THE MIGHTY EGGPLANT
I had the opportunity this summer to visit Greece and Tel Aviv - a family wedding brought me to that part of the world and we decided to embrace a full vacation under the mediterranean sun. For a produce obsessed person such as myself it was the paradise. I had found my peoples as these were two locales that put vegetables and fruit at center stage. It helps that figs grow like weeds along roads in Greece and that the hot sun means cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are harvested nearly year round.
We ate lots of peppers stuffed with local cheeses and simple, chunky greek salads at nearly every meal. A friend of the garden, Caroline, dared me to eat eggplant every day on my trip, a challenge I gladly accepted. The eggplant in both countries was staggeringly good and it tasted like something, like its own beautiful eggplant flavor, rather than the bland sponge it is often relegated to here. There, the eggplant is king, treated with respect, coaxed from its shiny skin into super stardom. We ate it rolled around chunks of feta and lightly braised in tomato sauce. In Tel Aviv they would split it down the middle, leaving the stem in tact to hold it together, and drizzled with a nutty tahini sauce.
Eggplant dip, in the family of baba ganoush, is ubiquitous and each restaurant serves it slightly differently. I came home with eggplant on the brain, lucky since they are in season right now. Look for eggplants with tight, glossy skin that feel light when you pick them up.
I've been cooking up eggplants of all kinds, but particularly liked this recipe from my favorite Plenty cookbook. I served this smoky dip with middle eastern meatballs and sliced early girl tomatoes but it would be really excellent to accompany a lot of things. I didn't have pomegranates, or pomegranate molasses at the time (subbed a bit of balsamic and extra lemon in its place) and the dish was still so good.
Burnt Eggplant with Tahini
From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 2 - 4
1 large eggplant
1/3 cup tahini paste
1/4 cup water
2 tsp. pomegranate molasses (or 1 tsp. balsamic with a squeeze of lemon)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 small garlic clove minced as well as possible
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
salt & pepper
3 small persian cucumbers
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes (optional, I didn't use)
seeds from 1/2 large pomegranate (also didn't use)
drizzle of olive oil to finish
First, burn the eggplant. If you have a gas stove, line around a burner with some foil so your eggplant doesn't make a mess. Put the eggplant over a moderate flame and roast for 12 - 15 minutes, rotating often. You want the outside of the eggplant to be evenly burned all over and the inside to be soft. You could also place under a hot broiler for up to an hour, turning a few times to get an even roast. It should look deflated and soft.
Once cool enough to handle, scoop out the eggplant flesh (avoiding the burned skin) and place the flesh in a colander for 30 minutes to drain. Once drained, roughly chop the eggplant and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the tahini, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and some salt and pepper to taste. Mix with a whisk until beautifully combined. You can adjust by adding more garlic, lemon juice, salt or molasses.
Dice up your cucumber into small pieces and halve your cherry tomatoes (if using). Gently fold them into the eggplant mixture. To serve, find your prettiest bowl or shallow dish and spread your dip, scatter with the pomegranate seeds if using, and drizzle with high quality olive oil. Serve with wedges of pita, vegetable fritters, meatballs, or anything you like.