Aubergines with Buttermilk Sauce

I was out during my lunch break yesterday buying some teatowels (as you do) and there nestled amongst the pretty decorative linens were copies of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. It’s not a place where you would ordinarily find cookbooks, but I’m sure some thoughtful person had anticipated that product placement of this kind would work on a gullible consumer like myself. If one was in the mood for over-priced but practical teatowels, why not a cookbook to go with? And after a successful attempt at Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for Black Pepper Tofu the other day, I couldn’t resist flicking through the book and carrying it with me to the cashier.

Hubby has been quite vocal on several occasions about eating less meat and more vegetarian dishes at home, but the truth is, I don’t think we eat that much meat; we probably eat it everyday but just not in huge quantities. And when it comes to meat, we seem to eat mostly chicken with pork coming a distant second. And if I had to be completely honest, I’m more likely to be cooking with chicken or pork to add flavour (such as to make stock for soups), rather to eat the meat itself; the meat happens to be eaten as a by-product because it would be a waste to throw it away.

In Zurich, there is a famous vegetarian restaurant called Hiltl, an establishment which has the honour of being the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Europe but which, at the same time, exudes a modern and hip culture reminiscent of any cool and carnivore-friendly restaurant. If you thought vegetarian restaurants were all about Hari Krishnas and inappropriate incense at the dining table, then Hiltl would completely change your mind about vegetarian restaurants. With an impressive buffet boasting foods from exotic Indian curries to European classics, together with an a la carte menu, each dish is packed with so much flavour that you hardly notice that the meat is missing.

And it was dining at Hiltl that made me look at vegetarian food in a new light. How often would a meat-eater name a vegetarian restaurant among their favourites? But that has been the effect of Hiltl, not just on me but for nearly everyone that I have brought to the restaurant. So famous is the establishment that they have published two cookbooks to enable fans to recreate some of their signature dishes at home. Alas, I have only attempted a few recipes to date, preferring to go to the actual restaurant for my vegetarian fix (which I do on nearly a weekly basis).

So there was a slight apprehension in adding Plenty to my collection of cookbooks, but with every turn of the page, each recipe kept jumping out at me, a sign that there is perhaps potential in this book after all.

Tonight I made the Aubergines with Buttermilk Sauce. The lovely Carrie made this some time ago which first piqued my interest in this book. The recipe is rather easy and straightforward, essentially requiring you to roast the aubergines for about 40 minutes until they are soft and bronzed in colour. The aubergines are then left to cool, during which time you can make the buttermilk sauce and extract the seeds from the pomegranate.

Being in the mid-west in the US at the moment, it was impossible to find za’atar so I had to forego this ingredient. I also couldn’t find lemon thyme and used normal thyme sprigs instead. But I don’t think the recipe suffered for these slight variations. The aubergines were lovely and tender and were beautiful drenched in the buttermilk sauce. The pomegranates not only added a wonderful, vibrant colour to the dish, but also some texture against the soft flesh of the aubergines, delivering little bursts of sweetness throughout. Though, again, I imagine you could also forego the pomegranates if they are hard to come by.

And now this is the part where I have to own up and confess that we didn’t exactly have a vegetarian meal tonight … roasted aubergines, buttermilk sauce, pomegranates … these ingredients just screamed for some lamb cutlets to go with! If it’s any consolation, the lamb cutlets were merely a side dish – the aubergines clearly took centre stage. Whilst the aubergines were in the oven roasting, I simply marinated the cutlets in olive oil, lemon zest, juice of half a lemon, salt and pepper and a dash of cumin. Needless to say, the lamb went perfectly with the aubergines.

So whilst I was not completely successful at producing a vegetarian dish tonight, this recipe was certainly a success πŸ˜‰

* I should mention that the US version of Plenty has an error in this recipe. The instructions require you to preheat the oven to 200ΒΊF when it should in fact be 400ΒΊF (or 200ΒΊC).

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  1. Carrie 7 July 2011

    I adore this recipe and I love these shots! I have made them a fair few times now, and lemon thyme is never available here so I just used normal ones. Do you get zaatar in Zurich? It does add a lovely touch to th efinal dish, but as you said, its is perfectly fine without…

    I love the writing too Thanh, lovely background to it all. Very much enjoyed!!! :-))

    • eatlittlebird 8 July 2011

      Hi Carrie! Thanks for introducing me to this great recipe! I’ve seen za’atar in Zurich so I will hopefully be able to stock up when I am back there. I’m sure I’ve also seen lemon thyme in Zurich but maybe my memory is playing with me … This recipe is definitely a keeper!

  2. Simply stunning photography!! The aubergines look so darn delicious!! πŸ™‚

  3. Pamela Giles 10 July 2011

    These look really gorgeous. A beautiful dish and a great blog!

    • eat little bird 19 July 2011

      Thanks Pamela! Not only was it a good-looking dish but it tasted fabulous too πŸ™‚

  4. Jun 19 July 2011

    Never had aubergines with buttermilk sauce like this! Thanks for sharing!

    • eat little bird 19 July 2011

      Thanks for visiting my blog, Jun! This recipe is really wonderful and I just had to share it!

  5. coffeeandberries 22 July 2011

    I love how unique this recipe is–I would never have put all those flavors together, but it looks amazing!

    p.s. beautiful photography!

  6. Lalage 30 July 2011

    Lovely! I’ll be making these soon as I work out where I can buy buttermilk. Yottam is amazing – have you tried his chicken and sorrel salad? Doesn’t help your bid on eating more vegetarian food, but maybe you could substitute the chicken for marinated tofu? It’s very yum as it is though!

    • eat little bird 31 July 2011

      Oh thanks for the link! That looks like a lovely and simple salad. I love any type of roast chicken so I might have to try this! Hopefully you will be able to find buttermilk because this aubergine recipe is really beautiful. If you can’t find buttermilk, you could probably substitute it with Greek yoghurt or natural yoghurt and maybe a small squeeze of lemon juice to taste πŸ™‚

      • Lalage 2 August 2011

        I did find buttermilk – in my nearest supermarket! I made the aubergines following the recipe and they were delish! Thanks for the ideas!

        • eat little bird 2 August 2011

          Oh you’re welcome!!! I’m so happy to hear that you tried this recipe and enjoyed it πŸ™‚

  7. amy 17 October 2012

    This is such a beautiful book, I think. I bought it for a friend’s birthday when it first came out, but must admit that I took a note of quite a few recipes beforehand! The book itself is pretty heavy and large for using in the kitchen, but is just such a stunning item in itself; padded with stunning photographs. True food porn! The only issue with him I find is that he lists so many ingredients, and some are unusual, but I also find that they are easily adaptable and leaving out one of two things really doesn’t seem to make that much difference.

    • eat, little bird 18 October 2012

      You are right – this is a very beautiful book. Thanks to Caroline’s enthusiasm for this book, I ended up trying recipes which I ordinarily wouldn’t have. And now that I’ve eaten at Ottolenghi in London, I have a much higher appreciation of this book πŸ™‚

      Some of the lists of ingredients can be daunting, and the US version has some quite strange measurements which adds to the complexity of the recipe. But if you are confident in the kitchen, a bit of tweaking here and there works well.