Category Archives: eggplants

Buttermilk Baby Eggplant Amuse Gueule

This colorful amuse-gueule will convert even the most die-hard adversaries of a yucky –mushy (by nature) eggplant.  The creator of the recipe has found a way to balance the ingredients in an unexpected but a most harmonious way giving the dish not only the visual appeal, but also incredibly addictive kick of the Middle Eastern taste. It includes: olive-oil-induced creamy roasted eggplant, za’atar spice, tangy garlicky cool buttermilk-yogurt sauce and tart-sweet fresh pomegranate seeds. The original recipe used large eggplant; I used baby eggplants instead to turn the dish into individually portioned appetizers.  It is also very easy and fast to prepare. 

If you are a vegetarian and you haven’t heard of chef YO (Yotam Ottolenghi) yet, you will soon. For a few years now he’s been hogging the chef limelight in the UK with his creative Western twist on the Middle-Eastern flavors. And with his third bestselling cookbook just released, his recipes go really world-viral – especially vegetarian recipes (although the chef himself isn’t a vegetarian). Not so long time ago, I was staring at this aubergine dish on the cover page of his previous cookbook ’’Plenty’’,  mesmerized by its assertively artistic sense of composition and color, thinking: ‘’Oh, please, not again! You not gonna buy yet another cookbook with a fancy cover page recipe! Just take some time to think about it and at least read some reviews like normal people… You don’t even know this guy…’’ And then I forgot…
Until today… when the recipe dropped in my lap as one of the home assignments from the free Harvard course on molecular cuisine, and an example of a simple low caloric, nutritionally balanced and utterly tasty meal, which  Buttermilk Eggplant (YO’s signature dish) is. Not only I fell in love with it, it brought back the taste of Za’atar spice mix, which is so easy to make and so refreshing to use with numerous other dishes (see recipe below). With this one, in particular, I made some quick za’atar baguette crostini with cheddar and mozzarella to spoon the extra buttermilk sauce with. They appeared to be welcome addition to the eggplant appetizers…
Quick disclosure: Montreal is a culinary mecca for Middle Eastern cuisine compared to other Canadian cities (my visit to the newly opened Turkish resto is already scheduled). And I am set to explore many more places and recipes. Finally, I really wanted to know more about Ottolenghi’s cuisine so I discovered his website with recipes as well as the exciting series of his food travel to Turkey, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia called ”Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast’”.  Thumbs up, YO, for sure they will keep me busy this week-end… Now, let’s Ottoleng it.

The video of YO himself making his own dish would probably be the best reference. As for my own notes: making incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half is essential to absorb the olive oil – I did not do the diamond pattern though – just parallel incisions worked well with me (to grab a bit less oil).  I also reduced the amount of buttermilk from the original recipe to 5 tablespoons instead of 9 to make it less liquid. Finally, I did not use fresh thyme, but a dried one and I guess it worked fine to me. Without a doubt, I will be making the dish again. Cheers!

Full disclosure: I ate a double portion:

Yields: 4 portions
Eggplant Dish:
2 large eggplants or 6 baby eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and scored
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pomegranate de-seeded (see Note*)
1 ½ ttsp fresh lemon thyme leaves or dried thyme
1 tsp za’atar spice mix (see next)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Za’atar Spice Mix:
¼ cup sumac
2 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds
2 tbsp marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Grind the sesame seeds with mortar and pestle or in food processor. Mix with remaining ingredients. Store za’atar mix in a cool, dark place in a jar, plastic bag or airtight container (for 3 to 5 months).
Buttermilk Sauce:
1/3 cup (5 tbs) buttermilk (see Note**)
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil, plus drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, minced
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look – don’t eat it). Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern. Place eggplant halves flat side-up on a baking sheet. Brush thoroughly every half with olive oil and season with thyme, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Mix buttermilk into yogurt, remaining olive oil, garlic and salt to season. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Remove seeds from pomegranate. Serve by spooning sauce over eggplant halves and sprinkling za’atar and pomegranate seeds on top. Finish with the drizzle of olive oil.
Note*: Useful video on how to de-seed pomegranate with water; and another technique on de-seeding pomegranate without water.
Note**: If buttermilk is not available, add vinegar to milk (1/3 cup milk + 1 tsp distilled/white vinegar), stir, and let sit for 5-10 minutes to develop into acidified buttermilk. 
Adapted from: notes from EDX course and ”Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi ” by Yotam Ottelenghi, Chronicle Books, March 2011.

