Lebanese moussaka

This recipe is very different from the traditional Greek moussaka, being more like a fabulous velvety aubergine stew. It's taken from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, and she in turn has adapted it from Nada Saleh's Fragrance of the Earth. When I first arrived in Brighton I made it from memory and made a different version again: I forgot the cinnamon and allspice, used a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes and water, and added capers, and the result was also very good, though quite different. The pomegranate molasses is optional, but I do think that it adds an essential extra flavour to the dish. If you're in Brisbane, you can find it at Venus Deli in West End; in Brighton it can be bought at Taj Mahal International Foods on Bedford Place. One last thing: I've never made this recipe using the whole baby aubergines, and I think I'll probably stick to the large ones. I left the directions for babies in though because I like Nigella's description of the stripes so much.

500 gbaby or large aubergines
5 tablespoonsolive oil
1-2onions (about 250 g), peeled and sliced thinly
10-12small cloves of garlic, peeled and slivered thickly
150 gchickpeas, soaked, rinsed, drained and precooked
1 1/2 tablespoonspomegranate molasses
500 gtomatoes, rinsed, peeled, seeded and quartered
1 1/2 teaspoonssalt or to taste
1/2 teaspooncinnamon
1/2 teaspoonallspice
1/4 teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper
200 mlwater
mint and feta to sprinkle over

Trim the stems of the baby aubergines. Peel to look like Edwardian circus tents, leaving lengthways stripes about 1 1/4 cm wide. If you're using large aubergines instead, cut them into 1 1/4 cm cubes. In a pan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and saute the aubergines for a few minutes until golden brown. With a slotted spoon, remove to a side dish and reserve.

To the pan add the remaining oil, the onion and the garlic and saute, stirring constantly, until pale in colour and soft, about 5 minutes, adding more oil if necessary. Add the cooked chickpeas and stir occasionally for 5 minutes, then add the pomegranate molasses.

Return the aubergines to the pan and add the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper and add the water. Bring to the boil and quickly reduce the heat to moderately low. Cover and simmer for about an hour (they may be ready after 40 minutes or so if you're using a large flat pan or the cubed large aubergines).

Serve warm with plenty of chopped mint and crumbled feta, and couscous or bread. It keeps in the fridge for 3-5 days.

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