Charred Eggplant and Freekeh Salad with Miso Tahini Dressing

Jim Dixon writes about food WW For more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at Wellspent Market, his olive oil-focused specialty food business. Jim has always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending out recipes every week through his newsletter. We are happy to make some special dishes for him WW Readers.

Eggplant scares some cooks. They read recipes that call for salting and dewatering to make nightshade less bitter, a process that may once have been useful but is no longer necessary in modern eggplant varieties that have developed bitter flavors. Even lazy recipe writers repeat the store caution that eggplant soaks up oil and becomes greasy. If the eggplant is not cooked properly, it can become hard and spongy.

And while there are many ways to make eggplant delicious, there’s one technique that’s almost foolproof, incredibly easy, and adaptable to a variety of recipes: burn it.

Cooks around the world sear whole eggplants until the skin turns black and peels off. A little less primitive but just as effective is to cook it on a grill using hot coals or propane. With a pair of tongs and a gas burner you can get good results, but sometimes boiling the juice gets messy. The easiest way to burn eggplant is in your oven.

Crank it up to 450 degrees, make some slits in the eggplant to escape the steam, place the whole eggplant on a sheet pan or skillet, and pop it in the oven. I like to put parchment paper under it to make cleaning easier, but it’s not necessary. Let it cook for 45 minutes or longer, until the skin darkens, the juices run clear and the eggplant falls apart. Once it cools, the skin peels off and you’ve got a silky, slightly smoky, perfectly cooked eggplant.

Mix it with tahini, lemon, garlic and olive oil for a traditional spread called baba ganoush, or chop it up and mix it with tomatoes and cucumbers for a simple salad. I like to combine eggplant with freekeh, a Lebanese-style wheat germ that is harvested when green and roasted over an open fire in the field to remove the chaff and give it a smoky flavor.

1 globe eggplant

1 cup freekeh*

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2 6-inch Persian-style** cucumbers, split lengthwise and sliced

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, fresh mint, or a combination of both

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup tahini

2 tablespoons miso

Juice and juice from 1 lemon

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher-style salt

*Freekah can be hard to find, but you can use plain wheat berries or farro (this is whole grain and no pearls, aka​​​​​​​perlato or semi-perlato). Local farmers Anthony and Carol Boutard, suppliers of Ayers Creek cornmeal, beans, bare barley, and other heirloom crops to Portland’s best chefs and home cooks, began harvesting green wheat to make freekeh. They retired earlier this year, but Wellspent Market acquired their stock of what they call dried green wheat and will sell it while supplies last.

** An English-style cuke replacement; A regular slicer works too, but removes the waxy skin.

Use a knife to cut a few slits in the skin, then roast the eggplant at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes or until it collapses and the juices run clear. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, cut it in half lengthwise and peel it off with your hands. Use the back of a knife to scrape off any cooked flesh that clings to the peel. Discard the skin and coarsely chop the brinjal. Transfer to a large bowl.

Place the freekeh in a saucepan and add water to cover by 2-3 inches. Add salt and simmer for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drain well and add to the eggplant.

In a small bowl, combine the tahini with a tablespoon or two of cold water and stir until the tahini thickens, a curious result of sesame’s hydrophilic properties. Mix in the miso, olive oil, lemon juice, zest and garlic, then pour the dressing over the eggplant.

You can add herbs and vegetables to the eggplant-freekeh mix, but for a more dramatic and Instagrammable presentation, spread the eggplant and freekeh on a plate or platter, arrange the tomatoes and cucumbers around the edges, and sprinkle with herbs and green onions. . Drizzle everything with more olive oil, and serve with pita or good bread.

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