Moussaka Please

Somehow high sky, crickets (this summer we also have an abnormal amount of cicadas in Quebec) and crisp August nights remind me of my Mediterranean travels and always put me in the mood to make a good, hearty Moussaka. It has been a year since I made it last time and promised the guy named Alex to post it, so here I am re-creating the Greek version of it, only a year after. Sorry for the delay, Alex, time is a rubber band in the Greek terms and I hope you will still enjoy making it.
There are zillions of different recipes/ingredients of Moussaka (this dish is not just Greek, but an Eastern Mediterranean staple): with or without meat, potatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, béchamel or yogurt sauce, etc. Ultimately, it’s a combination of: layer/layers of the correctly spiced and cooked meat sauce (lamb or beef); layer/layers of either eggplants, or potatoes, or both (sometimes zucchinis are there too); cheese and béchamel, or yogurt sauce topping. There’s been a debate in blogs and forums as to the sauce. Apparently, it is a shame in orthodox Greek tradition to replace classic sauce béchamel with yogurt/eggs/cheese mix. But I’ve seen dozens of great recipes in favor of yogurt mix, especially when it comes to gluten free recipes. Anyways, since ’’tous les gouts sont permis’’ (all tastes are allowed) in North America (otherwise Rachel Ray would not be a celebrity chef), I will let you decide whichever you prefer and will give you both, béchamel and gluten free versions. 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas
My version is a tribute to Naxos Island, a famous Greek land of potatoes (and many other good things), so, obviously, this Moussaka has potatoes in it. 
Contrary to our ‘’you slow you blow’’ mentality, Greek people know that ‘’anything goes’’ and are never in a hurry. Their cuisine reflects this and is simple in its core: you just have to have a FRESH INGREDIENT to it, be it a cucumber, yogurt or a ground meat. And, of course, spices and herbs like oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc. And a good splash of wine in everything you cook.
My family knows already that making moussaka heralds series of all kind of Greek meze in our kitchen. This time, having had my own share of what is called ‘’I hate reboots’’ period, I was happy to indulge myself in making a whole bunch of the Greek treats like wine wrapped sardines, rice & meat balls, eggplant spread, fish fillet in tahini sauce, almond cookies, all kind of salads, etc. Some of which I will certainly post next. 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas
So lets’s further on to our Greek moussaka, and then bring it out and eat it outside having a panoramic view of the sea and the waves lapping pebbles at our feet (in our minds). Or just bring it in and watch the immortal ‘’Zorba the Greek’’ while having it and let the time stand still. Cheers! 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas

Ingredients & Instructions:

Vegetables & Cheese:
2 large globe eggplants (or 4 Japanese or white eggplants), sliced
3-4 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
olive oil
1 cup Kefalotiri or Myzithra cheese, grated (Parmesan or similar sharp cheese is often used in North America as a replacement)

I. Vegetables & Layers:

Slice the eggplants, salt them sparingly and let sit for about 15 minutes. Drain from liquid, pat dry and dispose on the baking sheet in one layer. Brush with olive oil and grill/broil lined in one layer for about 4-5 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Peel and slice the potatoes (1/4 inch thick) and either boil them for 4 minutes and drain, or fry/broil them in oil for 5-8 minutes until golden, but still slightly undercooked. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Layer a casserole with potatoes, overlapping slightly (use half). Sprinkle with cheese. Top the potatoes with eggplant slices. Sprinkle with cheese. Layer a casserole with potatoes (use half). Cover with meat sauce (SEE BELOW). Repeat the layers or until the ingredients last. Sprinkle each layer with cheese. Ladle the sauce béchamel (SEE BELOW) to cover the final layer and sprinkle with cheese on top.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Let cool for at least 15 minutes for the juices and flavors to set up.

II. Meat Sauce:

1 lb ground lamb or beef (if you want to turn it into Beef Moussaka)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon allspice, freshly ground
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup red or white wine (or organic apple cider vinegar mixed with water half & half)
1 bay leaf
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and brown the ground meat. Add onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and black pepper. Mix well, add salt and cook for 7-10 minutes. Add wine, mix and bring the sauce to simmer for about 30 minutes or until liquid is almost evaporated. Set aside.

III. Sauce béchamel:

1 stick unsalted butter (or ½ cup or 114 grams or 4 oz)
4 cups milk
3 egg yolks
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
white pepper to taste 
salt to taste
Warm up the milk without letting it simmer. Remove from heat. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour over a gentle heat using a whisk until it turns slightly yellow and starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add milk little by little whisking gently, return to low heat until mixed well and sauce slightly boils and thickens. Add nutmeg and white pepper and mix well. Put the egg yolks in a separate bowl and whisk well. Slowly add sauce béchamel to the egg yolks, whisking all the time until the mixture is well mixed and bring back to the very low heat without letting boil. 

Note: For Gluten Free Yogurt Sauce equivalent: beat 3 eggs with a tablespoon of cornstarch (dissolved in a bit of cold water to prevent lumps). Add two cups of natural yogurt, ½ cup of shredded cheese, salt, white pepper, pinch of nutmeg and whisk well. Some recipes add 1 tablespoon of rice flour to the mix, but I find it optional.