My mission in 2020: Eat more vegetables. I actually really love vegetables, but the realities of modern life—like needing to rely on takeout meals while out and about, or being forced to eat 35 Hot Pockets for the sake of my career—can make it hard to eat as many greens as I should. So, I’ve started making vegetables the main dish when preparing weeknight dinners, only giving in to my children’s requests for meat once a week at most. And when I make these spectacular vegetable entrees, I make more than I need to, so I’ll have plenty of leftovers for when I need a quick lunch or a mindless snack.
This eggplant dish, which I first encountered years ago in the pages of an old Soviet cookbook, is quickly becoming a staple: It’s affordable, it’s easy, it’s on the table within an hour, and it begs to be made in bulk, because even though it’s a showstopper straight out of the oven, it somehow gets better and better the longer it sits.
The recipe originates in the country of Georgia, and from what I can tell, it’s one of those dishes where everyone who makes it has their own special recipe. Some people slice up the eggplants and make it like a walnut-stuffed rollatini. Some refrigerate the eggplants for 24 hours before serving. Some people add cheese, some don’t. I’ve tried it all sorts of ways, borrowing bits from various recipes until I came up with the version below.
I encourage you to spend a bit more for the quality feta you’ll find in the supermarket’s cheese section; since there’s not much used in this recipe, buying the good stuff means a much better (and more satisfying) return on your investment. If you’d like to make this vegan, feel free to skip the feta entirely. One thing I insist you don’t skip are the “garnishes”: pomegranate seeds, parsley, and cilantro. In some recipes, they’re used only to add a bit of color and razzmatazz, but here, they completely transform the dish.
Fight the urge to scale down this recipe—if anything, you’ll want to scale it up. Keep it in the fridge in a tightly sealed container for up to four days, during which time the flavors will set in and it will magically improve with every passing hour. This eggplant will make you excited to eat your vegetables, and make it much, much easier to resist the call of all the naughtier foods that live inside your fridge.
Serves 4-6 as an entree, 8-12 as a side dish
- 3 hefty eggplants
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 10 oz. walnuts
- 1 small onion, or 1 very large shallot
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 rib celery
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. hot Hungarian paprika
- 8 sprigs cilantro, plus additional for garnish
- 8 sprigs parsley, plus additional for garnish
- 2 oz. good quality feta cheese
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
Split the eggplants in half. Use a sharp knife to score the inner flesh in a crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut all the way through. Heavily salt the eggplants, then stand them up in a large colander. Let them sit in the sink for at least 30 minutes so the salt can draw out some of the eggplant’s more bitter liquids. Rinse very well to remove the salt and blot dry with paper towels.
Line a sheet pan with heavy duty aluminum foil and coat with olive oil. Place on the bottom shelf of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Once ready, place the eggplants cut side down on the sheet pan and set a timer for 15 minutes.
Put half the walnuts into a food processor with the onion/shallot, garlic, celery, vinegar, water, salt, paprika, parsley, and cilantro. Pulse until a rough paste forms, then add the remainder of the walnuts and pulse once or twice more.
When the timer goes off, remove the eggplants from the oven and flip them over. Divide the walnut mixture evenly between the eggplants. Move the oven rack to the top third of the oven, then slide the eggplants in and roast for 10 minutes.
Turn the broiler to high. Roughly crumble the feta over the eggplants and broil for 3-5 minutes until the cheese browns a bit.
Move the eggplants to a platter and cover generously with pomegranate seeds, parsley, and cilantro. Can be served hot or at room temperature.