For a long time, eggplant was a mystery to me. We never really ate it growing up, and the only time I saw it was in vegetarian cookbooks, usually in the form of “eggplant parmesan.” Basically, it was something you should slather as much sauce on as possible, so that maybe if you closed one eye and plugged your nose you might be able to pretend you were eating meat.
Ironically, the first time I really enjoyed eggplant was while I was a student in Russia and my host mom made a delicious salad of roasted tomato, pepper, and eggplant. This was ironic because, in case you hadn’t noticed, Russia is not exactly teeming with fresh vegetables in the middle of the winter, and my host mom could easily have been listed among the top five worst cooks of all time. No pumpkin bread or butter pecan granola in her house! Instead, I frequently woke up to a breakfast of oil soaked fried cabbage topped with slices of boiled egg. Another morning favorite was canned green bean scramble–a dish that is almost as delicious as it sounds–a can of green beans fried with an egg. (Look you just got two recipes for the price of one today!)
My next encounter with eggplant was in its supporting role in the Macedonian red pepper and eggplant spread, ajvar. If you’ve never tried ajvar, the stuff is amazing. I know at least one Macedonia who can regularly polishes off a full 32 oz jar along side a loaf of bread. It was a short jump from ajvar to baba ganoush, which is really just mashed up eggplant, and soon enough I was on my way to becoming a full fledged eggplant aficionado. These days, eggplant is a staple in our house, and makes it on the menu at least once a week.
Lately, this roasted eggplant recipe with chickpeas and cilantro pesto has become one of my favorite ways to enjoy this delicious vegetable. I adapted the recipe from Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. If you don’t own this cookbook, I highly recommend it. It is packed with yummy recipes that can be used for everyday cooking or entertaining. I turn to it so often, that I have stopped keeping it on my cookbook shelf and just leave it next to the stove!
- 2 medium sized eggplants
- 1 cup chickpeas (cooked or canned)
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
- Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with a very thin layer of olive oil.
- Slice each eggplant lengthwise. Use a pastry brush or your fingers to coat the cut side of each eggplant with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt.
- In a small bowl, combine chickpeas, coriander, cumin, paprika, one tablespoon olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
- Spread chick on a separate baking dish in a single layer. (If you are completely adverse to the thought of having one more pan to wash, I sometimes just roast them on the same pan as the egg plant.
- Roast until the thickest part of each eggplant is very soft when punctured with the tines of a fork, and the chickpeas begin to brown. (About 35-40 minutes)
- To make the pesto, combine the garlic, cilantro, 1/4 cup pine nuts (save the rest for garnish), a pinch of salt, lemon juice and 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a blender. Blend until the mixture becomes a liquid, but stop while it still has some texture. The consistency should be thinner than a pesto you would use for pasta, but should still have identifiable flecks of pine nuts.
- Remove eggplants and chickpeas from the oven.
- Top each eggplant with a few tablespoons of yogurt, a drizzle of tahini, and a drizzle of the cilantro pesto. Finish by dividing the roasted chickpeas and remaining pine nuts evenly between the eggplant halves.