Israeli charred eggplant salad
A full-flavored Mediterranean dish that works as both an appetizer or a main dish.
Almost every Israeli restaurant has some version of this vegetarian dish. Upscale restaurants call it eggplant carpaccio. Plain folks call it eggplant and tahini salad. Some versions, like this one, are rich with cheese and tomatoes and olive oil, and some are more plain, with just charred eggplant and a good dollop of tahini on the side. Myself, I lay that eggplant on its back and pile everything on top of it. The hot eggplant drizzled with garlicky tahini, lemon juice, silan date syrup and olive oil creates a most subtle sauce right there in the plate. And the tomatoes and feta shine through the eggplant and sauce. You get layers of flavors in every bite.
So I started with a baladi eggplant from the market. Baladi connotes higher quality because the fruit is wild or unsprayed or raised on a small farm according to old-fashioned methods. When you’re trawling through the market and come upon a stand with these dark purple, ridged eggplants, you’ve met the baladi. Other eggplant varieties work fine for this dish too, of course. I favor baladi because they look a lot funkier, and they tend to be big.
This one had been sitting in my fridge a little too long. It was still whole, but starting to get that wrinkled look that indicated I’d better use it up already.
Why did I buy such a big eggplant, I asked myself. We’re not a big family anymore. And I had to answer myself, I don’t know, but if I eat the whole thing, that can be lunch. Who needs anything else? Well, a few plain crackers or half a fresh pita to mop the juices up.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 lemon or lime, halved
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 tablespoons tahini mixed with 1 small crushed garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons silan date honey – if silan isn’t available, substitute 1 tablespoon light bee’s honey diluted with 2 teaspoons warm water to make it runny
- 1 medium tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese – substitute a few tablespoons of thick yogurt if you prefer
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh za’atar, oregano or basil
Alone in the house and getting hungry, I set Great Purple on a metal grill and lit a fire under it.
It had to be turned over from side to side every 10 minutes or so.
Use tongs to turn the eggplant this way and that. Make sure to char the eggplant all over, including the ends. Press a little with the tongs or a fork – when the whole vegetable yields softly, and the peel is well charred, remove it to a plate with tongs. I’ve made this dish grilling the eggplant in the oven, but charring is essential to the authentic taste. True, it’s a bit messy, but all good things emerge from a mess.
I didn’t let it cool down for more than a few minutes: I wanted it hot, so that when I covered it with those delicious liquids, it would cook them into the sauce I was drooling over a while ago. The trick is to have all the ingredients set out on the counter and ready to be added in order, as soon as the eggplant is peeled.
When the vegetable is just cool enough to handle by its cap end, peel the charred skin away with a paring knife. It comes off fairly easily, and if a little of the charred peel stays on, it only adds Mediterranean flavor.
Now to season it. The best way to make the eggplant accept the flavorings is to cut it in half horizontally and press a fork through its flesh.
Next, squeeze half a lemon or lime over each half eggplant. Dribble tahini that’s been mixed with a small, crushed garlic clove over each half.
Over that, drizzle silan or diluted honey from the tip of a tablespoon.
Then scoop up the tomato you’ve previously chopped and distribute the chunks all over the eggplant bed. Crumble about a tablespoon of feta over the tomato. Garnish with some fresh herb. I used a couple of za’atar sprigs from the potted plant on my balcony, but oregano or chopped basil would be fine too.
A good dollop of olive oil finishes the dish off.
Eat hot, with fresh pita or baguette slices.
One medium to large eggplant makes an appetizer for 4 people, or lunch for one hungry person.