Today, I am sharing one of my absolute favorite recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty. Plenty, if you haven't read it yet, is a completely inspiring, gorgeous cookbook that features some of Ottolenghi's best vegetarian recipes. I can't rave about it enough. In my very humble opinion, Ottolenghi sets the standard for what vegetarian/vegan cooking should be: seasonal, inventive, beautiful, and delicious.
The recipe combines roasted eggplant flesh with a delicious mix of tahini, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, and pomegranate molasses. The end result is an addictive, creamy, smoky, tart, sweet, salty, and aromatic spread. It can stand on its own as a dip or condiment (far superior to any hummus I've ever had) or as a side to meat or fish. Or, as Ottolenghi suggests (and I highly recommend), it can be served as a refreshing Middle Eastern inspired salad with some chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.
The only downside to this recipe is that it requires the use of a broiler in the middle of summer. (If you have a grill, you can certainly char the eggplant that way. I live in a studio in New York so that was not really an option.). Fortunately, the weather has been entirely unpredictable as of late. I took advantage of a chilly night in late July to char some eggplants under the broiler.
The salad hits you with a refreshing sweet/sour double dose of pomegranate. First, through the use of pomegranate molasses in the eggplant spread itself. (If you are unfamiliar with pomegranate molasses, as I was, do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle. Obsessed.). To finish, it's topped off with arils (or seeds) from a fresh pomegranate.
I know what you're thinking. The pomegranate seems like one of those foods where the end result doesn't really justify the effort required to extract the edible portions (I'm putting grapefruit in this category, too). But it works so beautifully here that it would be a shame to leave it out. Removing the seeds can actually be pretty simple and, in fact, there are at least two easy methods for doing so.
The first is my own, gentler method. Fill a large bowl with water. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Then dunk each half of the pomegranate into the water, cut side facing down, and use your fingers to separate the arils from the membrane. Discard the hard red pomegranate skin. The arils will sink to the bottom while the loose bits of white membrane will float to the surface. Use your hands or a small strainer to skim the white membrane bits from the surface of the water and discard them. You should be left with a bowl full of clean little red jewels. Strain the remaining water and arils and if there are bits of white pith membrane left on any of the seeds, gently remove them. I like this method because it's quick, clean, and will not bruise or damage the pomegranate seeds.
The second is Ottolenghi's more aggressive approach. Cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or rolling pin to knock the pomegranate skin. Continue beating until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all of the seeds are out, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.
I ended up making a double batch of this. I advise you to do the same.
Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant w/Pomegranate and Tahini (v/gf)
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 as an appetizer/salad
1 large eggplant
1/3 cup organic tahini paste
1/4 cup water
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 tbsp chopped parsley
sea salt and black pepper
seeds from 1 pomegranate
Optional: a handful of mini cucumbers, sliced in half moons (peeled if not organic), 1 cup organic cherry tomatoes, halved, olive oil to finish
First, you will need to roast or char the eggplant. You have some options here. To cook the eggplant on a gas stovetop, line the area around the burner with foil to protect it. Put the eggplant directly on a moderate flame and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Ottolenghi suggests you keep an eye on it the whole time so it doesn't catch fire. I concur.
Alternatively, if you have an electric stove, you can broil them. First, pierce the eggplant skin all over with a sharp knife (if you skip this step, you will have exploding eggplants - I am just saying). Then, place the eggplant in a foil-lined tray directly under a hot broiler for 1 full hour, turning it every 15 minutes or so. It will be done when it is completely deflated and the skin is broken and burnt.
When it's cool enough to handle, cut the eggplant open and scoop out the flesh and drain (the eggplant will release a lot of water as it cools). Ottolenghi suggests letting it drain for at least 30 minutes but there's no reason to time it so precisely. Basically, just make sure it's fairly dry before you proceed.
Then chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add tahini, lemon juice, water, pomegranate molasses, garlic, parsley, and some salt and pepper. Mix well with a whisk. Alternatively, you can take the easier route (like me) and pulse everything together in a food processor. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice or molasses, as needed. The salad should be a delightful balance of sweet and sour flavors.
At this point, you can serve as is, topped with pomegranate seeds. Or you can go further (you should go further) and add sliced cucumbers and tomatoes to the eggplant mix. Then, top everything with pomegranate seeds and drizzle with olive oil. Devour.
And your song to cook to? This awesome track by Sam Smith that I cannot get out of my head.