Why It Works
- Puréeing the garlic in lemon juice tames its flavor, creating a tahini that's flavorful but not pungent.
- Cooking the eggplant at high heat evaporates its moisture quickly.
This dish of eggplant roasted until caramelized and tender, served over stewed lentils with an extraordinarily light and creamy tahini sauce and crunchy pine nuts, was dinner and lunch for more meals than I care to count a couple of weeks back. Not that I'm complaining: It's extremely good.
I gotta admit, it was a little disappointing to see my book get eliminated from Food52's annual Piglet tournament of cookbooks in the quarterfinal round, but it was a loss made much sweeter by the fact that I was introduced to another book I would have never seen if it weren't for the competition. As soon as I read Phyllis Grant's breathless description of the tahini sauce recipe in Michael Solomonov's Zahav, I ordered the book without a second thought.
Oh, man, was it worth it.
I'd been experimenting with the treatment of chickpeas in hummus recipes for a while, but I'd largely been ignoring what, for Israeli versions of hummus, is almost as important: the tahini.
Solomonov's version begins by puréeing whole, unpeeled garlic cloves with lemon juice in a blender. You'd expect this to create an intensely pungent garlic flavor, yet, because the garlic is puréed in an acidic liquid, it forms very little of the nose-tickling garlicky compound known as allicin and instead ends up mild and fragrant. (More details on this process in the hummus examination.)
The garlic and lemon mixture gets pushed through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. You whisk in some cumin and tahini, which immediately seizes up into a clumpy, cement-like paste. Don't worry: As you slowly whisk in cold water, the mixture transforms into a gloriously light and creamy sauce with the texture of yogurt and a savory nuttiness.
It's very rare that I'm completely satisfied with a technique the first time I try it, but after some serious tinkering with this one, I couldn't find any way to improve upon Solomonov's original. With the exception of a few minor changes in ratios, it's essentially step for step how he does it. It works wonders as an ingredient in dips, or, as I'm using it here, as a sauce for roasted eggplant.
Eggplant is an almost cliché ingredient in vegetarian and vegan dishes (think: grilled eggplant in place of burgers), but there's a good reason: It's incredibly tasty when cooked right.
I like to treat my eggplant to some pretty intense heat, whether it's whole on the grill, placed directly over the gas flame of a burner until charred, or roasted. High heat rapidly evaporates its interior moisture, allowing the eggplant to compress and increase in density while also adding nice smokiness.
Roasting eggplants whole will yield meltingly tender flesh inside, but here I wanted something a little meatier. So I split them in half first and scored them to expose their flesh to more of the caramelizing heat of the oven.
Eggplant is quite porous and will absorb a good amount of oil, so I brush it on pretty generously—at least a tablespoon per cut half—allowing each brushstroke of oil to soak into the flesh before brushing it on again. Oil not only adds rich texture and flavor (especially if it's a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil) but also ensures more even browning and heat distribution.
I roast the eggplants in a hot oven with a few sprigs of rosemary for extra fragrance. (If you prefer thyme, oregano, parsley, or any other herb, really, there's nothing that should stop you.) When the eggplant is tender and caramelized, it's ready to serve. You could scoop out the flesh and whip it into a baba ganoush, but in this case, I like the fork-and-knife heartiness of serving it deconstructed, with the tahini sauce spooned over it.
To make it a complete meal, I pair it up with some lentils that are simply cooked with onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and bay leaves.
Rosemary, parsley, and toasted pine nuts add freshness and texture. Like I said, I was a little bit bummed when I saw my book get bumped out, but it's really hard to get hung up in gray clouds when the silver linings are so darn delicious.
For the Lentils:
2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 1 cup; 170g)
2 small stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 1 cup; 115g)
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup; 225g)
6 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
12 ounces (340g) brown or de Puy lentils
2 bay leaves
4 cups homemade vegetable stock or water (about 1L) (see notes)
2 teaspoons (10ml) red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
For the Eggplant:
2 large Italian or small globe eggplants, about 1 pound (450g) each
4 tablespoons (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons (30ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 cup pine nuts (about 2 1/2 ounces; 70g)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 recipe tahini sauce with garlic and lemon
For the Lentils: Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F (230°C) to prepare for roasting eggplant. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lentils, bay leaves, stock or water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid partially ajar, and cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. (Top up with water if lentils are at any point not fully submerged.) Remove lid, stir in vinegar, and reduce until lentils are moist but not soupy. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover, and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Eggplant: While lentils cook, cut each eggplant in half. Score flesh with the tip of a paring knife in a cross-hatch pattern at 1-inch intervals. Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, cut side up, and brush each eggplant half with 1 tablespoon oil, letting each brushstroke be fully absorbed before brushing with more. Season with salt and pepper. Place a rosemary sprig on top of each one. Transfer to oven and roast until completely tender and well charred, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and discard rosemary.
To Serve: Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and pine nuts in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Cook, tossing nuts frequently, until golden brown and aromatic, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to halt cooking. Stir half of parsley and rosemary into lentils and transfer to a serving platter. Arrange eggplant halves on top. Spread a few tablespoons of tahini sauce over each eggplant half and sprinkle with pine nuts. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and rosemary, drizzle with additional olive oil, and serve.
Do not use store-bought vegetable stock. It is never very good.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 60g||76%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||38%|
|Total Carbohydrate 60g||22%|
|Dietary Fiber 17g||62%|
|Total Sugars 15g|
|Vitamin C 16mg||80%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|