Eggplants (aubergines) have the power to activate my imagination and bring me back to a different time–a time when Spain wasn’t Spain but a vast bunch of Moorish kingdoms.
Sometimes, when I’m in my kitchen slicing eggplants, I can picture a version of myself in a different life, long ago, slicing those same eggplants in ancient times.
In this alternate universe, it’s likely that I might not even have a kitchen to stand in, and surely I wouldn’t own an oven unless I were extremely wealthy.
In a place like ancient Al- Andalus*, since home kitchens were so minimal, one would have had to find a communal oven to bake the eggplant in. As I am not a huge fan of crowds, I’d probably choose to fry them in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at home.
Today, in the 21st century eggplants are still very popular and common in our daily cuisine in southern Spain. In Andalusia, one of the most popular ways to prepare eggplant is similar to the way people in ancient Al-Andalus would have–fried in EVOO and drizzled with honey or sugar cane molasses on top.
During my last trip to the Middle East, I learned that in traditional Lebanese cuisine* eggplants are cooked the same way we cook them here–the only difference is that Lebanese style eggplant is typically seasoned with Za’atar and served with yoghurt or pomegranate molasses as dipping sauces. This recipe incorporates the best of each eggplant dish, and I know you’ll love the final result.
Ingredients (6 servings):
- 2 large eggplants
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil–or as much as necessary to cover the sliced eggplants while frying. I use a 9 inch skillet and 1 cup is just the right amount.
- 2 tbsp sea salt, plus more to your taste for seasoning
- 1 and ½ tbsp of honey, honey molasses, or pomegranate molasses.
For the dipping sauce:
- ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp of Za´atar
Milk bath to temper the bitterness:
- 1 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of whole milk
- 2 tsp coarse sea salt
- 1 cutting board
- 1 sharp knife (Santoku knife is my favorite one)
- 1 small mixing bowl for the dipping sauce
- 1 large skillet for frying
- 1 container to store and trash or recycle the used oil after frying
Step 1. Making the dipping sauce
- Mix the yogurt and za’atar in a small bowl and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Making this sauce ahead of cooking the eggplant allows for the flavors of the za’atar to mingle with the yogurt, which makes for a more delicious dipping sauce!
Step 2. Prepping the eggplants & tempering the bitterness
- Rinse and gently pat the eggplants dry.
- Lay each eggplant on its side on the cutting board, carefully slicing into 1/2 inch rounds.
- Mix the water, milk, and salt for the milk bath and soak the eggplant slices for 20 minutes.
- Take the eggplant slices out the milk bath and pat to dry with paper towel or a clean kitchen towel.
Step 3. Dredging and preparing for the frying pan
Once the eggplant slices have been patted dry from the milk bath, you’ll begin the dredging process. Make this process easier on yourself by strategically setting up your workspace:
Place your bowl of flour to the right of your bowl of eggs, then place a tray or large plate to the right of the flour. Work in batches (only a couple pieces at a time) so as not to overcrowd the bowls.
- To begin, place the eggplant slices into your bowl of (2) beaten eggs. You want to make sure that both sides are well coated.
- Next up, remove the eggplant slices from the egg mixture and gently place them into a bowl filled with 1/2 cup of flour. Make sure to cover both sides of each slice in a generous amount of flour, adding additional flour to the bowl if needed.
- Place the dredged eggplant slices onto a tray and get ready to start frying!
Step 4. Deep fry in extra virgin olive oil
- Add oil to your skillet and bring to a medium-high heat. If you’re not sure whether your oil is hot enough, try dipping a wooden chopstick or the end of a wooden spoon into the oil–if bubbles appear, the oil is ready for frying.
- Add the eggplants to the oil in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan. Adding too many pieces at once can lower the temperature of the oil which can result in a soggy rather than crispy crust.
- Allow each side of the eggplant to fry for one minute before flipping–try to resist the urge to flip prematurely!
- Pull the eggplants from the oil once they become a golden brown color.
- Set the eggplants onto a tray of paper towels to drain excess oil.
Step 4. Plating up
- Smear the za’atar & yogurt sauce on a plate–preferably a dark one, for aesthetic purposes.
- Fan out the slices of eggplant on top of the yogurt.
- Drizzle with honey molasses and sprinkle some crystals of sea salt on top.
Nowadays, eggplants are not as bitter as they used to be when I was a child, so preparing a milk bath for your eggplant slices may not be necessary–especially if you’re short on time or are avoiding dairy products. If a milk bath isn’t an option, sprinkle your eggplant slices with sea salt and let sit for about 10 minutes. Before moving forward with dredging, rinse the eggplant with water and pat dry.
So, if a milk bath isn’t truly necessary, why do I recommend it?
Eggplant acts like a sponge and absorbs whatever liquids it has access to. A milk bath provides the eggplant with a silky, creamy texture that feels a little extra decadent.
In fact, if you have the extra ten minutes to spare, I recommend letting the eggplant soak for a total of 30 minutes!
- Al-Andalus* is the name for the territory that is now present-day Spain but was once occupied by ancient Arabic people.
- Lebanese cuisine*: The name of this dish is Bathenjan Makli. In Arabic, Bathenjan means eggplant, and in Spanish eggplant is called berenjena. Arabic is a big influence on the Spanish language!