As the title indicates, once the dish is cooked, you tip it upside down and you will get a delicious unusual savoury cake. The basic recipe consists of aubergines, minced meat and rice. However, you can omit the meat and turn it into a scrumptious vegan and vegetarian dish, the recipe for this can be found at the end of this article. Although the preparation takes time, nevertheless, it is an easy dish to cook and well worth it. In fact part of the dish can be prepared in advance likewise the aubergines and the meat or chickpea mixture. One word of advice, make sure to soak the rice for 30 minutes before assembling the dish so it will be thoroughly cooked.
It is a popular dish across the Levant, therefore you might have seen or tasted different versions of it.
· 1 kg / 2lb 2oz aubergines preferably the large beefy ones
· 1 large onion finely chopped
· 450 g / 1lb lean minced lamb
· 60 g / 2 ¼ oz pine nuts (optional)
· 400 g / 14 oz tomatoes slightly ripened (optional)
· 2 red or yellow peppers (optional)
· Vegetable oil
· Salt & freshly milled black pepper, ground allspice and cinnamon.
· 175 g / 6 oz rice
· 400 ml / 14 fl oz water
· 60 g / 2 ¼ oz flaked almonds (optional)
· You also need a non-stick pan, not too deep, roughly 18 cm (7 inches) diameter the bottom lined with baking parchment, a medium-large frying pan and another medium one.
- Wash the aubergines then cut the stems off and discard. I like to keep the skin on, but you don’t have to if you don’t like it. Slice the aubergines into circles about 1cm (½ inch) thick, then layer them in a colander, sprinkling each layer with salt. Cover with a plate to which you add heavy weights (tins of beans or tomatoes will do), the idea is to drain out the bitter juices. Leave it for an hour, then rinse off the salt and juices under tap water and pat dry on absorbent papers. Pour enough oil into the frying pan and heat up using a medium setting, fry the aubergines until golden brown on both sides, you may need to do that in batches and top up the frying pan with more oil. Remove onto a plate layered with absorbent papers, so most of the excess fat can be absorbed.
- Next, using a medium setting, heat up about 1 tbsp vegetable oil or less (depending on the fat content of the meat) in a medium frying pan, add the minced meat and onions. Keep stirring as you fry, separating the lumps until the meat is well cooked and turns to a brown colour together with the onions. Stir in the pine nuts a few minutes before the finishing time. Take off the heat, season with salt and freshly milled black pepper, 1 tsp of each cinnamon and allspice, taste and adjust if necessary.
- Deseed and cut the peppers lengthways into strips 1½ cm (¾inch) wide, brush with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Using high setting, grill them until the edges just start to blacken slightly, turning them once. Keep aside.
- Skin the tomatoes and slice them into circles about ½ cm (¼ inch).
- Before you start assembling, make sure that you soaked the rice for ½ hour. This will help to ensure that it cooks thoroughly.
- To make sure that the finished ‘cake’ does not stick, line the bottom of the saucepan with a circle of baking parchment.
- Spread half of the meat mixture over the bottom of the pan that you have lined with baking parchment. Top it with about two thirds of the aubergines, also tucking them against the sides of the pan. Layer the peppers (if using) on top. Next, drain the rice and spread it over the peppers or aubergines, cover evenly with tomatoes (if using). Add the second half of meat and finish off with the remaining aubergines.
- Season the 400 ml of water with ¼ tsp of each salt, pepper, allspice and cinnamon. Pour slowly into the pan, and gently press a plate inside the pan, it helps to compress the cake to keep its shape. Cover with the lid and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, by which time, the water should have been absorbed and the rice grains have become swollen. Switch off the heat and leave the pan to stand for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toast the almond flakes (if using). Moisten a small frying pan with a little vegetable oil and using medium heat setting, shake in the almond flakes until they turn golden, be watchful because they tend to burn quickly. Keep them aside.
- To serve, use a shallow serving dish (preferably round) slightly larger than the pan. Remove the small plate from the top of the cooked cake. Next carefully run a palette knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Make sure your hands are protected because the pan will still be very hot. Now, turn the plate over covering the pan. Finally, while firmly holding the plate with one hand and the pan handle with the other turn the whole thing upside down and place on the table. Give the pan a slight shake or tap with a wooden spoon and the cake should separate from the pan. Carefully lift off the pan and you should be left with the cake on the plate, the baking parchment may stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Top the cake if you like with the toasted almond flakes and serve hot with green herby salad. Beetroot salad also goes nicely with it.
My Vegan version is as follows:
For the ingredients
· 1 kg / 2 lb 4 oz aubergines preferably the large beefy ones
· 3 large onions finely sliced
· 425 g / 15 oz can of chickpeas in water
· 75 g / 3 oz pine nuts (optional)
· 400 g / 14 oz tomatoes slightly ripened
· 2 peppers: red and yellow
· Vegetable oil
· Salt & freshly milled black pepper, ground allspice and cumin (cumin goes well with chickpeas).
· 175 g / 6 oz rice
· 400 ml / 14 oz water
· 75 g / 3 oz flaked almonds
1. Prepare and cook the aubergines as described for the meat version above.
2. Heat up about 3 tbsp vegetable oil in a large frying pan, add the onions and fry stirring occasionally until they soften. Add pine nuts and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Drain the chickpeas and add them to the mixture, cook for another 5 minutes. Switch off the heat and season with salt, pepper, and 1 tsp of each ground allspice and cumin.
3. For the rest of the procedure follow as for the meat Aubergine Cake substituting the chickpea mixture for the meat.