Last Autumn my Auntie took me to Battir, a beautiful village in the West Bank, known for its aubergines and irrigated terraces. The village, now a UNESCO heritage site, fought and won a ruling in 2012 against the erection of the separation wall through the heart of the village, which would have cut off villagers from their land and only school.
There is much to enjoy in the village; interesting and scenic hiking trails, the old town known as the seven widows quarter (because of the seven widows that lived there!) an eco museum, Roman spring and bath, the terraces themselves and the historic railway connecting Jerusalem to Jaffa. This is the railway that Battir used to supply Jerusalem’s market with its superb produce. A thing of the past now, as the residents are denied entry to Jerusalem.
You can walk up to the top of the valley and survey the magnificent landscape at sunset and eat a traditional Palestinian meal on the verandah overlooking the unique and ancient terraces.
Moving on to the aubergines. Battir grows a wonderful heirloom variety of small aubergines (there is a festival in celebration of this every October). The short season of Battir aubergines makes them much sought after and appreciated amongst locals. Their narrow oblong shape also makes them ideal for stuffing.
I was lucky to catch the tail end of season on my visit and was served a delicious eggplant salad as part of a selection of dishes. It was the highlight of the meal.
I am a big fan of all fatteh dishes; the word fatteh derives from pieces, referring to the pieces of bread that are torn and added to the dishes sometimes soaked in water or stock, sometimes fried. The other fundamentals are usually vegetables or meat or both and a garlicky yoghurt sauce. A little really goes a long way in such dishes.
The fatteh betenjan of Battir was incredibly simple; I could count no more than 6 ingredients and the dish was all about those ingredients.
I wanted to make a version of this memorable salad; the crunch of fried bread, the garlicky cream of the yoghurt and the meatiness of the golden aubergine. I made mine a little ‘zesty’ with some lemon, used the seasons wild garlic, pine nuts and a little chopped tomato to lighten up the dressing.
For a healthier version you can drizzle the bread with olive oil and roast in the oven. However, it doesn’t give quite the same crunch.
For a dairy free version, blend 3 tbsp tahini, 8 tbsp water, 2 / 3 large garlic clove (or if you are using wild garlic skip this) the juice of 1 lemon, 1 pinch of sea salt, 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. if it is too thick (this depends on the tahini) then add a little water carefully until the desired consistency is reached.
2 medium / large eggplant
1 handful of wild garlic leaves & flowers or 2/3 cloves of garlic
1/2 a large tomato
2 pittas, flatbread or any stale bread you have torn or sliced into small pieces 3/4 cm x 3/4 cm
A handful of finely chopped parsley
3 tbsp pine nuts
The zest of one lemon & 1 tsp lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil
Rape seed oil
Peel and dice the eggplants into chunks of 4cm cubes. Place in a colander with salt and leave for 30 minutes. This is to drain off the water before frying them and counteracts potential bitterness from the seeds.
Meanwhile warm up 50ml of olive oil in a saucepan, add the pieces of bread and coat them well with the oil. If you have a thicker pitta you may need more oil. Fry until the pitta is crisp and golden and set aside.
In a small frying pan heat 50ml of olive oil and gently fry the pine nuts on a low temperature until golden. Watch them carefully as they tend to catch and burn quickly. Drain off any excess oil away and set aside.
Meanwhile peel, remove the seeds and water and finely chop the flesh of the tomato.
Bunch the wild garlic together and slice thinly, reserving the flowers for later. If you are using garlic cloves, finely chop them. Combine the garlic with yoghurt, a generous pinch of salt, the lemon juice and zest and the tomato. Gently fold together everything briefly and set aside.
Heat a thumbs height of rape seed oil in your frying pan (rapeseed is a good oil for serious frying due to its high burning point). Season the eggplant with salt and fry the eggplant until golden and tender but not mushy. To avoid mushy eggplant, do not move it around the pan too much; watch and move it carefully as the sides of the cubes brown. Once finished drain on paper towels and pat out any excess oil.
Fold the eggplant into the yoghurt mixture along with the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and swirl it through the salad. Finish it off with the pine nuts and garlic flowers and serve with spoons only.
Some finely diced green chilli would also be a nice addition.
For more information on Battir, this is a very interesting article from Green Planet Monitor
There is also a fantastic guide from the village, Wisam Owaineh who is the coordinator of Battir’s Landscape Ecomuseum and was also during my visit, in the process of renovating some beautiful accommodations and camping grounds. If you want to connect with Wisam you can do so on Facebook on the Battir landscape Eco museum page.