First published Canberra Times 21 March 2012.
Photos by Steve Shananan, Ceramics by Robin Furner of Handmad Emporium
Well, I’ve finally faced the inevitable, my tomatoes are awash and have split on the vine. It’s distressing to see the huge red and green heritage varieties, hanging forlorn and broken, spewing seeds from their injuries.
I turn my attention to my burgeoning, but painfully slow growing eggplant that produces two perfectly purple globes, precisely timed to feature my current lentil mania.
This is a bright and interesting dish and the eggplants provide a lovely smoky, musky flavour to the traditionally cooked lentils. I decide to go organic with the rest of the ingredients to complement my organic eggplants, including the lentils.
This dish doesn’t stretch your time or budget and is a healthy midweek meal, suitable for those on vegan, gluten free or general weight loss diets. If you make extra, it’s also a good one to take to work and reheat for lunch.
A useful tip – if you are using the oven griller technique to roast the eggplants, ensure that you pierce them a few times before cooking them, as this allows the moisture to escape. Otherwise you may end up with an eggplant explosion.
2 medium eggplants
2 tbsp good quality red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cup small dark lentils (such as Puy), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks, peeled
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
½ white onion, diced
½ tsp of ground cumin
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
good pinch of smoky paprika
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp each roughly chopped parsley, coriander and dill
2 tbsp full cream natural yogurt
To cook the eggplants on a gas stovetop, which is the most effective way, start by lining the area around the burners with foil to protect them. Put the eggplants directly on to the moderate flames and roast for 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently with metal tongs, until the flesh is soft and smoky and the skin is burnt all over. Keep an eye on them the whole time so they don’t catch fire. You may need to turn on your exhaust fan. Alternatively, this could be done over a burner on a barbeque.
For an electric stove, pierce the eggplants with a sharp knife in a few places and place them on a foil-lined tray directly under a hot griller for one hour, turning them a few times. The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.
Remove the eggplants from the heat. Pre heat the oven to 140°C. Cut a slit down the center of the eggplants and scoop out the flesh into a colander, discarding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes, and transfer the contents to a bowl. Add the crushed garlic, season with plenty of salt and pepper, 1½ tablespoons of the red wine vinegar and a splash of olive oil. Puree with a stick blender or mash with a potato masher until the eggplant is a coarse consistency.
While the eggplants are grilling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot and half a celery stalk into large chunks and throw them in. Add the bay leaf, thyme, onion and cumin and cover with plenty of water and bring to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for up to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender, skimming away the froth from the surface from time to time. Drain in a sieve.
Remove and discard the carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme and onion and transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper; stir and set aside somewhere warm.
Cut the remaining carrot and celery into 1cm dice and mix with the tomatoes, the remaining oil, sugar and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the carrot is tender but still firm.
Add the cooked vegetables to the warm lentils, followed by the chopped herbs and stir gently. Add the remaining vinegar, olive oil, taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon the lentils onto serving plates. Pile some eggplant in the center of each portion and top it with a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of paprika. Finish with a trickle of oil.