Hugh Acheson’s Roasted Eggplant with Tahini, Pomegranate, Parsley, and Pecans

A perfect technique for eggplant, courtesy of Hugh Acheson.
A perfect technique for eggplant, courtesy of Hugh Acheson.

You know that perfect eggplant consistency, where it’s so supple, it’s almost like custard?

It’s not always easy to achieve that texture.

But thanks to James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson, there’s a fool-proof method that will not only render it with that exquisite consistency but give it an edge of smokiness, too. And all without a grill.

Just put the whole eggplant in a 425-degree oven and let it do its thing for 45 minutes or so. It will emerge sublime.

That’s one of the techniques showcased in the new cookbook, “How to Cook: Building Blocks and 100 Simple Recipes for a Lifetime of Meals” (Clarkson Potter) by Acheson of “Top Chef” fame, who owns three restaurants in Georgia.

Acheson made sure his two daughters knew how to cook before they went off to college. In this book, of which I received a review copy, he showcases the foundational building blocks that every home-cook ought to master, such as knowing the proper way to cook rice, beans, poach an egg, make vinaigrette, pan-fried fish and roast chicken.

The 100 recipes build on those basics in dishes such as “Crisped Rice with Sausage and Kimchi,” “Poached Egg and Bacon Salad,” “Seared Catfish with Chile-Tomato-Coconut Broth,” and “Skillet Meatloaf with Tomato Glaze and Sweet Onion Slaw.”

“Roasted Eggplant with Tahini, Pomegranate, Parsley, and Pecans” follows the same technique he gives for roasting any whole vegetable.

The tahini sauce that garnishes is just tahini blitzed in a blender for a few seconds with lemon juice, garlic, ground cumin, salt, olive oil, and a splash of water. I halved the tahini sauce recipe, which then makes just enough for this one recipe. But if you want extra for using on other veggies or salads, by all means, make the full recipe.

A great dish to enjoy any day -- or during the holidays.
A great dish to enjoy any day — or during the holidays.

After you carefully cut the roasted eggplant in half, slather on the tahini sauce, then shower on minced parsley, pomegranate arils, and toasted chopped pecans. The latter, I think, is Acheson’s little Southern touch, replacing the more traditional walnuts or pine nuts. But feel free to use whichever you have on hand.

That’s the beauty of this recipe. Once you roast the eggplant, it’s basically a blank canvas. You can take Acheson’s Middle Eastern route. Or drizzle it with sesame oil, sesame seeds, green onions, and chili bean sauce for a Chinese twist. Or spoon over a mixture of rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame paste, and tamari with a flourish of nori flakes for a Japanese take. Or dress it up with feta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, and dill leaves for a more Greek spin. Or spoon over tomato sauce, grated Parmesan and a few olives for an Italian version.

With the vivid fuchsia from the pomegranate seeds, this Middle Eastern version looks especially festive at this time of year. It tastes divine, too. The eggplant halves become almost like canoes full of creamy baba ghanoush with a taste that’s toasty, richly nutty, fruity, and tangy, with hits of crunch from the nuts and pomegranate seeds.

Alongside flat breads or rice, this would make a fine vegetarian entree. Or serve it as a side to roast lamb or chicken. And enjoy eggplant in all its perfection.

Creamy and luscious.
Creamy and luscious.

Roasted Eggplant with Tahini, Pomegranate, Parsley, and Pecans

(Serves 2)

1 large eggplant

Kosher salt

1/2 cup Tahini Sauce (recipe follows)

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

1/2 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley

1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted pecans

Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the eggplant on a sheet lined with foil. Roast until the eggplant is very soft, almost collapsed looking, about 45 minutes. It’s okay if the skin is charred black, desirable even. Remove the ggplant from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.

Carefully slice the eggplant lengthwise, place each side on a plate, cut side up, and season with a few sprinkles of salt. Slather the eggplants evenly with the tahini sauce. Pile on the pomegranate, parsley, and pecans and season to taste. Eat, scooping the flesh out of you prefer not to eat the skin.

Tahini Sauce

(Makes about 1 cup)

1/2 cup tahini

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a blender, combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, water, cumin, and salt and blend on medium speed. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify.

Use right away, or store in the fridge until needed. It keeps a week or so at peak freshness.

From “How to Cook” by Hugh Acheson

Another Recipe from Hugh Acheson to Enjoy: Pickled Cherries

Plus Another Eggplant Dish to Try: Roasted Eggplant with Anchovies and Oregano by Yotam Ottolenghi

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