The memory of Istanbul’s intense colours and fragrant spice markets inspired me to try a new ingredient: pomegranate. As I sliced through the skin a wash of crimson juice spilled out, its sweet astringency puckering my senses.
But what to do with it? A recipe calling for pomegranate needs contrasting flavours and exciting textures, evoking something so exotic and aphrodisiacal you can’t help yourself having seconds and thirds.
I have many Middle Eastern cookbooks (a story for another day), but even my go-to Claudia Roden left me uncertain how to use the pomegranate. She has many recipes calling for pomegranate syrup, but few for the fresh fruit. I scoured the net and came across Not Quite Nigella’s exquisite sounding ‘eggplant, yoghurt and pomegranate salad’.
I had the key ingredients: pomegranate, eggplant, yoghurt and fresh parsley. I could substitute pine nuts and/or pistachios for the sunflower seeds, and omit the basil. But where, I wondered, was the garlic?
My first serious boyfriend was Lebanese. His mother’s cooking appeared simple, but was full of flavours I couldn’t replicate. Asked for a recipe she would smile, wring her hands and say, ‘when I’m dying, when I’m dying’. The only secrets I elicited were to add mixed spice to a simple tomato-based ragu to enrich the flavour of the meat, and: garlic makes everything savoury taste better.
With this in mind, I have adapted Not Quite Nigella’s delicious recipe with a few ingredients of my own.
Indulgent Pomegranate and Eggplant Salad
100g Greek style yoghurt (plain)
1 large onion
4 garlic cloves
¼ cup pine nuts (I also tried pistachios, but would omit in future)
a good handful fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
salt and freshly cracked pepper
sumac (for garnishing)
Set oven to 190°C. Slice eggplants into 1cm thick pieces (either rounds or lengthways*) and set them on a lined baking tray. Brush each piece liberally with olive oil, adding a good twist of freshly cracked pepper and salt. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn eggplant over and repeat process with the other side. Eggplants are ready when golden brown and softened (easily pierced with a fork).
Toast the pine nuts on a separate oven tray for 10 minutes or until toasted (either while cooking eggplants’ side 2, or immediately afterward).
Quarter and slice an onion and 3 garlic cloves. Gently fry these in olive oil, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and starting to crisp.
Place yoghurt into a small bowl. Add 1 crushed garlic clove and a pinch of salt, mixing well. Pour a little olive oil on top and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon sumac and freshly cracked pepper.
Arrange eggplant slices on a large serving platter. Stir the yoghurt mixture before liberally drizzling over eggplants. Spread onion and garlic mix atop the yoghurt, along with parsley and pine nuts. Gently pry the seeds from your pomegranate and sprinkle over the top of your eggplant salad.
The rich flavour of roasted eggplant, the pungent garlic yoghurt, sweet and crispy onions, fresh parsley and toasted pine nuts were the perfect offset to the sweet and sour explosion of each pomegranate seed. Served warm or chilled, this recipe will win over friends and family, or perhaps become a guilty home secret so indulgent you won’t want to share.
*For an alternative version, quarter and slice the eggplant into bite-site pieces before roasting.