Michael has already blogged three recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, which he kindly and cleverly bought for my birthday last month. They've all be roundly enjoyed, but it was our fourth venture into this book that had me positively swooning.
Ottolenghi calls it aubergine with buttermilk sauce. Eggplant halves, seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon thyme, get roasted to buttery tenderness, then slathered with a dressing made with buttermilk, yoghurt and garlic before being sprinkled with za'atar and pomegranate seeds. Stunning to look at, stunning to taste. (We ate it with the last of the green couscous, which kept remarkably well.)
Buttermilk is not an ingredient that we use often. It lends a distinct tanginess here that has me going back for more, more, more. It'd probably be more convenient to replace it with more yoghurt but I think the buttermilk is worth the trouble. I don't think there's any vegan option that would taste quite the same but a dressing of soy yoghurt with lots of lemon juice, or even just olive oil and lemon juice would hold similar appeal. Ottolenghi thinks that the eggplant should be served at room temperature but I actually prefer it warm.
The only thing that'll constrain our repetitions of this recipe is the weather - the eggplants need quite some time in the oven. I'd also be cautious about what guests I served this too, as some our friends and family (particularly the more carnivorous ones) are not lovers of eggplant. But for those who don't fear the aubergine, this is a showstopper.
Eggplant dressed in buttermilk
(from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, also posted in his Guardian column)
2 large eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon thyme leaves, plus some whole sprigs to garnish
1 teaspoon za'atar
salt and pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk
100g Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with paper.
Slice the eggplants in half, longways. Cut two large crosses into the flesh of each half, not all the way through to the skin, in a diamond-grid effect. Place the eggplants, skin facing down, onto the baking tray and brush them with the olive oil. Sprinkle over the lemon thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Bake the eggplants until the flesh is tender and the surface is nicely browned, 35-40 minutes.
Whisk together the buttermilk, yoghurt, olive oil and garlic, adding salt to taste. Slice the pomegranate in half and gently scoop out the red seeds, sifting out any stray membrane fragments.
Transfer the eggplants to your preferred serving dish. Spoon over the buttermilk dressing, then sprinkle over the za'atar and pomegranate seeds. Garnish with sprigs of lemon thyme.