Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Food Myths and a Roasted Aubergine Salad

We sit in the sticky tropical heat, a lone cat observing us from afar, wondering with a tilt of its head, why we have occupied her bench with our derrieres. In reality, it is not the cat's fault. We rarely sit on my friend's bench in her garden except for when she forces me to smoke outdoors (which is good for my manners). Staring at the cat as I enjoy my guilty pleasure, she asks me if I wash my chicken before cooking. Should I lie?

I knew that many Egyptians scrub their chicken to oblivion before cooking — some with salt, some with flour, some with both and some even choose to douse it in vinegar — not to improve its texture but for cleanliness.
“No, maybe a quick tap rinse if it's been leaking,” I answered, secretly afraid that my level of hygiene would fall victim to judgment.

“Mmm. That's what I learned in class. The French chefs are saying it's pointless. You kill the bacteria when it cooks. My mom still washes hers the old way,” she says, exasperated.

The reality of it is that many of your older relatives will do this. What's sad is that they will try to pass this habit on to you, which will only lead to tough, chewy chicken. A year later, when I took the same class, I was taught the same — do not wash unless necessary. Yet still, the Elders refuse to listen to their youth, despite my certificate and official entry into adulthood through the golden gates of marriage.

In countless modern cookbooks today, you'll find recipes that do not include rinsing chicken. It is not because it is a given, it is due to research that confirms washing your chicken leaves room for cross-contamination in your kitchen by scattering its juices unnecessarily thus leaving you more at risk of contracting salmonella.

The next time you are unsure of a tedious kitchen habit that you have been dictated, do your research or learn from a professional. You'll understand that many food myths have been debunked throughout the years. Let's run through a few.

Fat-free is not calorie-free. Adding salt to your water will not make it boil faster. Microwaves do not zap away all the nutrients; neither does boiling your ingredients. Best of all, you have no excuse for the extra calories you consume because your body does not crave something when it is deficient in one of its nutrients. You are not a deer despite how svelte you are and you are not prone to salt licks. My apologies for breaking it to you so bluntly, but chocolate cravings are indeed emotional.

Learn that you are not a sheep. There are habits worth following and others that you can dismiss to make room for better ones. Instead of scrubbing your chicken dry, blow dry it (yes, with a blow dryer) until the skin loses its moisture. This will result in beautifully crispy golden skin. New habits, new start.

Today, I'd like to share one of my favorite salads with you. One that is regularly found in my mom's fridge and now with a few updates, in mine, making this one of the good habits I'm willing to carry the torch for. Taking more time to prepare than a regular salad, it rewards you by sticking around longer than a fresh salad and can be eaten at just about any time of the day. It's also worth the garlic breath.
Roasted Aubergine Salad
You'll need:
4 small yellow bell peppers
4 medium-sized aubergines
2 cups of button mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon of whole grain mustard
10 raw almonds, peeled and finely chopped
2 handfuls of flat leaf parsley, chopped
5-7 cloves of garlic, minced, depending on the strength
Juice of 1½ lemon
1 large chili pepper, finely diced
1 teaspoon of chili powder
40 ml + 1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place the bell peppers on the sheet. Pop them in the oven. Every 20 minutes, turn the peppers using their stems so that they aren't lying on the same side throughout the roasting process. Their skin will start to puff up and char all around. Rotate the peppers evenly throughout the process. After an hour, they should be evenly browned. Take the peppers out and let them cool in a covered bowl. When the peppers have cooled, peel them. The peel should slip off and the peppers themselves will be slippery. Slice them and set aside.
At the same time, place the aubergines in a hot pan on high heat. Every few minutes, rotate them until they become black and blistered all around. Continue to do this for half an hour and remove when they become very soft. Cool and peel. Mash in a bowl, add the peppers and set aside. On medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms, mustard and a dash of salt and sauté for 5-7 minutes. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the aubergine, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, chili pepper and chili powder, salt, pepper and almonds. Mix then and then add the chopped parsley at the end. Add the lemon juice and olive oil. Serve cold or at room temperature.


  1. This may sound crazy but I was the exact opposite, I NEVER used to wash my chicken until after I'd made it a few times, I got so grossed out by the smell and taste of soemthing i have found no English translation for....zafara...I'm sure you know what it is, I have no way to describe it as I have not foudn it in any other culture, which drives me a bit nuts. But I honestly do find that washing any kind of meat does remove that awful taste and smell :) But to each his own :)

  2. I'm with you on all of this, especially the recipe, except for the boiling myth. Nutrients are without a doubt lost when you boil food, especially the water soluble vitamins. Other enzymes and vitamins denature with boiling (or enough heat for that matter).

    Now if the key word in your myth comment was 'all' then we're all good.

    Oh, and today i tried the blowdryer trick... amazing!

  3. Thank you for the amazing recipe! I just made it and I love the flavour, but my aubergines were way too mushy! I was wondering if you had any tips on how to avoid this kind of end texture? Thanks!

    1. The trick is to stop mashing with the texture you're comfortable with. As long as you can scoop it up with bread, you're good. In Egypt, many restaurants tend to mash it until it becomes a smooth puree of aubergine. My mother, on the other hand, prefers it chunkier and mashes it quickly with a fork and after a few strokes to break it up, she stops. I hope that helped. Thank you for giving my recipe a shot. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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