This post is about eggplant, and the side dish and dip I made from one. But it wouldn't be fair to write about the accompaniments without also sharing the entree that led me to consider eggplant as my side of choice to begin with.
I first tasted this delicious chicken and garbanzo tagine when a group of volunteers made it as the centerpiece of a thank-you luncheon. It is a great recipe because it can be made in advance and just gets better the longer it stews. And it can easily be made in a crock pot instead of on the stove as the recipe directs. Additionally, vegetables and tubers can be substituted for the chicken to make a vegetarian version. When I make it, I usually don't bother with the vanilla bean because they are so expensive, but it really adds a tremendous level of depth that it disappointing to forego.
This time, I was making it for a friend, and although it is already full of lots of ingredients of different colors and nutrients (onions, tomatoes, raisins, cilantro) I wanted something else on the plate. I decided that eggplant or carrots would be a good complement because it is a different color from all those already in the dish, and both are commonly found in other Moroccan recipes. I bought both at the market, and decided to decide what to do once I got home. Ultimately, I chose to use both of them together, and was surprised by how much Will and my guest enjoyed the creation, so here is what I did:
Eggplant and Carrot Simmer
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large eggplant, peeled, cubed, and drained
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3 medium carrots, sliced crosswise into rounds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds (if you don't grind your seeds fresh, you might want to use a little extra)
1 tablespoon pomegranate glaze
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (dried is no substitute, but if that's all you have, only use about 1 teaspoon)
chopped green tops from the carrots
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the eggplant cubes and toss to coat with oil. Add the onion and spread vegetables in an even layer, stirring periodically to prevent burning. Cook for about 15 minutes, until eggplant is golden and onions are soft. Sprinkle cumin over evenly, then add carrots and toss. Drizzle with glaze, and an extra drizzle of oil if necessary to lightly coat all the vegetables. Cover pan with lid (or with foil) and cook over medium low for about 12 more minutes. I removed the foil a couple of times and dried it off so the condensation wouldn't "boil" the vegetables - I didn't want too much liquid in besides what they sweat out themselves, but I wanted them to get nice and tender from the heat. Season with salt and pepper, and toss with dill and carrot tops. This can be served warm or at room temperature; I made it about 45 minutes in advance, and after adding the herbs, just removed it from the heat and kept it covered until I was ready to serve it.
Because my dinner party was only for three people, I only used half the eggplant in the above recipe. So for the other half, I decided to make an eggplant dip. There are lots of recipes for baba ganoush and eggplant hummus, and most roast the eggplant whole. That is what I will do next time, because it is super-easy. The recipe below is double what I made on this first attempt, but it was what I will do next time. If you are like me though, with only half a peeled eggplant left in your fridge, you can easily roast eggplant slices without their peel - mine took about 20 minutes.
1 eggplant, about 2 1/2 pounds
1 large red bell pepper, or 2 small
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2-3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise on a cookie sheet or baking dish brushed with olive oil. Core bell pepper and cut in quarters. Wrap garlic cloves in a tiny piece of foil and add to the oven at the same time as the eggplant. The eggplant will take 25-30 minutes. The peppers only take about 20 minutes, so add them part-way through, skin side down on the sheet. They are done with their skins have bits of black char.
The hot peppers can be placed in a paper bag straight from the oven, and in about 5 minutes, they will have sweated a bit so you can easily peel off their skins.
When the eggplant and garlic are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and add with the peeled peppers and beans to the food processor. Drizzle with olive oil and pulse. Sprinkle with cumin, add more oil if necessary, and pulse until until smooth and creamy. Season with salt, but keep in mind if you are serving it with salty pita chips, you might not want to add as much as if you are serving it with raw vegetables.
FYI, here are some other times I've played around with eggplant.