Rosemary and Basil Eggplant in Za'atar

Food writer Mark Diacono says this is his favourite way to cook with eggplant, and one that shows how they take beautifully to so many herbs.

He enthuses: “The oregano in the za’atar and the rosemary lend flavour to the cooking eggplant, while the fresh basil scattered to serve completes the picture. Adding the rosemary for the last few minutes aromatises the eggplant; I know ‘aromatise’ sounds like the sort of unwelcome thing a garage unexpectedly does to your car when you’ve taken it for a service, but I promise it is the best word for it.

Read more: Potato, Tomato and Eggplant Bake

“It is as if resinous smoke has been blown through every pore of the eggplant, without a trace of the bitterness that comes with roasting rosemary sprigs until they resemble the skeletons of sparrows’ legs. Try this with roast lamb, griddled zucchini, couscous and pretty much any cold cuts.”

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 eggplant, quartered lengthways
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • A few good sprigs of rosemary, broken into 3cm pieces
  • 4 tablespoons za’atar (see below)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the za’atar:

(Makes a small jarful)

  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 11/2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons sumac
  • 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, dried marjoram, oregano, savory or hyssop
  • 1 tablespoon salt

For the dressing:

  • 50g tahini
  • 1 tablespoon yoghurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

To serve:

  • Pomegranate molasses
  • Hot sauce or chilli flakes
  • Handful of Greek basil leaves, or other basil finely shredded

Method

Make the za’atar. Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat, shuffling them around a bit to ensure they don’t turn too dark. Combine all the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, as much as anything to encourage the flavours and scents to be released as they mix. Store in a sealed jar, where it will keep for a few months, losing intensity over time.

Read more: Olive and Rosemary Bread – so pure and so simple

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/400 degrees F/gas mark 6.

Lay the eggplant quarters in a single layer on baking sheets, brush with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven, turn the heat down to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F/gas mark 4, and cook for 20-25 minutes until tender and brown.

Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together with two tablespoons water; use a little more water if required, to reach a consistency of double (heavy) cream.

Read more: Meatballs with Roast Eggplant Dip

Mix the rosemary, za’atar and a heavy grinding of pepper in a bowl. Remove the eggplant from the oven, top with the za’atar mix, drizzle with more oil and return to the oven for five minutes.

Drizzle with the tahini dressing, pomegranate molasses, hot sauce or chilli flakes and scatter with basil.

Herb by Mark Diacono is published by Quadrille, available now.

What’s your favourite herb? Share it and the cookbook you most recently purchased in the comments section below.

– With PA

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