I first tried this recipe when holidaying in Spain. Our very dear family friends Gayle and Gilpin have a lovely house in the arid, mountainous region of the Alicante province. I was lucky enough to be invited along to the 2012 congregation of the Lippy Witches Cauldron – an annual celebration of three of my favourite things: cooking, eating and drinking good wine.
On our first evening we were on the food and wine appreciation committee (no cooking, just consuming). Lippy witch Jools and husband Trev cooked up a range of delicious salads, exactly what I felt like after a typically unpleasant Ryan air flight and a stuffy car ride full of wrong turns and familial bickering. My favourite was this salad from Silvena Rowe’s Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume.
Trev wasn’t so sure. Rowe writes in her introduction to the recipe that “The smell of charred aubergines – nutty, smoky and caramelised – is seductive, and that’s what makes this salad what it is.” Trev lost this element because he roasted the aubergines rather than charring them on an open flame. Still, it was a huge success with all the judges and delicious enough to inspire me to make it again – this time with charred aubergines, which did take it to another level.
Neither Trev nor I used the hibiscus salt. You certainly can’t get dried hibiscus flowers in Busot and I wasn’t sure where to find them in London. Reading Rowe's introduction to the recipe now I see that "Dried hibiscus flowers are used quite a bit in traditional Turkish cuisine" so Green Lanes, where I buy my fruit and veg every week, would probably have been a good place to start. In any case, the salad was fantastic without and I can't imagine it lends the salad much more than a fancy name, though I really ought to reserve my judgement until I’ve tried it. If I ever come across them I will report back.
I substituted pine nuts for the hazelnuts when I made the dish, as that is what I had in the cupboard. I toasted them, which I found worked well with the charred aubergine.
For the hibiscus salt
1 tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers
1 tablespoon sea salt crystals
For the salad
2 medium aubergines
3 sweet red peppers
1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
50g pack fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons hazelnuts, chopped
½ teaspoon hibiscus salt
2 days in advance
Place the dried hibiscus flowers in a food processor and pulse to a rough powder. Place in a small bowl, add the salt, mix well and cover. Allow to infuse for 2 days before using. You’ll only need a small quantity for this recipe, but you can keep it in a container for up to a month.
On the day
Place the aubergines directly onto a medium heat source, gas or electric, and keep turning until they are evenly blistered, blackened and soft. This will take 10-15 minutes. Once cooked, place the aubergine in a strong plastic bag and allow to sweat – this will make them easier to peel.
Peel the aubergines and discard the skin. Slice the flesh into very thin strips and place into a large bowl. Any bits of aubergine that have not cooked should be discarded. Repeat this process for the peppers, also cutting them into thin strips once cooled and peeled.
Gently combine the aubergines and peppers in a bowl with the chopped tomato, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and cumin, and season taste.
Sprinkle with parsley, chopped hazelnuts and ½ teaspoon of hibiscus salt.