"I think it's nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice." – Albert from Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell C. Hoban
We’ve rediscovered eggplant this year. It’s so easy and available, as well as inexpensive. Yes, it sometimes makes my tongue feel weird but I’ve found that if I salt or prepare it properly, it goes down just fine. This method works with any combination of dried herbs and spices you’d like to play with. Try za’atar, the thyme blend that’s easily found in a Middle Eastern store, or sumac with dried thyme (your own take on za’atar). Sweet/savory combinations such as cumin, cinnamon and coriander with a pinch of turmeric would also work well – hmm, I’ll have to try that one. Don’t forget the coarse salt in your blend, always good with eggplants for removing bitterness.
Prepare your own tahini from whole sesame paste (easy peasy – combine 1/2 cup tahini paste with 1/4 lemon juice, 1/4 water, pinch salt, freshly ground pepper and 1-2 cloves, peeled garlic. Add hot stuff like harissa, a prepared hot pepper paste, to taste and a 1/2 cup of chopped, fresh cilantro and/or parsley leaves). Make this by hand in a measuring cup or do it in a blender or food processor. First it seems not to thicken and then it gets very thick and will thicken more in the refrigerator. You can obviously make more than this – you’ll want to – and you can also thin it out with more or less water as well as more or less lemon juice as desired.
Take a platter and drizzle with 1/4 cup of prepared tahini. Lay eggplants on top, skin side down, and spoon a bit more tahini on top. Strew chopped parsley or cilantro to garnish. Devour. An excellent first course or side.
3 medium sized eggplants
6 tbsp olive oil plus another 2tbsp
1/4 – 1/2 hot pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tbsp sweet paprika
2 tbsp coarse salt
Roasting pan lined with parchment paper
Oven at 400
Prepare eggplants: Halve the eggplants lengthwise and score, cutting into the flesh at least 1/4″, in one direction and then in the other, creating a cross-hatched effect. Drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil into each eggplant, letting the oil drip into the cross-hatchings – use your hands to massage the oil in if you’d like – it’s fun.
Prepare paste: In a mortar and pestle or quick-pulsed in your food processor, or simple chopped on a board, smash the ingredients together, the hot pepper, paprika, and salt, drizzling in 2 tbsp of olive oil in order to create a slightly oily paste. Smoosh the paste onto the surface of each eggplant, rubbing the spices into the crevices using a spoon. If you use your hands, be very careful as the hot pepper can irritate your eyes if you rub them by accident without cleaning them off well. That’s the thing about hot peppers. Not a deal breaker, just be aware. You can use simple disposable gloves as well.
Bake: Lay the eggplants flesh side down and bake until their soft when pierced with a knife or pushed with your finger, at least 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the eggplant. Any herbs on the sides will get crusty and tasty for snacking on. If the oven seems too hot and the eggplants are still not done, reduce the heat to 350 and bake until soft and ready.