From bulbous and egg-shaped, to small and thin, the eggplant (or if you’re British like me, the aubergine) is a staple fruit within Jewish-Sephardic cooking. Originating in India or perhaps even China, eggplant seeds are thought to have traveled along the Silk Road into the hands of Jews and Arabs as early as the eighteenth century. From there, eggplant has been used so often in Jewish cooking some refer to is as the “Jewish apple.”
Today, eggplant is enjoying a wonderful resurgence, particularly in Israel where eggplant is commonly enjoyed in countless salads or served whole and roasted topped with meat, tabbouleh, and often gobs of nutty tahini. No meal in Israel seems complete without a portion of smoky, roasted eggplant.
That’s not to say that’s all that can be done with eggplant. In fact, it is incredibly versatile and can be stewed, stuffed, pickled, roasted, or grilled. Historically known for its bitterness, modern varieties don’t necessarily require salting, although I always do just in case any bitterness remains, and especially when grilling, as this will reduce the amount of oil that is soaked up.
In this recipe I serve eggplant with a North-African spice paste called chermoula which is herby, rich, and pungent. Chermoula is a fantastic North African sauce that’s begging to be made when the weather is warm and the plates move outside. This marvelous mixture of coriander, parsley, chili, paprika, garlic, cumin, and olive oil is a Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algerian mainstay. While it is traditionally served with fish, I love it with grilled meats, fish, veggies, or even couscous.
For the eggplant:
- 3 medium eggplants
- 2 Tbsp fine sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
- ¼ cup olive oil
For the chermoula:
- 1 cup packed coriander leaves
- ½ cup packed parsley leaves
- ½ cup mint leaves
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- ¼ cup preserved lemon juice, or 1/3 cup of regular lemon juice
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 tsp harissa paste
- ½ tsp cayenne
- ½ cup olive oil
- Sea salt, to taste
- Good pinch of crushed saffron strands
- Preheat the oven to 200 F/110 C.
- Next, cut the eggplant lengthways into 1/2 inch thick slices. Cover with salt, layer in a strainer, and leave to drain for 40 minutes.
- While the eggplant is draining, make the chermoula. Put all the ingredients with only 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a food processor with a good pinch of salt. Blend to a thick paste and stir in enough of the remaining oil to make a sauce.
- Pat the eggplants dry and in batches, brush with oil and in a griddle pan, grill over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes each side, until golden. Keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining slices.
- When all slices have been grilled, lay on a platter and dollop with chermoula, a sprinkling of coriander, and pinch of sea salt.