Spiced Eggplant, Tomatoes, Okra
Eggplant is one of those vegetables I had to convince my husband to love. It seems that it's a vegetable that's only gaining some popularity in the U.S. right now - I can't really think of any classic American dishes that incorporate it. But eggplant shines in so many other cultures - Indian baigan bharta, Greek moussaka, Chinese stir-fried eggplant, Italian caponata. I grew up on a chicken, eggplant, and tomato curry. It was a staple in our house; the luscious eggplant interior and tomatoes melded with onions and garlic to create a silky curry sauce that hugged the chicken. Getting that silky, smooth texture of eggplant is really the secret to any delicious eggplant dish. And when you can pair that velvety interior with a crisp, crackly exterior - well, it's just my favorite combo ever.
I had a gorgeous eggplant & cherry tomato dish at a recent workshop I attended (by ful.filled, the dish by bitesonbytes), and it brought me right back to the flavors of that gorgeous curry my mom used to make. I knew I had to put my own spin on it, combining fresh California produce (eggplants, sungold cherry tomatoes and sweet 100 tomatoes) with the bright and vibrant spices of my mama's curry.
Below, you'll find seared and roasted eggplant with cumin, coriander, paprika, ginger, and garlic, topped with cherry tomatoes three ways, crisped okra and shallots, over a garlic-chickpea-cucumber yogurt sauce. This dish takes about 3 hours to prepare, all in all, but most of that is hands off. A great option for a weekend meatless dinner party, as it is hearty & filling and can certainly star as a main course.
4 large eggplants (1 eggplant per person)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground paprika
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
10 oz sungold cherry tomatoes
20 oz sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
12 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
2 dried red Indian chili peppers
2 tsp vadouvan spice blend (or other yellow curry blend)
2 tsp brown sugar crystals
1/2 lb okra, sliced into rounds (do this right before prepping, otherwise slime will develop)
6 shallots, sliced into thin rounds
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp vadouvan spice blend
2 cans chickpeas, drained and dried
1 tbsp sumac
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups whole milk yogurt (or substitute almond milk yogurt if vegan)
Either the day before or morning of, place whole sweet 100 tomatoes on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place whole cherry tomatoes in oven for at least 2, up to 3 hours, until tomatoes are shriveled and have shrunken, but not browned. They should still be bright red and shriveled, and they'll burst when you bite into them, like sweet tomatoey candy, tomato gushers! Careful not to test one when it's still hot. Set aside. If made the night before, keep in a container in the fridge.
Cut eggplants lengthwise, and score with a knife in a cross hatch pattern. Make cuts about halfway into the eggplant, being careful not to slice through the eggplant. Sprinkle generously with kosher salt, and let sit on a rack over a baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 350. In a baking dish, place sungold cherry tomatoes, coriander seeds, garlic cloves, bay leaves, and dried red chili peppers. Cover ingredients with olive oil. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and place in the hot oven for at least 30 minutes. You'll know your garlic & tomato confit is done when the garlic is soft and spreadable. Take out of the oven and let cool.
Cut the remaining sweet 100 cherry tomatoes in half. Toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, brown sugar, vadouvan spice blend. Place on aluminum foil on baking sheet. Bake at the same time as the above cherry tomatoes, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove blistered cherry tomatoes and set aside.
Combine okra slices, shallots, olive oil, and vadouvan. Place in 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until crispy. Set aside. Let cool on baking sheet so they stay crispy. If you put them in a container, they will steam and become soft.
Raise temperature of oven to 400 degrees.
Run garlic & tomato confit through a fine mesh sieve, reserving both the cherry tomatoes/garlic & the resulting garlic oil. You can discard bay leaves, chili peppers, and most of coriander seeds (it's ok if some remain).
Toss dried chickpeas with olive oil and a couple of big pinches of kosher salt. Spread out on baking sheet.
Squeeze water out of eggplant halves - the kosher salt will have brought much of the liquid to the surface. Squeeze, but try not to disrupt the shape of the eggplant too much. Then, sprinkle eggplant halves with cumin, coriander, ginger, and paprika. In each half of the eggplant, press in 1 clove of garlic into the cross-hatched pattern that you've made, fitting the garlic into the crevices.
In a cast-iron skillet (you may need to do this in two batches), pour in some of the garlic-olive oil that you created earlier. You'll want a thin layer of olive oil along the whole bottom of the pan. Raise the temperature to medium-high heat. Place the eggplant halves, cut side down. After about 2 minutes, flip the eggplant. The cut side should be deep golden brown. If the eggplant is not browned yet, do not flip. As soon as you flip each half, place the cast-iron skillet in the oven.
Place baking sheet with chickpeas in the oven as well. Cook both eggplant and chickpeas for 20 minutes. As soon as the chickpeas are done, toss with sumac while still hot.
While eggplant and chickpeas are cooking, make yogurt sauce by combining whole milk yogurt with remaining garlic confit (not the cherry tomatoes, just the garlic cloves) and 3 tbsp garlic oil. Peel cucumbers and julienne cucumbers. Mix cucumbers and a big pinch of salt with yogurt sauce.
Remove chickpeas from oven and mix with yogurt sauce. Plate yogurt sauce first, and set warm eggplant halves on top. Top with crispy okra and shallots, and three types of cherry tomatoes.
Serves 4 as a main course.