eggplant with yogurt dressing and za’atar – somebody’s comfort food

As I was preparing this baked eggplant with yogurt dressing from the newest edition to my happily growing cookbook collection, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, I was chuckling thinking about a conversation that I had a couple of days ago with co-workers.

We were reminiscing about comfort food from our childhoods. At first we were a little tentative to expose some of the wild combinations that to this day we continue to secretly crave. However, once we discovered that we’d all grown up on macaroni, hamburger and tomato casserole, the proverbial food gates opened! Kraft pizza was at the top of everyone’s list. Every household had their own combination of toppings. Mine was hot dogs and processed cheese slices. We were trying to create the illusion of a pepperoni and extra mozzarella!

Potato pancakes were served with apple sauce in some homes and molasses in others, fried bologna pronounced bah-loney sandwiches slathered with cheese whiz, macaroni and Campbell’s tomato soup…random quickly made cheap food that when push comes to shove ends up on our ‘top favorite food to eat’ lists.

I was eleven years old before I had ever seen a tossed salad. Lettuce was something that I picked off my sandwiches. One night, Mom placed a bowl of chopped up iceberg lettuce with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes in front of me and then passed me a bottle of Catalina salad dressing. I was fascinated with it’s beautiful shade of red and the tangy sweet aroma. It was love at first bite! I had yet to learn the art of tossing the vegetables to coat them in the dressing.  I was all about drowning my salad. I needed a spoon to eat it!

My fascination with food began in a very simple kitchen with very simple ingredients. Yet, as I was preparing the dish for this post, I realized that although my ingredients appear more sophisticated today, this is a very simple Middle Eastern dish. The only thing that’s changed with respect to my kitchen is the availability of foods. The produce aisle is over flowing with treasures from around the globe.

My kitchen is still creating comfort food but now it’s from all over the world.

EGGPLANT WITH YOGURT DRESSING AND ZA’ATAR       adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

2 Japanese long eggplants
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pomegranate, seeded
1 tsp za’atar

Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the eggplants in half length-ways, cutting straight through the green stalk.
Make a criss-cross design in each eggplant half , without cutting through to the skin.
Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Brush them equally with olive oil until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh.
Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper.
Roast for 25 minutes or until the flesh is soft and the topped is nicely browned.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool until slightly warm.

DRESSING

2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of salt

Mix well.

ZA’ATAR

4 teaspoons dried lemon thyme leaves
2 teaspoons ground sumac
2 teaspoons sesame seeds toasted
½ teaspoon sea salt

Place ingredients in a mortar and pestle and grind to a powder

To serve, spoon yogurt dressing over the eggplant halves. Sprinkle with za’atar, pomegranate seeds and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

THE LOVE: It’s not easy to find dried lemon thyme. I grow it in the summer time then dry it for winter use. If you can’t find it, you can easily substitute regular thyme.

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Thanks for reading.

  • Dee

    Wow, that sounds great. I’d love to try it but I don’t know what sumac is or where to find it in Saint John.

    • Too funny! I ran all over the place looking for it. I found it at the Bulk Barn…

      • Kaitie

        Sumac is a tree..it’s funny that there is a spice made out of it. They grow like weeds in southern Ontario with a root system that kills most other trees in their paths.

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  • I think we grew up in the same house ~ Catalina dressing was a staple in our house and we poured it on everything or dipped everything in it. The Kraft pizza with cheese slices and hot dogs were a gourmet meal among friends and don’t get me started in macaroni & tomatoes! We were just talking about the Kraft squeeze cheese today ~ the little sausages that Mom would buy for special occasions to go with Ritz crackers. I am not a foodie by any means but I think me taste buds have grown up somewhat since then,

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