On a not-so-long ago jaunt down to L.A., I visited Josef Centeno’s fabulous downtown restaurant Baco Mercat. One of my favorite dishes I ate there, and one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth in a while, was a pureed dip of smoky eggplant, fava bean, and feta that was topped with za’atar and lebni and served with grilled flatbread. It was heaven. (*Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix containing sesame seeds, sumac, salt, and dried herbs such as oregano or thyme.)
I couldn’t get that dish, or the popping flavors of it, out of my head. So I came up this dish, loosely inspired by those flavors. To keep things simple, I stuck to eggplant and ditched the fava. I love the sweetness of narrow Japanese eggplants (rather than large globe eggplant which can be bitter), and chose those to slice into planks and grill.
To keep the dish relatively easy and very quick to make, I made a simple sauce with plain whole-milk yogurt, chopped fresh mint, and a squeeze of lemon. Once the eggplant was grilled, I drizzled this over the top and then just sprinkled it with fresh salty feta and za’atar.
This would be great served alongside grilled chicken thighs rubbed with Mediterranean spices and some yummy grilled flatbread. It can be served hot or at room temperature. (Hell, I found myself stuffing cold pieces of it in my mouth the next morning for breakfast, it was THAT good!)
Recipe: Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Yogurt, Za’atar, Mint & Feta
Makes 4 servings as a side dish