Jim Dixon wrote about eating for WW for more than 20 years, but these days he spends most of his time at his specialty food business focused on olive oil Wellspent Market. Jim has always loved food, and encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We are happy to have you back creating some special dishes just for WW readers
Eggplant intimidates some cooks. They read recipes that call for salting and draining to make nightshades less bitter, a process that might have been useful once, but isn’t necessary with modern eggplant varieties that have had bitter flavors. Lazy recipe writers also repeat the well-worn caution that eggplant absorbs oil and becomes greasy. If eggplant is not cooked well, it can be tough and mushy.
And while there are many ways to make eggplant delicious, there’s one almost foolproof technique that’s incredibly easy and adaptable to a variety of dishes: burn it.
Cooks around the world stick whole eggplants in the fire until the skin blackens and blisters. A little less primitive but just as effective is to grill it over hot coals or even propane. You can get good results with a pair of tongs and a gas burner, but sometimes it gets messy when the juices come out. The easy way to burn eggplant is in your oven.
Turn it up to 450 degrees, make some slits in the eggplant to let the steam escape, put the whole eggplant in a pan or skillet and put it in the oven. I like to put parchment paper underneath to make cleaning easier, but it’s not necessary. Bake for 45 minutes or more, until the skin is dark, the juices are bubbling, and the eggplant has collapsed. When it cools, the skin peels off and you have a silky, slightly smoky, perfectly cooked eggplant.
Mix it with tahini, lemon, garlic and olive oil for a traditional spread called baba ganoush, or chop it up and combine it with tomatoes and cucumbers for a simple salad. I like to combine eggplant with freekeh, Lebanese-style wheat berries that have been picked while green and roasted over open flames in the field to remove the chaff and give it a smoky flavor.
1 balloon eggplant
1 cup freekeh*
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 6-inch Persian style cucumbers**, halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, fresh mint, or a combination of both
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tahini
2 tablespoons of miso
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher style salt
*Freekah can be hard to find, but you can use plain wheat berries or farro (make sure it’s whole grain and not pearled, aka perlato or semi-perlato). Local farmers Anthony and Carol Boutard, purveyors of cornmeal, beans, bare barley and other heirloom crops to Portland’s best chefs and home cooks, began harvesting green wheat to make freekeh years ago. They retired earlier this year, but Wellspent Market acquired their stock of what they call parched green wheat and will sell it while supplies last.
**Substitute an English-style cuke; a regular clipper works too, but remove the waxy skin.
Use a paring knife to cut a few slits in the skin, then roast the eggplant at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it sinks and the juices are bubbling. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut it in half lengthwise and remove the skin with your hands. Use the back of a knife to scrape off any cooked meat that sticks to the skin. Discard the skin and cut the eggplant thickly. Transfer to a large bowl.
Place the freekeh in a saucepan and add 2-3 inches of water to cook. Add salt and cook for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drain well and add to the eggplant.
In a small bowl, combine the tahini with a tablespoon or two of cold water and stir until the tahini thickens, a curious result of the hydrophilic properties of sesame seeds. Mix the miso, olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and garlic, then stir the dressing into the eggplant.
You can add the herbs and vegetables to the eggplant-freekeh mixture, but for a more dramatic and Instagrammable presentation, spread the eggplant and freekah on a plate or plate, place the tomatoes and cucumber on the around the edge and sprinkle with herbs and green onions. . Drizzle everything with more olive oil and serve with pita or good bread.