Well-cooked aubergines melt sweetly in the mouth in much the same way as really good chocolate; they are incredibly sensual vegetables. Many of us are put off them when they are badly prepared and either not cooked or bitter. The Middle Eastern repertoire understands how to treat them, perhaps better than anyone else does. This is one of my all-time favourite childhood treats, though at that time the chocolate was just a twinkle in my eye. This is the sort of recipe where the quantities need not be too precise, rather trust your taste buds and adjust the flavours as you see fit.
Ideally, the aubergines should be cooked whole, slowly over charcoal, but failing that they can be scorched over a naked gas flame, or roasted in the oven at its hottest setting for 20 minutes, until blackened and collapsed. Leave to cool.
Peel off the skin, reserving any of the flavourful juices, and pulse flesh and juices with the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cocoa and salt until you have a smooth paste. You may need to add more lemon juice or a bit of water if it seems too thick, this depends on the tahini, which can vary from being almost liquid to a fairly solid peanut-butter consistency.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Slice the bread thinly at an angle to produce good crostini shapes, place on a baking tray and bake until crisp and golden. Let cool on a wire rack. Just before serving, spread the tapenade on the toasts and finish with
This is very much the same as the Aubergine and Tahini Crostini on the previous page, substituting freshly cooked (not in vinegar) beetroot for the aubergine. It is the most dramatic shade of deep pink, almost purple, when blended with the tahini. The sweet yet earthy flavour of this much maligned root vegetable is set off by the other ingredients, and the colour set alight by a dribble of green extra-virgin olive oil and some flat-leaf parsley.
© 2003 Chantal Coady. All rights reserved.