Monday, September 24, 2012

Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt

As someone who allots about 15 minutes to shower, dress, and get out the door most mornings, it's possible I underestimate the importance of physical appearance. We should care about inner beauty, right? Not the creative hairstyles resulting from my shower-then-apply-bike-helmet morning ritual. Similarly, food should be eaten because it's delicious, right? Not because it's pretty or artfully fussed-over. Right?

Well, kind of. When it comes to food, sure, we're after delicious. But aesthetics are actually a kind of delicious, too. A counterpoint of colors, careful placement of items on the plate — all of these can shape your whole experience. I'm not talking about 80s-style fussy towers of food, or sauces applied with squeeze bottles in the home kitchen. I'm just talking about taking the smallest of moments to highlight something about the food itself, about the ingredients and occasion and wonder of it all. I'm talking about this salad.

This combination is classic Ottolenghi, just a few simple ingredients that come together in deliciously unexpected ways. And also: so gorgeous! Eggplant is roasted until butter-soft, then topped with a bright yellow saffron yogurt, fragrant green basil leaves, pine nuts, and pomegranates that provide a punchy little pop of tart flavor (as well as garnet-bright color). It's surprising, perfectly balanced, and easy. And beautiful.

Just as the fiery fall palette of leaves makes you take a deep breath in awe of the seasons, this gorgeous plate of late-fall produce captures a bit of that on a smaller scale. Sure, it's just a salad of fall vegetables, a bit of yogurt and nuts. But — as this presentation makes clear — that, in and of itself, can be beautifully amazing.

Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt

Both the eggplant and saffron yogurt can be prepared in advance, making this a perfect make-ahead dinner party dish. I tripled the amount of eggplants and salad elements and doubled the yogurt, and fed a Rosh Hashanah dinner party of 18 people with a bit of leftovers. You can also substitute a saffron tahini sauce for the yogurt sauce (as we did for one platter) for any dairy-free/vegan guests.

adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook
serves ~4-5, or more as part of a larger spread

2-3 good-sized Italian eggplants, unpeeled
olive oil for brushing
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 handful of pomegranate seeds (maybe 1/3 of a pomegranate, depending upon size)
1 handful of basil leaves

Saffron Yogurt:
1 pinch saffron, infused in a few spoonfuls of hot water for a few minutes
2/3 cup Greek yogurt
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

To cook the eggplants: Preheat your oven to 425° Farenheit. Cut the eggplants into 1/2-inch thick rounds, brush each side with oil, and place in a single layer on a baking tray (you may need to do this in a few batches). Sprinkle with salt, and bake until they soften and brown on the bottom, ~7-10 minutes. Flip over, sprinkle with salt again, and return to the oven until the second side is browned and the eggplant is butter-soft. Transfer to a container and cool (if you don't use a ton of oil, the eggplant may dry out a wee bit on the edges, but if you transfer them to a covered glass container while still warm, they'll soften up beautifully). Let cool, and, if desired, refrigerate up to three days.

To make the saffron yogurt: Whisk together all ingredients until smooth, and adjust seasonings to taste (I was initially wondering whether olive oil was necessary, but it does a lovely job of rounding out the flavors). This can also be made up to three days in advance.

To assemble the salad: If you made the eggplant in advance, allow to warm to room temperature. Lay the eggplant slices on individual plates (or, ideally, a nice dramatic platter). Drizzle generously with the saffron yogurt, then sprinkle the pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and basil leaves. Serve.


  1. Ha! Before I even started reading, I thought this looked like the cover of Ottolenghi's Plenty (which my library *finally* got a copy of, and I finally got to borrow). You are right about placements and taking a few moments to pause over the food. I'm reminded of Tamara Adler also saying: add parsley. To everything. It spruces up boring stuff.

    1. So true! A little green does help liven up the wintertime brown sometimes...