Serves 4 as an entree, 2 as a main
These days I often find myself with not much at all in the fridge. It’s so difficult to get to the organic grocer after work, and they never have any veggies left on the weekend. I have started supplementing with some conventional produce from the local fruit shop, but they have no flavour and I really do hate eating pesticides, so I buy as little as possible.
And so it was that I found myself with nothing but two eggplants in the fridge last night. Luckily, eggplant is one of the most versatile vegetables out there, and can easily become a spectacular dish without any of its vegetable friends.
Like most people I’m sure, if I have more than one eggplant, one of them is going to get smoked and turned into baba ganoush. I mean, who doesn’t make baba ganoush on a weekly basis? It’s right there with hummus. But I didn’t want a bowl of dip, because I had nothing to dip into it. Luckily eggplant stuffed with eggplant is a legitimate thing. Now I could happily just eat eggplant stuffed with baba ganoush on its own, but that isn’t much of a weekend dish, so I raided the fortunately well stocked cupboards and here we have it, a spectacularly delicious but incredibly easy meal.
All of the elements on the plate can be made in advance, however the different temperatures are important. The spiced tomato sauce should be warm, the eggplant slices should be warm, the baba ganoush should be room temperature and the cashew cream should be chilled. The combination of hot and cold, sweet and salty and smokiness is what makes this dish shine. But don’t worry, it’s actually incredibly easy to coordinate, and you will have a restaurant quality dish to serve as a starter at your next dinner party.
The baked eggplant
1 large eggplant, sliced 7mm thick lengthwise (you should get 8 slices, or more)
The babaganoush/Smoked eggplant filling
1 large eggplant (really large – use two if unsure, you can always adjust the seasoning accordingly)
3 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
Handful fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
The tomato sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large brown onion, very finely chopped
2 heaped tbsp tomato paste
2 cups passata
1 heaped tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp ground cumin, or to taste
1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste
1/4 tsp paprika, or to taste
Scant 1/4 tsp ground ginger
Dash cayenne pepper or hot chilli powder
Salt and pepper to taste
The lemon-herb cream
1/3 cup cashews, soaked a couple of hours, OR pinenuts (better but expensive) OR a combination of both
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
a few sprigs fresh parsley
a couple sprigs fresh mint
Splash olive oil
Salt to taste
Finely chopped Sicilian green olives (or other mild green olives), around 8
Fresh mint, chopped (a few tablespoons)
A few sprigs parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 200C
2. Make the lemon-herb cream
Place the pinenuts/soaked cashews, 1/3 cup water, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt into a high speed blender and blend until smooth. Add the parsley and mint and blend again until the herbs are very finely chopped. Scrape into a bowl/container and adjust seasoning to taste. It should taste good on its own, and be quite refreshing. Place in the fridge to chill
3. Make the babaganoush
Place the eggplant directly onto the flame on your stove. Leave to blacken and char, then turn to do the next side. Repeat until all the skin has blackened and the eggplant is soft and collapsing. It should look like this:
Allow the eggplant to cool to room temperature, then peel off the skin. A flew flecks are ok if you miss them, but no big bits. Place the flesh into a food processor and add all remaining ingredients. Pulse until creamy and the parsley is finely chopped. Adjust seasoning to taste and set aside.
4. Make the tomato sauce and bake the eggplant
Place the eggplant slices onto a baking paper lined tray. Brush both sides of each slice generously with olive oil and then rub a small pinch of salt into each side. Don’t go overboard, you aren’t rinsing this salt off. Place the eggplant in the oven and cook 10 minutes, then flip and cook another 10 minutes or until soft and slightly browned.
While they’re baking away, heat the olive oil in a pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until clear and sticky and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the tomato paste and spices and mix well. Add the passata, sugar and a big pinch salt and stir well. Bring to the boil then reduce to a rapid simmer. Cook, stirring often, until it is quite thick, around 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, then set aside to cool five minutes before serving.
Spread a couple of spoonfuls of tomato sauce in the middle of four plates. Take a few spoons of babaganoush and place them at one end of an eggplant slice. Roll up and repeat for all slices. Place two rolls on top of the tomato sauce. Spoon a few teaspoon full amounts of the lemon-herb cream around the edge of the plate. Top with a sprinkling of finely chopped olives and a tablespoon or so of roughly chopped mint*, then garnish with a sprig of parsley. Serve immediately.
*A note about presentation. I was incredibly rushed to get this photographed, as Fabio was heading out the door with the camera, so I didn’t have time to properly dress the plate. I was also hungry and wasn’t going to save any for the next day to photograph later, so I had 30 seconds. I didn’t finely chop the olives or put enough mint on for the photo, but I did to serve. Follow the instructions, not the picture.