Eggplants – In praise of a fruit pretending to be a vegetable

Eggplants on table

Often misunderstood and under-appreciated by many people, eggplants are a major ingredient in my kitchen. Although prepared as a culinary vegetable, eggplants – contrary to misconception – are technically a fruit, as they grow from a flowering plant and contain seeds.

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At our Friday night dinners, eggplants are a must dish on our family table. I roast them in the oven, in contrast to those who deep fry or grill them. Coming in various shapes, sizes and colours, their inside has a spongy texture while their outside skin is most commonly a dark purple whose tone I happen to like.

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Eggplants, which are a nutrient-dense foods, have many health benefits. Rich in fiber, they contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are a versatile ingredient, which I love using in two of my favourite recipes which I’m including below:

Eggplant Baladi with tahini sauce

Several years ago, at a culinary workshop I was conducting in Toronto, there was a winning mix of food-lovers and great spirit. One of the nicest women in attendance was Marla Hertzman.

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(Left to right) Jayne jayne Schipper Galya and Marla Hertzman at Galya’s culinary workshop where eggplants had pride of place

She devoted a post to the workshop in her beautiful blog called Love Thy Carrot in which she also included her own slight variation of my recipe for my eggplant dish.
https://www.lovethycarrot.com/home/2014/5/12/eggplant-baladi-with-tahini-sauce

Here’s an excerpt from what Marla so kindly wrote:
“Galya had a ‘market’ spread out for us with all the foods we would need. Thirty of us, all cooking together, gathered up eggplants, dried fruit and fresh herbs, and got to work. One hour later, we were eating a feast of kichree, labane, kubbe, sabich and more. This eggplant dish was my favourite.”

Marla added a nice touch to my recipe with a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, which is a good substitution if you can’t find fresh pomegranates.

Eggplant Baladi with Tahini Sauce

Ingredients for the eggplant
2 eggplants
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 pomegranate
Handful of chopped parsley

Ingredients for the tahini dressing
1/2 cup of raw tahini
1/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice

Ingredients for pomegranate molasses to drizzle on top of eggplant
2 cups pure 100% pomegranate juice
2 tbsp silan

Directions for cooking eggplant
Preheat oven to broil.
Slice eggplant lengthwise and sprinkle with salt and pepper on the inside part of the eggplant
Bake face down on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper or tin foil
Broil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until eggplant is black on the outside and very soft on the inside

Directions for the tahini dressing
In a large bowl, mix the tahini, water, garlic and lemon juice
Keep mixing until mixture is very smooth
Taste and adjust, you may need more water or lemon

Directions for the pomegranate molasses
In a large, uncovered saucepan, heat pomegranate juice and silan on medium high until the silan has dissolved and the juice simmers
Reduce heat just enough to maintain a simmer
Simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes or until juice has a syrupy consistency and has reduced to about half
Once cooled, pour into a glass jar
Any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator.
If you want your pomegranate molasses to be sweeter, add more silan to taste while you are cooking it

How to serve
Place eggplant on a platter, drizzle tahini, then the pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds and a handful of chopped fresh parsley
Eat with pita, a baguette or challah

Eggplant

My healthier style of sabich (with eggplant at its core)
Sabich, the name of a distinctly Israeli dish, is one of those foreign words whose origin is uncertain and doesn’t convert well when transcribed in English. First popularized by Iraqi Jews in Israel in the late 1940s and early 50s, it was a cold meal of pre-cooked fried eggplant, boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, usually stuffed into a pita. Today, this type of pita sandwich is gaining appeal and respect, both at home and abroad.

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Pouring the stir-fried eggplant into tart shells  at Galya Loves Food culinary workshop 

Compared to falafel, sabich has acquired a more sophisticated reputation and is considered to be less a street food and more of a refined eating experience. This despite the fact that Israelis refer to both in Hebrew as “mashehu bapita” which translates as “something in a pita.”

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Cutting eggplant in preparing sabich

Here’s my version of sabich, with a French twist:

Ingredients
Pre-baked 12-15 mini tart shells (you can find them in the frozen section in grocery stores)
2 tomatoes, finely diced
1 English cucumber, finely diced
2 green onions, minced
2 shallots, finely diced
Juice of 1 fresh lemon
Tahina (see recipe below)
2 large eggplants, peeled and sliced finely
1/2 cup of finely diced fresh herbs: parsley, sage and rosemary.
1 tablespoon organic maple syrup
1 tablespoon silan
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper for seasoning
1/3 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of pickles, cut into small slices
2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts.
½ cup of chopped coriander

Directions
Preheat the oven to 370 degrees. Bake tart shells for 15 minutes.
Let cool.
Make a simple Israeli-style salad with finely-cut tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.
Add lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper
Chop the shallots.
Stir-fry eggplants until fully tender and golden
Add fresh herbs.
Add maple syrup, silan, balsamic vinaigrette and Dijon mustard, salt and pepper
Let cool

Ingredients for the tahini dressing
1/2 cup tahini
1 glove of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Directions for the tahini dressing
In a food processor, combine garlic and tahini
Add salt, olive oil and lemon juice
If too thick, add a teaspoon of warm water until desired consistency

Serving and decoration
In a large serving plate, place tart shells, put on each one of them some of the stir-fried eggplants, then one spoon of the Israeli-style salad on which one spoon of the prepared tahini.
Garnish with chopped coriander, chopped pickles, and pine nuts

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