Puy Lentils & Burnt Eggplant
|Puy Lentils & Burnt Eggplant|
Imagine that….burning eggplants on purpose! I have a collection of Middle Eastern cookbooks as well an abundance of eggplants in my garden. Burnt eggplants just kept popping up wherever I looked. I now know why. They are amazing. And how can you go wrong and overcook if it must be burnt to get where you want!
It turns out that a charred eggplant behaves much the same as a charred pepper: after collapsing, it releases an astonishing amount of liquid and its flesh gently pulls from its blistered skin. And peeling a charred eggplant is no different than peeling a charred pepper — if you are patient with both the blackening and the cooling, the process is easy. This technique produces creaminess without the help of oil, and the charring imparts a nice smokiness to the eggplant’s flesh. Burning the eggplant makes a huge difference in the flavor.
Lentils, like other legumes, are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly. They have a mild, often earthy flavor. The best, most delicate varieties are the peppery French green lentils. Their unique flavor is attributed to the volcanic soil where they grow, sans fertilizer, which gives them their fine, mineral-rich taste. The climate in the Auvergne also contributes to their unique texture: a lack of humidity and abundant sunshine, courtesy of the surrounding mountains and volcanic deposits, ensures that the lentils dry on the plant all by themselves. Consequently, they have less starch so do not get all mushy and muddy when cooked.
This recipe combines these two main ingredients in a new, exciting and flavorful way. It works as an entrée or a robust, healthy side dish.
- 2 medium globe eggplants
- 2 Tb high quality red wine vinegar (divided)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 C small dark lentils such as du Puy or Castelluccio, rinsed
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- ½ white onion
- 3-4 Tb extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for finish
- 15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ tsp brown sugar
- 1½ Tb chopped parsley
- ½ Tb chopped dill
- 1½ Tb chopped cilantro
- 2-3 Tb crème fraiche or plain Greek yogurt
And now the fun begins: burning the eggplants. After testing this three different ways, rather than give just one – I thought options would be best as they all have their pros and cons. In all cases, pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife before beginning in order to avoid a potential eggplant explosion as it heats! :-)
The quickest, and messiest, is to cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop. Start by lining the area around the selected burner with foil to protect and ease cleanup. Put the eggplants directly on two moderate flames and roast for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the skin is burnt all over. The flesh will be soft and smoky. Alternatively, one could put the eggplants on a foil-lined container and under a hot broiler. Be certain to watch carefully and turn them a few times. This will take longer – up to an hour. Lastly, one could put the eggplants directly over a flame at the BBQ in a fashion similar to gas stovetop. Try all three or choose your favorite.
Remove the eggplants from the heat. Cut a slit down the center and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for 15-30 minutes. After draining, season with salt, pepper and ½ Tb red wine vinegar.
While eggplants are broiling, place the rinsed lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut 1 carrot and ½ celery stalk into large chunks adding them to lentils. Add bay leaf, thyme and onion half, cover with plenty of water and bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for up to 25 min, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away froth from the surface sporadically. Drain lentils and remove carrot, celery, onion, bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Transfer to serving bowl. Add rest of vinegar, 2 Tb olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside to keep warm.
|Draining the lentils|
Heat oven to 275 degree F. Cut remaining carrot and celery into ½” dice and mix with tomatoes, 1-2 Tb olive oil, sugar and salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until carrot is tender but still firm.
|The great veggies that go into the final dish|
|How it looks when mixed together|
Add cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs: parsley, dill and cilantro, and stir gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a scoop of crème fraiche or yogurt. Finish with a drizzle of your best olive oil.
Now sit back and enjoy! This is both exceedingly healthy, was a new way to cook my wonderful garden eggplants and unique both in presentation and flavor. Give it a try. I did. Three times! Both the lentils and the burnt eggplant freeze beautifully if you get over exuberant in your cooking....
If looking for other options for your eggplants, see the additional recipes on my blog:
http://cookingwithlarue.blogspot.com/2012/10/curried-chickpea-lentil-and-swiss-chard.html Oct. 22, 2012
Sept. 23, 2013
Adapted from “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi