I’m limited in many of the cookbooks of my shelf; vegetarian entrées are less than a third of each book. Imagine my delight when I opened this new cookbook to 120 main course vegetarian recipes. Yes, I coveted Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook Plenty since Christmas when it popped up on all my favorite food blogs.
Consider this new series a reader’s guide to Plenty. The book is packed with abundant photos and paragraphs, the latter of which can appear daunting. When I received the Peter Gorden’s book Salads from a co-worker, I thought I had to roast an entire red onion to use 1 tsp onion juice in the final dressing. It took many years growing comfortable in the kitchen to realize how I could create the dish without four hours devoted to “leaving tomatoes in the sun”. To the discerning palette, some of these steps make a world of difference; the rest of us work and want to get dinner on the table before midnight. I will walk you through some of Plenty’s recipes (four this week alone!) and hope to take the intimidation out of 600-word recipes.
If you purchased Plenty, or plan to, it is surely inspired by the cover photo: roasted eggplants blanketed in a creamy sauce and sparkling pomegranate seeds like jewels. It looks remarkably elegant and utterly original. It is. And it is so do-able, you need to make this tomorrow—impress the heck of out your friends. I ate my last eggplant the next day, dressed to the nines and refrigerated overnight: it held up perfectly and was delightful cold. (Good thing, since yogurt does not heat well). The ease of achieving this dish: slice, roast, and dress the eggplant for a memorable evening.
Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce
from Plenty, serves four as a starter
2 large and long eggplants (firm and unblemished)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
1 pomegranate (or package of pomegranate seeds)
1 tsp za’atar (or equal parts dried oregano, thyme, sesame seeds—crushed)
9 tbsp buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I purchased a single serving yogurt cup)
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, minced (on a microplane or like this)
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, 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. (I made a few too many! didn’t make a difference) Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.
Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil—keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh.
Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and some coarse salt and pepper.
Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. I increased the heat to 475°F the last five minutes to achieve the proper color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.
A delightful za’atar substitute from The Internet: crush 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. leftover fresh thyme, 1 tsp. sesame seeds.
if you can’t find packaged pomegranate seeds:
While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane. For the visual learner.
To make the sauce: Whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.
To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za’atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.