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Eggplant: The Next Generation

In Israel, old recipes are deconstructed and transformed into something new

Joan Nathan
November 20, 2017
Photo: Justin Covington
Photo: Justin Covington
Photo: Justin Covington
Photo: Justin Covington

While sitting by the swimming pool at the stunning Elma Arts Complex Luxury Hotel, high up on Mount Carmel and overlooking the Mediterranean, I spied a promising eggplant dish whisked by in a server’s hand. Always on the search for good eggplant recipes—especially in Israel, the epicenter of eggplant, because the climate is perfect for its cultivation—I asked the server to bring that dish for lunch. It arrived roasted, in the shape of an accordion, similar to that of the hotel-music complex, which is known for its Israel Prize-winning design by Yaakov Rechter. The dish tasted exactly as we hoped: smoky, soft, and seductive.

Eggplant has been a staple of Jewish cuisine since the eighth century, when so many eggplant dishes existed in Spain that a Catalonian song listed seven different variations. Typically served roasted or sautéed into dips and salads to start the Sabbath meal, eggplant has long been used in iconic Jewish dishes like eggplant caviar and Sicilian Jewish-style eggplant. It has been especially popular in Israel since its creation, when recipes from the diaspora came to the Jewish State. This recipe, a play on classic baba ganoush, is an example of modernizing traditional recipes and transforming them into the next generation of eggplant dishes.

Roasted Eggplant with Raw Tahini and Date Jam

1 large eggplant (about 2 lbs.)
5 tablespoons tahini (I prefer Soom brand)
5 tablespoons date jam (silan)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
A few small radishes, sliced thin (or another seasonal vegetable, like tomatoes)
Fresh herbs (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Roast the eggplant over an open flame, like a gas grill, covering the spokes with tin foil, until the skin is charred. When it is roasted all over, put it in the hot oven until it is soft inside and the skin is black and falling off. Peel and leave whole in a strainer over night.
3. The next day, gently squeeze the eggplant to drain any remaining liquid.
4. With a sharp knife carefully slice the eggplant into 6 rounds about an inch thick and arrange neatly on a plate to resemble the original eggplant.
5. Sprinkle the tahini, date jam, and olive oil over the eggplant, finishing with a dash of salt. Dot with Sriracha; garnish with the radish slices and any fresh herbs.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

The Recipe

Roasted Eggplant with Raw Tahini and Date Jam

Roasted Eggplant with Raw Tahini and Date Jam

Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.