

Heat 2 tbsp of the clarified butter in a heavy-based flameproof casserole dish over a medium heat and fry the garlic while you keep stirring it. You want it to turn deep golden and stay juicy, but not become dry or burnt. Tilt the pan so that the butter and garlic collect in one corner – this way you will confit it. It will take about 2-5 minutes. The smell will be incredible as the garlic loses its harshness and becomes soft, sweet and gently caramelised. Take the garlic out and set aside. Do not wipe out the pan unless it looks burnt.

3.

Heat another 2 tbsp of the clarified butter in the same pan over a medium-high heat and fry the aubergines until they are well browned all over. Be patient and the skin will blister and the white flesh will soften, but it may take about 10 minutes – they really need to start collapsing. Take them out and set aside; you can leave them to drain over kitchen paper if you like. Again, do not clean the pan.

4.

Heat another 2 tbsp of the clarified butter in the same pan, add the tomatoes, cut side down, and cook them just on that side over a high heat until they catch some colour and the skins look wrinkled. If the tomatoes are ripe, use a pair of tongs to lift the skins off the tomatoes and discard. If they aren’t, you may need to flip them, cook on the skin side briefly and then take the skins off. Sometimes I’m too lazy to take the skins off at all.

5.

Now return the aubergines and garlic to the pan and add the liquid. Do try using chicken stock if you are not vegetarian, as it adds an extra layer of flavour. Water is absolutely fine, though, if you want the dish to remain as hassle free as possible. Season with salt and pepper (but go easy on the salt if you salted the aubergines previously) and add a pinch of sugar if your tomatoes are not the sweetest. Cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half and the aubergines are properly cooked through.

6.

Serve with pieces of torn lavash or any other flatbread, or regular bread, and some sprigs of fresh herbs. This is also really lovely eaten with simply cooked rice or sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

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