I'm not a vegetarian, but I love a good vegetable dish. This is why I was so excited to receive Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty as a Christmas gift this year. For the past week or so, I've been poring over the pages trying to decide what I should make first. Caramelized fennel with goat cheese? Celeriac and lentils with hazelnut and mint?
I decided to start with a recipe for eggplant with buttermilk sauce.
The recipe was simple enough, though I found my eggplants needed an extra 10 minutes beyond the suggested cooking time. Everything came together quite smoothly and I have to say it looked quite pretty when it was all served up (it is the recipe that is featured on the cover of the book, after all).
Did you know that sauce made with Greek yogurt, olive oil, buttermilk, and salt tastes just like Ranch Dressing? Because it does.
This isn't exactly a complaint. I don't have fully formed views on Ranch Dressing, since I've had it fewer than five times in my life, and never on eggplant. I don't think I've ever had it on anything other than cheap pizza or those tiny cylindrical baby carrots. Mostly, my mouth just felt confused. But as I ate, the flavors of the dish became strangely addictive.
It's interesting to be surprised by a new taste- or rather, a familiar taste in place you never expected to find it. Try it for yourself and see.
Eggplant with buttermilk sauce from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
2 large eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole springs to garnish
1 tsp za'atar
9 tbsp buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk. Make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant without cutting through to the skin. Then make three or four more cuts at a 45-degree angle from the first cuts to get a diamond-shaped pattern.
Place the eggplant halves cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with oil until all the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Roast for 35-40 minutes (mine took 50) at which point the flesh should be soft and nicely browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
While the eggplants are in the oven, remove the seeds from the pomegranate and make the buttermilk sauce. Whisk together the ingredients for the sauce and then keep cold until needed.
To serve, spoon the sauce over the eggplant. Sprinkle za'atar and pomegranate seeds and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.