Yiayia Vali’s Smoky Aubergine-Stuffed Tomatoes
Vali lives in the fancy northern Athenian suburb of Kifissia, in a home painted bright yellow to match her personality. There are books everywhere I look – including my own, Grand Dishes – and an entire cupboard dedicated to cookbooks. As I step back in time into her kitchen with its 1970s tiles and coral cupboards, she apologises profusely, and I have no idea why. I love a retro kitchen.
Perhaps owing to her stints living abroad, Vali is experimental in the kitchen. This dish borrows from her heritage in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), taking inspiration from hünkar beğendi or ‘sultan’s delight’, a smoked aubergine (eggplant) and cheese dish in a tomato sauce. The inclusion of butter and cream and the creation of a roux nods to Vali’s time in France. This rich dish is best served with a light leaf salad and a crisp glass of Assyrtiko wine.
Yiayia by Anastasia Miari (Hardie Grant), Photography by Marco Arguello
Makes 8 stuffed tomatoes
- 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) aubergines
- 8 medium to large tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus extra as needed
- 50 g (2 oz) unsalted butter
- 50 g (2 oz/scant 1/2 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 200 ml (7 fl oz/scant 1 cup) single, light cream
- 1 egg
- 2 heaped tablespoons grated graviera, plus extra for sprinkling
- sugar, a sprinkle
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC (425ºF/gas 7).
- Char the aubergines by placing them over an open flame on a gas hob (stovetop) or on the barbecue until soft. Vali adds a sheet of foil under the ring to catch any falling pieces of charred aubergineskin. You’ll need to reposition them a few times so that the entire aubergine receives a generous blast of heat and its entire skin is charred. Allow to cool, then peel off the charred skins and chop the flesh and transfer to a sieve to drain out any remaining moisture.
- Next, prepare the tomatoes by slicing off the tops (reserve the tops), scooping out the middle and setting the flesh aside in a separate bowl. Sprinkle a little salt and sugar in the bottom of each tomato.Pour the tomato flesh into a food processor and blitz until smooth, then add the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and set aside.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the flour and whisk fast to combine and create a paste. Quickly add the chopped aubergine as soon as the butter and flour have combined, stirring for a further 1–2 minutes before pouring in the cream. Season with the remaining salt and continue to whisk until you have a thick, creamy filling. Then take off the heat and whisk in the egg, followed by the cheese.
- Fill the tomatoes with the aubergine cream, placing their lids on top and pouring in the blitzed tomato flesh you set aside earlier. Then sprinkle with a final grating of cheese. Bake for 30–40 minutes until the tomatoes are browning on top. If the tomatoes are getting a little too brown on top, cover with kitchen foil and remove it again for the last 5 minutes of baking.