Three recipes that bring out the deep flavors of eggplant
Charring over high heat is the key to great flavor with these dishes, including traditional Persian dip and a tantalizing pizza.
These recipes are part of a new partnership between Christopher Kimball and the cooks at Milk Street and the Globe Magazine’s Cooking column.
We find that the key to excellent eggplant is a good char over high heat. We take a cue from Israel, where cooks scorch eggplant halves to develop a smoky, meaty flavor that we balance with fresh mint and parsley, and then add a sesame seed topping for nutty flavor and texture. Rich walnuts and sweet-yet-tart pomegranate molasses complement savory eggplant for a traditional Persian dip called Kashke Bademjan. Finally, feta cheese, premade pizza dough, and a Middle Eastern herb-sesame blend called za’atar pair perfectly with thick slices of eggplant roasted under the broiler.
Grilled Eggplant With Sesame and Herbs
Makes 6 servings
We like serving the eggplant in its charred skin, but the cooked flesh also can be scooped into a bowl, mashed, and mixed with the herbs, then finished with olive oil and lemon juice. Look for smooth, unblemished eggplants, and leave the stems on when halving them.
To cook the eggplant indoors, heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the heat. Place the oil-brushed eggplant halves cut side up on a wire rack set on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until golden brown, about 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 475 degrees and roast until soft throughout, another 30 to 40 minutes.
Don’t forget to score the eggplant. This allows the garlic flavor to penetrate.
2 medium eggplants (1 to 1½ pounds each), halved lengthwise
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, finely grated
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
6 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (1 lemon)
Prepare a grill for indirect, high-heat cooking. For a charcoal grill, spread a large chimney of hot coals evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents. For a gas grill, set half of the burners to high. Heat the grill, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, then clean and oil the cooking grate.
Using a paring knife, carefully score the flesh of each eggplant half in a crosshatch pattern, spacing the cuts about æ inch apart (be careful to not cut through the skins). Use ¼ cup of the oil to brush the eggplant flesh evenly, then season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ¼ cup oil and the garlic.
Grill the eggplant halves cut side down on the hot side of the grill until well browned, about 5 to 10 minutes. Flip the halves cut side up and move to the cooler side of the grill. Brush the garlic-oil mixture onto the flesh, using the brush to push the garlic into the cuts. Cover and cook until a skewer inserted at the narrow end of the largest eggplant half meets no resistance, about 30 to 40 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, mint, sesame seeds, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Use a spoon to carefully separate the flesh from the skin of each half, but leave it in place. Sprinkle each half with the herb mixture, then carefully stir it into the flesh to combine. Drizzle with olive oil and the lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Eggplant-Walnut Dip (Kashke Bademjan)
Makes 3½ cups
If you can’t find Aleppo pepper, substitute a pinch of cayenne.
The consistency of the dip is best after being refrigerated for at least 12 hours, but its flavor is fullest at room temperature, so allow it to stand on the counter for about 1 hour before stirring in the herbs and adding the garnishes. Serve the dip with warmed pita bread or seeded crackers.
Don’t use eggplants that weigh more than 1 pound each; they tend to have more seeds and can be bitter. Choose eggplants with taut, glossy skin and no bruises or brown spots.
1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 1-pound eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds
¾ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped, divided
½ cup whole milk yogurt
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, divided
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish
Heat the broiler to high with a rack 6 inches from the element. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
In a large bowl, toss the onion with 2 tablespoons of the oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Arrange the onion wedges in a single layer on one corner of the prepared baking sheet. Place the eggplant rounds in a single layer on the same baking sheet and brush both sides with the remaining 5 tablespoons olive oil. In a small bowl, combine 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper, then use to season both sides of the eggplant.
Broil until the eggplant is well browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Flip each round (but not the onions), then broil until the second sides are well browned, another 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Finely chop half of the eggplant and transfer to a medium bowl; set aside.
In a food processor, process ½ cup of the walnuts until they turn into a paste that clings to the sides of the bowl, about 15 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and add the yogurt, pomegranate molasses, Aleppo pepper (if using), and ½ teaspoon salt. Process until combined, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the whole eggplant rounds and the onion and process until smooth, about 15 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with the chopped eggplant and stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 3 days.
About 1 hour before serving, remove the dip from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Stir in the parsley and ¼ cup of the mint, then taste and season with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons mint, remaining ¼ cup walnuts, and the pomegranate seeds.
Roasted Eggplant Pizza With Za’atar and Feta
Makes two 10-inch pizzas
For efficiency, roast the eggplant once the oven has come to temperature but while the pizza steel or stone is still heating. Look for za’atar, a Middle Eastern sesame, herb, and spice blend, in well-stocked grocery stores and spice shops.
1 12-ounce eggplant, sliced into ½-inch-thick rounds
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large shallot, peeled and cut into ¼-inch wedges
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Semolina flour, for dusting the pizza peel
2 premade pizza dough rounds
4½ ounces feta cheese, finely crumbled (1 cup)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
At least 1 hour before baking, heat oven to 550 degrees (or 500 degrees if that’s your oven’s maximum temperature), with a baking steel or stone on the upper-middle rack. Place a second rack in the lower-middle position. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
Arrange the eggplant slices in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet. Use all of the oil to brush both sides of the eggplant. Roast on the lower-middle rack until soft and golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes (12 minutes in a 500-degree oven). Let cool slightly, then chop the eggplant into 1-inch pieces. In a medium bowl, combine the eggplant, tomatoes, shallot, garlic, za’atar, and salt.
Dust a baking peel, inverted baking sheet, or rimless cookie sheet with semolina. Transfer the first dough round to the peel and, if needed, reshape into a 10-inch circle. Spread half of the eggplant mixture evenly over it, leaving a ½-inch border at the edges. Sprinkle with half the feta and 1 tablespoon of the pine nuts. Bake until the crust is well browned, about 7 to 10 minutes (9 to 12 minutes in a 500-degree oven).
Using the peel, transfer the pizza to a wire rack. Let cool for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with the second dough round and remaining ingredients.