Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

by Heguiberto on July 15, 2011

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Heavenly Housewife has been singing the praises of Yotam Ottolenghi lately. She’s even taken an Ottolenghi cooking class in London after waiting forever to get in. Yes, that’s how popular this chef has become in the UK. She posted some delicious treats from the class and then, good heavens, she made some of his salads! That’s a sure sign that she truly adores this chef. I wish we were in London taking Yotam’s classes together. Wouldn’t that be fun? London, Heavenly, Steven, Yotam and me: who could ask for anything more?

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

Last week while browsing in some colorful Mission Neighborhood shops before it was time for our table at Locanda, I spotted a gorgeous cookbook graced by this eggplant dish. It looked like an objet d’art, a jewel! As you might already guess, the book was Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. The American version is published by Chronicle Books LLC, right here in San Francisco, very cool! It is packed with a whole lot of exciting vegetarian dishes. I like it so well, that I’ve already prepared four of them, so more to come. The photography in the book is mind-blowing. Our compliments to the photographer, Jonathan Lovekin, and to Yotam Ottolenghi, of course.

I had to adapt the recipe because I didn’t have all the ingredients. Pomegranates are not in season right now, so I used small drops of pomegranate molasses instead. The sauce calls for buttermilk and Greek yogurt, but I used labneh, since we had some already. I prepared my own za’atar, as we have all the individual ingredients in our pantry. The lemon thyme, I’m thrilled to say, comes from my own community garden plot. This is the first recipe that calls for it that I’ve made since planting that lovely herb.

Lastly, the recipe calls for roasting the eggplant at 200F for 35-40 minutes. I think that must be an error. Surely it was supposed to be 200C. The publisher must have forgotten to convert to Fahrenheit. It should have been at least 400F. I waited about 35 minutes before cranking up the heat and only then did my eggplant really start to brown and cook.

Otherwise, this dish was sublime. Thanks, Heavenly Housewife, for introducing Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking to our table!

Yotam Ottolenghi-style roasted eggplant with labneh, za’atar and pomegranate molasses

For the eggplant:

3 medium to large Italian eggplant, cut in half the long way, stems on
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme, minced; plus several sprigs lemon thyme
½ tsp pomegranate molasses
Black pepper to taste
Pinch Aleppo pepper
Kosher salt
2 tsp za’atar*

For labneh sauce:

2 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
3 tbsp extra virgin arbequina olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
1 cup labneh
½ cup water or more

*For the za’atar :

3 tbsp sumac
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
1 tbsp pan dry-roasted sesame seeds, cooled to room temperature and ground
Pinch savory
½ tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Pre heat oven to 400F.

Place eggplant halves, cut side up, on a baking dish. Use a sharp knife to make incisions in eggplant flesh in the shape of diamonds/ lozenges without piecing the skin. Brush halves with equal amounts of olive oil. Repeat until all olive oil is absorbed. Add salt, peppers and minced thyme. Tuck some of the seasonings in the little crevices of the eggplant. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes, or until flesh is soft. Broil eggplant for few minutes towards the end, just to give them some color. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile prepare za’atar by mixing all ingredients together, set aside.

Place labneh in a bowl. Whisk in ½ cup of water, olive oil, salt and mashed garlic. The sauce should be fairly thin. Add more water here if needed. Set aside.

Arrange eggplant halves on a serving platter. Spoon over some labneh sauce, top with a few drops of pomegranate molasses, sprinkle za’atar over that, followed by a few flowers of lemon thyme

Store leftover za’atar in a tight container in the refrigerator for up to a month. Sprinkle it liberally on salads, rice, humus, yogurt.

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