13 January 2013

Converted (!) - Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur & Yogurt

I cannot take credit for this recipe, but I really wish I could because it is that good. The dish comes from my favorite cookbook, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Yotam and Sami grew up on opposite ends of Jerusalem, one in the Muslim east, the other in the Jewish west, only meeting years later when they both moved to London. In this book they reflect on their childhood memories of Jerusalem's diverse mosaic of cuisines and offer a collection of recipes inspired at once by the foods their family fed them and their own interpretations of the overlapping culinary traditions from the city's Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities.

Courtesy of Jonathan Lovekin
They put it best when they describe Jerusalem food: "We want to eat, cook, and be inspired by the richness of a city with four thousand years of history, that has changed hands endlessly and that now stands as the center of three massive faiths and is occupied by residents of such utter diversity it puts the old tower of Babylon to shame. Is there even such a thing as Jerusalem food, though? Consider this: there are Greek Orthodox monks in this city; Russian Orthodox priests; Hasidic Jews originating from Poland; non-Orthodox Jews from Tunisia, from Libya, from France, or from Britain; there are Sephardic Jews that have been here for generations; there are Palestinian Muslims from the West Bank and many others from the city and well beyond; there are secular Ashkenazic Jews from Romania, Germany, and Lithuania and more recently arrived Sephardim from Morocco, Iraq, Iran, or Turkey; there are Christian Arabs and Armenian Orthodox; there are Yemeni Jews and Ethiopian Jews but there are also Ethiopian Copts; there are Jews from Argentina and others from southern India; there are Russian nuns looking after monasteries and a whole neighborhood of Jews from Bukhara (Uzbekistan)."

The eggplant is roasted with a boldly-spiced but not overpowering North African paste, then topped with a zesty bulgur salad studded with olives, almonds, and raisins, and rounded out with cool and refreshing yogurt. Another highlight of the dish is it's likely to convert eggplant loathers to eggplant lovers! I am fortunate to have a partner who embraces and enjoys most dishes I serve. But eggplant is not one of them. Until now! The wise combination of flavors and textures bring out the best of the eggplant to please everyone. This also makes for a great dinner party menu. I served the eggplants with grilled halloumi cheese and an arugula salad.

Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt
Serves 2-4

Notes: If using course rather than fine bulgur, cook according to package directions or increase the quantity of boiling water as suggested below.
To make this gluten-free exchange bulgur for quinoa or brown rice.
Zest of 1 lemon can be substituted for preserved lemon in a pinch.

2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon peel (available in whole food stores)
2/3 cup olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 medium eggplants
1 cup fine bulgur
2/3 cup boiling water (or 2 cups if using course bulgur)
1/3 cup golden raisins
3 1/2 tablespoons warm water
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) cilantro, chopped, plus extra to finish
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) mint, chopped
1/3 cup pitted green olives, halved
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make the chermoula, mix together in a small bowl the garlic, cumin, coriander, chili, paprika, preserved lemon, two-thirds of the olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Score the flesh of each half with deep, diagonal crisscross cuts, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place the eggplant halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Put in the oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until the eggplants are completely soft.

Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and the boiling water and cover with plastic wrap to steam for 20-25 minutes, depending on how course your bulgur is.

Soak the raisins in leftover boiling water. After 10 minutes, drain the raisins and add them to the bulgur, along with the remaining oil. Add the herbs, olives, almonds, green onions, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Serve the eggplants warm or at room temperature. Place 1/2 eggplant, cut side up, on each individual plate. Spoon the bulgur on top, allowing some to fall from both sides. Spoon over some yogurt, sprinkle with cilantro and finish with a drizzle of oil.

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