Like the rest of the Northeast, I can hardly wait for summer.
A couple of weeks ago I got so impatient I bought a (gasp) off-season eggplant. I quartered and sliced it, then roasted the slices in a hot oven with generously poured olive oil–my approximation of the way I really like my eggplant: in the summer, on the grill. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but my mom grills some incredible zucchini and eggplant each summer, and I look forward to the planks of charcoal-blistered vegetables all year long.
One of my favorite ways to serve any vegetable–beloved grilled eggplant or plain old spinach–is with the illustrious ingredient combination of plump raisins, rich toasted pine nuts, and bright parsley. The pairing has a Middle Eastern vibe, though I think of it as Italian, and from what I can learn, both are true. The raisin/nut-savory union has a Sephardic origin, and where Sephardic Jews went–Italy, Turkey, Greece–the raisins and nuts went too, flavoring meatballs, sautéed greens, and now my eggplant.And so that’s the treatment my pre-summer eggplant receives today. I pile everything on top of a mix of grains and lentils that I soaked all day and then dressed with a simple vinaigrette. I save some vinaigrette for the eggplant, too, since unlike plain old spinach, which emits its own liquid, the slices need some sauce.
In the photos, I arranged this kind of fancily to convince myself that mere vegetables and grains could be a centerpiece vegetarian lunch (maybe for Mother’s Day, or even Easter), but in fact you could also toss everything together more rustically and portion out lunches all week. Or, serve the dish (fancily or rustically) as a side to simply prepared fish or steak.
Mixed Grains with Roasted Eggplant, Pine Nuts & Raisins
Serves 2 as a main, 4 to 6 as a side
If pine nuts are astronomically expensive by you, opt for walnuts instead. I sometimes top portions with a few good anchovies, which might not be your bag. But if you like anchovies, do this. It’s really good. You can make this ahead of time – it’s good at room temperature.
1 cup long-grain brown rice
2 tablespoons pearl barley
¼ cup brown lentils
1 large eggplant, quartered and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 lemon, juiced
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced to a paste
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Soak the rice, barley, and lentils in a bowl overnight, or longer. Drain, then add 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, then lower to simmer and cover for about 30 minutes. Fluff the grains, turn off the heat, and replace the cover for a few minutes, or until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450°F to make the vegetables.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggplant with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the cayenne. Toss until fully coated, and then turn out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Shake the pan to make sure the vegetables lie flat and have the maximum possible surface area exposed.
Roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are dark brown and caramelized. I usually don’t even bother to flip ‘em.
While the vegetables roast, do a few things. First, bring some water to boil and place the raisins in a small bowl. Pour the water over to rehydrate them for 10 minutes, then drain. Also, toast the pine nuts, either by sticking them in the oven or in a small dry pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Either way, watch carefully so they don’t burn. When golden, immediately transfer to a bowl. Last, whisk the remaining olive oil and salt, plus the lemon juice, zest, and minced garlic in a medium mixing bowl.
Arrange the grains on a platter. Drizzle on a little dressing. Arrange the roasted eggplant on top, then sprinkle on the raisins, pine nuts, and the rest of the dressing. Garnish with parsley.