Thyme-Roasted Eggplant with Basmati Rice, Sumac + Preserved-Lemon

Perhaps because I formally named my blog/this website and subsequent business after it, or because I have a particular affection for the vegetable that seems to be a mystery for most people, I get a lot of questions and recipe requests involving eggplant.

Eggplant is much loved and at home in food cultures of the Middle East region. And after this summer, the second hottest locally on record, I can see why. Eggplant thrives in hot weather. Our usual couple plants and a few nice eggplants for the year has turned into more than I can keep up with lately.

And we’ve been eating it a lot.

For me, eggplant’s meaty, Portobello mushroom-like texture is best prepared by roasting (or grilling). And it doesn’t need the gobs of oil that you often find in eggplant-based recipes.

Eggplant does act as a sponge for oil, but also for moisture in general. A nice tip to keep an eggplant-based meal balanced in terms of oil amount is to add a fair bit of water to the roasting pan. Since most oils are actually best used away from heat, that’s the method here, with a nice quality olive oil being added once all the components are out of the oven and off the stovetop, so the oil isn’t oxidized and damaged by the oven and cooking temperatures.

The other thing to highlight is that all the main components of this dish are made warm or cooked. This is because cooking will make the whole dish easier to digest. Even the dark leafy greens are “heated/gently cooked” in the way I add the fresh out of the oven eggplant over the top, as well as the warm rice and onion, and allow it to steam cook for a minute before gently stirring. The easy to digest factor is also why I’ve chosen to use a (white) basmati rice as the grain component. You can choose another whole grain if you have no digestive problems.

Hope you enjoy. This is definitely a keeper of an eggplant-based recipe!

Thyme-Roasted Eggplant with Basmati Rice, Sumac + Lemon

The mung beans are added as a side-dish to make this a complete meal. Mung beans, either cooked from whole green mung, or split mung dal, are the simplest bean to digest. If you’d rather serve another protein, simply leave out and skip that step in the cooking process.

Prep:  6 hours, unattended  | Cook: 1 hour  | Serves: 4

Roasted Eggplant:
1 kg chopped eggplant
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon sumac
½ tsp. mineral salt
water to partially cover

For Mung Beans:
¾ cup dry mung beans, soaked for at least 6 hours
½ tsp. mineral salt
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chopped dried curry leaf
water to cover

Basmati Rice:
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
½ a red onion, sliced thin
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 cups water

To Finish:
1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped
Up to 2 Tbs. lemon juice, to taste
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 handful dark leafy greens, chopped
1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds OR 1 Tbs. za’atar seasoning
Large handful of cilantro or basil, minced

  • Preheat the oven to 350F. Dice the eggplant into medium pieces and place in a baking tray, lined with parchment.Sprinkle with thyme leaves and sumac, salt, and then add water to cover about ⅓ up the sides of the veg. Roast for about an hour, or until completely soft, stirring once or twice throughout.
  • Then start the mung beans. Add drained/soaked mung beans and spices to a medium saucepan. Bring to a medium-high heat and simmer until the spices become fragrant. Add water to cover by a couple inches, then bring to a boil. Once the pot is boiling, turn it down to a simmer and partially cover. Cook for 25-35 minutes, until soft. Set aside.
  • Add 2 cups water to a medium saucepan along with  ⅛ tsp. salt, sliced onion, and the basmati rice. Give it all a good stir, and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes. When the rice has finished, take the lid off and allow the steam to escape for a few minutes. 
  • In a large serving bowl, add the diced preserved lemon, chopped leafy greens, and cooked eggplant. Then stir in the steamed rice and onion, along with the lemon juice and olive oil. Before serving, stir in the minced herbs and toasted sesame seeds or za’atar seasoning. 
  • Serve along with the mung beans on the side.

Notes:
– Finely grated lemon zest can be used in place of preserved lemon, if preferred.
– If you only have access to sumac OR za’atar seasoning, choose whichever you have, since za’atar contains the sumac berry as one of it’s components.
Recipe inspired by Emma Galloway of My Darling Lemon Thyme.

Za’atar-Spiced Millet + Chickpeas with Baba Ghanoush

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In between eating roasted pumpkin and winter squash in everything possible because it’s already November, I finally used up all the garden’s eggplants. There were as many growing in my tiny space as were in the school garden and given their late start last spring, they took seriously forever to ripen.

The real question is why did I plant so many in the first place? Quite simply, I like eggplant. Most people don’t. Like a little girl, I could say I like it because the fruit is purple and a funky shape and that name, egg plant. But there’s more. I began my eggplant-eating-tendencies years ago after trying it for the first time at The Olive Garden. My group thought I was crazy for ordering, of all things, something vegetarian and with a slimy vegetable as the main show. I was just beginning to show the “let’s-eat-all-the-weird-to-rural-Eastern-Oregon-food” side of my personality, and everyone else’s strong opinions made me like the vegetable even more.

All these years later, I still love eggplant because it’s often unloved and misunderstood–and because it can be seriously good. It pairs especially well in Middle Eastern food, and according to Ottolenghi, in Jerusulem it is often featured in every meal.

 

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I whipped roasted eggplant into baba ghanoush a few weeks back and then, needing something for lunch on a busy day, threw all these ingredients in a dish before running out the door. I suspected something magical was in the works, and though leftovers for lunch is not always exciting, this combination of baba ghanoush, millet, chickpeas, za’atar, and kale goes together super well. It was so good that a decent amount of all that eggplant made its way into baba ghanoush for the sole purpose of making this.

If you’re at all like me and tend to have beans and grains and random spreads and spice mixtures like baba ghanoush and za’atar hanging out, this will go together super quick. If not, it will take a bit more time, though it’s definitely worth it!

 

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Za’atar-Spiced Millet + Chickpeas with Baba Ghanoush, serves 1
1 cup cooked millet
1/2-2/3 cup cooked chickpeas
2-3 Tbs. Baba Ghanoush, or more to taste
a big pile of chopped kale leaves
1-2 tsp. za’atar, to taste
chopped cilantro, optional
 
Toss all the above together. Eat warm or at room temperature.
 
 
Baba Ghanoush, adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food
1 lb. eggplant (about one large)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt, to taste
2 Tbs. tahini
Juice of one lemon
1/3 tsp. cumin
 
Split the eggplant in half length-wise and roast, cut side down at 425 degrees F, until very soft inside (about 30 minutes). Let it cool slightly and then peel the skin off and discard. In a small dish, mash it all up with a fork and then stir in the remaining ingredients until they come together. Adjust seasonings to taste. 
 
 
Za’atar
You can buy this spice mixture, but it’s easy to make yourself. Combine 1 part ground dried thyme, 1 part lightly toasted sesame seeds, 1/4 part sumac, and salt to taste.