Luxurious. I would not have ever imagined that I might describe a lentil salad this way, but luxurious is exactly the perfect word. Smoky, silky, creamy, spicy, and a bit tangy: All of these sensations tangle together into one luxurious bite after another. Eggplant can be sensual. Yes, I said it. The broiled eggplant lifts ordinary lentils into a sensual tizzy of textures and flavors, and I don't think I've been the same ever since! Please eat this. It's a feast of colors for the eyes, sustaining nutrients for the body, and sensual luxury for the mouth and tongue. I understand completely now why Yotam Ottolenghi's approach to treating and eating vegetables can become an obsessive experience. I am forever changed, and now seeking to cook every single recipe in his cookbooks. (Speaking of which, Cynthia shared Ottolenghi's Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries with us, and I will be making this immediately. So good.)
Notes: The smoky broiled eggplant is what makes this dish so special. Roasting them directly over a gas stove is the fastest way to cook them and achieve that smoky flavor, but it definitely made a mess that took scrubbing to clean up. If you can lay down aluminum foil around the flame to catch some of the drippings, that would help a lot, but this was hard to do with my particular stovetop. Using the oven broiler to roast the eggplant is a less messy alternative, but it does take an hour instead of 15 minutes. If you choose the broiler method, please ensure that you poke the eggplant all over with a small sharp knife, to allow steam to escape. Otherwise, the eggplant may explode all over the oven - an even bigger mess to clean up!
The harissa is optional, but I was so happy to have a jar of homemade harissa gifted to me from Cynthia. It elevated this already excellent lentil salad into something truly special.
Read More: The Shared Plenty (More)
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes (depending on your method for roasting the eggplant)
2 medium eggplants
2 tablespoons top-quality red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (such as Puy or Castelluccio), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1/2 white onion
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon each roughly chopped parsley, cilantro and dill
2 tablespoon crème fraîche (or natural yogurt, if you prefer)
2 tablespoons harissa (purchased or homemade), optional
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 two 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.
To broil the eggplants in an oven instead: pierce the eggplants all over with a sharp knife. (This creates exit points for the steam to escape the eggplant; otherwise, the eggplant will explode and make a giant mess!) Put them on a foil-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for 1 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. If you used an oven broiler, change the oven to its normal setting. Heat the oven to 275°F. Cut a slit down the center of the eggplants and scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the black skin. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes and only then season with plenty of salt and pepper and 1/2 tablespoon of the vinegar.
While the eggplants are broiling, 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 and onion, 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 3/8-inch dice and mix with the tomatoes, the remaining oil, the 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. 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 each of crème fraîche or yogurt and harissa. Finish with a trickle of oil.
Adapted very slightly from:Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi