Last spring my sister & I decided to take a city trip to Budapest. It was our first city trip ever & we weren’t at all sure whether we would actually like an urban-gateway. We usually put on our hiking boots & pass our free time hiking from one place to the next, careful to stay clear of the bustle of a big city or popular tourist attractions. But we wanted to try something else for a change & I can safely say the gamble paid off. For it turned out to be a lovely trip, during which we discovered the beautiful capital of Hungary at our own pace, marvelling at its grand historic buildings & its small hidden gems. And since Budapest turned out to be the perfect city to explore on foot, our hiking boots still got all the exercise they needed.
There was one thing, though, which turned out to be quite challenging about being a tourist in Budapest; which was getting by as a vegetarian:). As it seemed, Hungarian cuisine is hugely based on meat, mixing different types of meat in one dish or using a nice, large amount of lard in any given meal. Of course I don’t want criticize anyone’s kitchen, but unfortunately most dishes we tried were just not for us.
So, we ended up wandered the beautiful streets of Budapest looking for a place with some tasty & reasonably healthy vegetarian meals on the menu. Until we stumbled upon a small lunchroom called Hummus Bar & we searched no more. It was love at first sight & more importantly, love at first bite. Between its warm, earth coloured walls we were treated to platters full of delicious hummus, falafel, couscous, cold & warm salads, tall glasses of mint tea & chargrilled pitas. Our delighted minds got transported from Hungarian streets to a faraway Middle East marketplace in no time at all, while we marvelled about the flavours, the colours & the atmosphere. And when the bill arrived & it turned out that our fantastic lunch experience came at a very affordable price, we knew exactly where we would have dinner that same night.
But hey, I’m getting carried away. Obviously the point of this story and this blogpost isn’t to advertise for that lovely, faraway lunchroom in Budapest (although I can’t help but urge you to give it a try whenever you find yourself in the neighbourhood:). No, my real point is an Eggplant dish I had at the Hummus Bar last year. It honestly blew me away & as soon as I got home I started searching the internet for a good recipe to replicate this most amazing dish. The soft pieces of eggplant, the thick & rich tomato sauce holding them together, that subtle hint of cumin shining through…
I never really tried a lot of Middle Eastern dishes yet, besides from the occasional Vegetable couscous or homemade falafel. But I knew I had to eat this particular eggplant dish again. As it turned out, it wasn’t all that easy to find a satisfying recipe. In most recipes the eggplant would be deep-fried, while I was looking for a healthier, pan fried version. Eventually I found a couple of different recipes, which I combined until it became the recipe below. Depending on how you feel about olive oil, I would say it is a pretty healthy dish & it is most definitely packed with flavour.
It might still be different from the one I had in Budapest, but I’ll probably never know. All I know is that this particular dish manages to takes me back to those beautiful days last spring; the grand streets, the tangible history & that delightful, hidden gem, called Hummus Bar.
Serves 2 to 4
Note: when you eat this as a main meal, with just a small serving of couscous, I would say it makes a good meal for 2 persons. But if you plan to use it as a side dish, it’s plenty for 4 people
• 5 tbsp. olive oil
• 2 large eggplants, peeled (optional) & cut into pieces
• 1 red bell pepper, cleaned & cut into pieces
• 3 cloves of garlic, peeled & grated
• 1 ½ tsp cumin
• 1 tsp(brown) sugar
• 1 tsp salt
• ½ chilli powder
• 1 can (400 g) tomato pieces
• ¼ tsp black pepper
• Juice of half a lemon
• Large non-stick pan
• Cutting board
• Sharp knife
• Large bowl
• Fine grater
• Silicone spatula
Note for preparation:
• You can chose to peel the eggplants completely, but you can also peel them in stripes, leaving strips of skin which will run down the eggplant vertically. Peeling the eggplants like this will help to keep the pieces of eggplant together & will also add extra flavour to your dish.
• Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan, on medium heat. Add half of the eggplant pieces & fry them for approximately 10 minutes, allowing the pieces to brown. Stir occasionally & add some olive oil if necessary. Add a little bit of salt towards the end, this will help the eggplant become a little softer.
• When the eggplant pieces are soft & golden brown, tip them into a large bowl
• Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in the frying pan & repeat the process described above
• When your eggplant is brown again, tip them in the bowl together with the first badge of eggplant pieces
• Heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in the frying pan & add bell pepper. Fry for about 5 minutes on medium heat
• Reduce the heat & add grated garlic. Fry for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
• Now add cumin powder, sugar, salt & chili powder. Fry for another 2 minutes, until the cumin becomes fragrant & sugar starts to melt.
• Add a can of tomato pieces & bring to the boil
• Allow to simmer on medium heat, for about 8 /10 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken.
• Add the eggplant pieces, the lemon juice & the black pepper. Let the sauce simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes.
• Remove sauce from heat & allow to cool
This delicious dish can be eaten cold (as a salad), at room temperature or warm (as a sauce). It is, however, best not to eat the salad/sauce too hot. I personally think the flavours come out best when the dish is made a little in advance & when eaten at room temperature.
It combines beautifully with flavoured couscous, falafel and yoghurt sauce.
If you have any questions, comments or tips about this recipe or this blogpost, feel free to leave a message below. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible:) And if you liked this recipe, be sure to check out my previous food blogpost, where I made a lovely Vegetarian Thai Curry. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this food blog & most importantly, I hope you will truly enjoy this tasty Eggplant dish!
‘Till next time…..