The Smoked Eggplant was placed in the center of our table, the Shvo red poured. It was one of those meals I will never forget. Etched in memory, powerful. At Nur, Tel Aviv Chef Meir Adoni simply served us a plate of Smoked Eggplant Carpaccio. Not the usual Italian paper-thin slices fanned out on a plate, but rather chopped smoked eggplant thinly spread on the plate. Intriguing spices intermingled with florals, accented by a fleck of heat, a drop of smooth creaminess, all garnished with delicate petals…his creation blossomed into a kaleidescope of new flavor combinations with each bite. Having dined for decades in friendly Italian trattorias and ristoranti, and renewed my spirit in many Michelin restaurants of Italy and Western Europe, this experience was different. This was a DNA experience at the cellular level.
Surely there are scores of eggplant carpaccio variations. So here is another one, a "teaching recipe" in honor of Chef Adoni. Years ago, a Turkish chef to the Turkish Ambassador to the UN taught me his technique for creating smoked eggplant. After I fire-roasted whole eggplant, I collected ingredients I had on-hand, from my pantry, fridge, and garden, and created. Smoked Eggplant with Ras el Hanout, Pistachios, Yogurt-Tahini Sauce, Harissa Oil, Feta, and Mint Blossoms is the result.
This dish is a great mezze to share with friends at the table, accompanied with assorted flat breads. Seasoning smoked eggplant with the North African spice blend, Ras el Hanout, converts this dish from a mere mortal meal into an edible symphony. Stirring a pinch into the chopped eggplant teases and intoxicates; assertively sprinkling it on top demands to be noticed. Sweet and sensual, salty and savory, floral and fragrant, creamy and smoky…each bite is a revelation in just how transformative good food can be. This dish proves that huge volume does not bring satisfaction. Neither does the most expensive nor the most sought-after ingredient satiate. Keep it pure, keep it simple. The plating is as important as each ingredient chosen.
Chopped smoked eggplant is the base. It is the perfect counterpoint for blending. So layer it with spices, sauces, oil, nuts, cheese, blossoms…anything that catches your fancy, and in any amount. The only oil in this recipe is the Harissa Oil piped around the edge of the eggplant base. Use as much or little as you like, or omit entirely. This recipe is great served as a low-cal, vegan, or paleo meal too. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.
How To Fire-Roast Whole Eggplant: Smoked Eggplant Click for the recipe
4 to 8 servings on four 10-inch (25-cm) plates.
3 cups smoked, chopped eggplant (from How to Fire-Roast Whole Eggplant recipe)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) plain thick Greek yogurt (2% fat)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) tahini sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons (22 ml) tepid water to make the sauce pourable but not thin
Harissa Oil: (Many versions to choose from including those from Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Syria)
Harissa paste (chili peppers, garlic, coriander, caraway, saffron, rose, other spices and herbs)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Ras el Hanout or ground cumin
Shelled pistachios or raw cashews, chopped
Fresh mint or marjoram blossoms if you grow culinary herbs
Sprinkle coarse sea salt, Kosher salt, or salt flakes to taste, just before serving
Flatbread with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, garlic, etc.
1. Preparation: Fire-Roast Whole Eggplant, drain, peel, chop. Yogurt-Tahini Sauce: Mix together, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Harissa Oil: Mix together, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Remove the Sauce and Oil from the refrigerator ready for piping. If stirring Ras el Hanout or ground cumin into smoked eggplant, do so now. Have all ingredients ready for quick assembly so each ingredient easily maintains its own texture.
2. Serving: Per 10-inch (25-cm) dinner plate: Spread out 3/4 cup (177 ml volume) chopped smoked eggplant on each of four serving plates. It will be thin. Pipe the Yogurt-Tahini Sauce on top of the eggplant. Pipe the Harissa Oil around the outside rim of the eggplant to frame it bringing attention to its round shape and adding color. (Pipe more Yogurt-Tahini Sauce around the rim, next to the Harissa Oil if you want.) Sprinkle the ground spices and pistachios over, then layer the crumbled feta and blossoms on top. If salt is needed, remember it extracts liquid from the eggplant. So, just before serving, use coarse-grained salt so it becomes integral, then lightly sprinkle salt to taste over all.