Sometimes we need extra smokiness in our foods – making Middle Eastern eggplant purees such as Babaganoush is a perfect example. Traditionally char roasted over coals, that natural smokiness is missing when we char the eggplants over gas flames or in the oven. The difference in these dishes when using smoky eggplant is remarkable.
Not all vegetables take readily to smoking – some, like aubergines and tomatoes, absorb the flavours well, while others such as carrots, absorb just a little. Oiling the vegetables before cooking helps the process, and experimentation is encouraged.
We smoke them outside, so there is no danger of smoke alarms being triggered, or spoiling your beautiful wok, or leaving a smoke stain on the kitchen ceiling. Our equipment includes a covered BBQ, foil trays and kitchen foil. It is interesting and exciting, and makes a palpable difference.
Some recipes using smoked vegetables include Smoky Eggplant and Tomatoes, Smoky Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate (to be published shortly), Smoky Roasted Eggplants in Yoghurt, Smoky Aubergine and Asparagus, Smoky Punjabi Eggplant Curry,
Smoking Eggplants, Tomatoes and Other Vegetables
For the charring of the tomatoes and eggplant I use a covered BBQ where it is possible to increase the smoky flavours by smoking the vegetables while cooking. This is how I do it.
Prepare the vegetables by tossing them in a little oil or rubbing oil over them. The best vegetables are eggplant, tomato and garlic bulbs with the top removed.
Make sure that all ingredients that you are about to use for creating smoke in the BBQ are safe to use and not toxic or poisonous.
Take a disposable foil pan and cover the bottom with about 0.5 cm of rice. Add some lemon or lime peel to the top and some thyme, bay leaves or other hard herb. Mix with a Tblspn of water. Place in the BBQ when hot, and leave until it begins smoking. This may take some time, depending on the heat of your BBQ. At this smoking stage, add the vegetables to the BBQ quickly, and close the cover again. Leave the smoker in for about 15 – 20 minutes or so if it is smoking strongly, or longer if just smoking a little, then remove the foil pan and continue cooking the vegetables. Use your judgement as to how long to leave the food in – I keep it in the BBQ for the whole time for smoking the eggplant and tomatoes. Don’t open the BBQ too much while the food is smoking, just enough to quickly turn the vegetables if necessary. Definitely remove the food if it is sufficiently cooked – for example, garlic bulbs may not take as much time to cook as eggplants.
If stronger smoky flavours are desired, prepare the foil pan with smoking ingredients, place the vegetables on top, cover the whole lot with foil, and place on the BBQ. Once it begins to smoke, leave the vegetables in the package for around 10 mins. Remove the pan and vegetables from the BBQ, then remove the vegetables from the foil pan, and continue to cook on the BBQ as required.
You can also use a tea-smoking mixture with equal parts tea-leaves and uncooked rice, and a drizzle of water to lessen the amount of smoke. Experiment with different tea flavours – try black, green, jasmine, Earl Grey or lapsang souchong. Add spices, too, such as star anise, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and citrus rind. Some cooks also add brown sugar to their tea-smoking mixture. It’s not added for sweetness – it’s used to speed up the smoking process.
Over time you will perfect your method – your smoking mixture, the amount of water required to control the smoking, the amount of time for smoking, whether to cover with foil, and so forth.
You will love the flavours.
An Alternative – a Wood Fire
Another option is to use a wood fire, and place the vegetables directly onto the coals. Small Hibachi BBQs are good for this, as are the Asian and Middle Eastern small teracotta containers used to create wood fires for cooking in the open. Always be careful with open flames outdoors and check local restrictions.
Another Alternative – Mobile, Wok-like Smokers
I recently became aware that Wok-Shaped smokers for use outside are available. You can use wood and sawdust for smoking, and the heat is provided by a methylated Spirits burner. I have not tried this, but it seems to be a great way to smoke food occasionally at home. Please let me know your experiences if you have used one.