One of the reasons that I am loving using Plenty More for recipe inspirations is that I am finding such creativity in side dishes - a part of the plate that is generally an afterthought. My latest test could be considered either a side dish or an appetizer given the strength of flavors. I also thought that the recipe could be modified to become a main dish with some ground lamb on top. Regardless of its placement on the menu - I found Ottolenghi's "Eggplant with Crushed Chickpeas and Herbed Yogurt" to be, like many of his other recipes, complex and comforting.
I can't say much about the presentation as there was no guiding image in the book. I found the final "verbally" recommended presentation a bit sloppy so I chopped up some additional parsley and sprinkled that on top in hopes of tying it all together. Even still, it wasn't the most beautiful dish I've eaten, but it was tasty and isn't that really the most important part of a dish anyway?
The recipe consisted of three basic parts: Roasted Eggplant, Crushed Chickpeas (think chunky hummus sans tahini), and Herbed Yogurt (with multiple herbs, of course). And what's beautiful about that is, despite three components, there are only eight ingredients! Simplicity is beautiful.
The eggplants are to be sliced crosswise and about 3/4-inch wide. They are then simply roasted at a high temperature (475F!) for 40 minutes. That makes them look nearly burnt but, trust me, they aren't - they are just beautifully roasted and provide that rich, deep foundation for the rest of the ingredients.
For the "crushed chickpeas" I used canned because I already had these on hand. And to be honest, I think the canned version is probably best for this recipe. The chickpeas need to be very soft and in order to achieve that from dried chickpeas - you'll have to cook them for a very long time. And you are mashing them so some of the best things about dried chickpeas (cooked) is the texture of the full bean so save yourself time and use canned chickpeas.
I had to re-read the recipe a few times to understand that you are actually using the lemon part of the lemon and not the rind, the pith, or the juice. Little bits of lemon get chopped up and add brightness and tang to the chickpea mixture. It really is reminiscent of a hummus - just without the tahini. Personally, I could see myself serving just this chickpea mash with some pita and having that be a simple little snack to munch on.
The recipe says to mash it into a smooth paste. I wanted to keep a few small chunks in there for texture.
Finally, we have the yogurt. Part 3 of 3 for the dish. This is the brightest layer of the dish with the addition of mint and cilantro. It is like a tatziki but more approachable as it doesn't have any raw garlic which is common in the Greek condiment/spread.
Then, quite simply, you layer components 1, 2 and 3 (any maybe 4 if you want some fresh herbs) and serve either on a platter altogether or as individual eggplant pieces on plates.
The recipe says that it serves four (as a starter) but I basically did a half recipe and look how much food I had. I would argue, serves 4 as a "main" with some basic protein. We served it with a protein and another side so we had leftovers with just a half recipe.
Eggplants with Crushed Chickpeas and Herb Yogurt from Plenty More
p. 167 - Serves 4 as a starter
- 3 large eggplants, cut crosswise into slices 3/4-in/2-cm thick (2 3/4 lb/1.2 kg)
- 1/2 cup/120 ml olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups/240 g soft cooked chickpeas*, plus some of their cooking liquid
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
- 1 small lemon, rind, pith, and seeds removed, flesh coarsely chopped (1 1/4 oz/35 g)
- 1/2 cup/100 g Greek yogurt
- 1/3 cup/10 g mint, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup/15 g flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- salt and black pepper
*If cooking with dried chickpeas, you'll need to start with 1/2 cup/100g to yield 1 1/2 cups/240g of cooked, and make sure you boil them to the stage when they just start to fall apart. If using canned, cook them in their liquid, plus some extra water, for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 475 F/250 C. Note: Ottolonghi recommends placing a tray of water at the bottom of the oven to give out steam and prevent the eggplants from drying out.
- Place the eggplants in a large bowl with 1/4 cup/60 ml of the oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Mix well, then spread out in a single layer on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Remove and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, put the chickpeas in a bowl along with the cumin seeds, lemon flesh, 3 tablespoons of the oil, 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Mash roughly using a fork or potato masher, adding a bit more of the cooking liquid if needed to get a thick, spreadable paste.
- Place the yogurt in the bowl of a small food processor along with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, the herbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Blitz until well combined. You need to be able to drizzle the yogurt, so add a tablespoon or two of water or oil if you need to.
- To arrange, spread the eggplant slices out on a platter or individual plates. Spoon the crushed chickpeas on top, followed by a drizzle of the yogurt and serve.
We served the eggplant alongside some marinated lamb and a Greek salad. However, just the lamb and eggplant would have been sufficient. With the meal we cracked open a 2009 Asuncion Ridge Salacious (GSM) and were pleasantly surprised how well the deep, savory yet fruity wine went with the roasted eggplant. It was glorious.