Aubergines and Pomegranates

Deep Purple Eggplants

Tangy Buttermilk

Blood Red Pomegranates

Toasty Za’atar

I came across these ingredients in a recipe that I just had to try.  The onset of fall had me craving for a slow cooked dish and pomegranates have just begun to make a presence in our local produce department.

A delightful fruit filled with ruby colored seeds that are pocketed amongst the pomegranate’s white pith.  I recall my first encounter with the pomegranate: I was teaching children at their home in Oaxaca, Mexico and they picked for me a large, thick-skinned, red fruit from a tree growing in their yard.   I had never seen such a fruit before and ironically had to be taught how to eat it!  I quickly discovered that it is messy business!  Peeling away the thick skin and prying the jeweled seeds from the pith had my hands covered in bright red juice.

Now that I’ve gotten to know the pomegranate a little better I’ve found that cutting it in half and prying the seeds from the fruit under running water into a bowl is much easier.  In Michigan, pomegranates are available from October through January, so I decided to take advantage of the pomegranate’s recent debut!

photo by michelle.

The recipe which follows incorporates the smoky meatiness of slow roasted eggplant with tangy buttermilk and yogurt, nutty za’atar and a sweet burst of pomegranate.  A nice starter which I enjoyed with warmed pita bread.

Eggplant in Buttermilk Sauce

by Yotam Ottolenghi http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/

Ingredients:

  • 2 large and long eggplants
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
  • Maldon sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 tsp za’atar

Sauce:

  • 9 tbsp buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don’t eat it). Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil—keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.

While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling-pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

To make the sauce. Whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za’atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

photo by michelle.

note: When I made this dish I found that 40 minutes at 200 F did not roast the eggplants to my liking.  I roasted them for 1.5 hours until nicely browned.