Monday, January 5, 2015

Meatless Mondays : Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

All the sweets, carbs and booze of the holiday season have left me feeling weighed down, in more ways than one. Yes, my jeans are fitting a bit tighter than I'd like (eek!) but I just feel sluggish overall, like I need to hit the reset button on my body—and my habits. But it's near impossible to resist the urge to pour another glass of wine, or reach for cookies, candy, chocolate, all of the above, when you've been giving into that urge for weeks now, all in the name of celebration.

That's why the hubs and I have decided to focus, once again, on eating more healthfully, like we were before our wedding last May. Post-wedding, circumstances practically pushed us into poor eating habits: We honeymooned (lots of dining out). We made a big move, and had to drive across the country to get there (hello, fast food). We wanted to explore our new city (and one of our favorite pastimes is visiting new restaurants). And then we were a little lonely (cue emotional eating). Yep, we gave ourselves plenty of reasons to eat, drink and be merry. The holidays were literal icing on the cake—not to mention a more socially acceptable excuse to indulge.

Starting a new diet or exercise plan and losing weight is a top New Year's resolution for many, so G and I are in good company. But, to be successful, you have to be reasonable with yourself. Going to extremes might get fast results but it is not sustainable long term. Healthy living is a lifestyle so, as with anything, you've gotta cut yourself a little slack to keep from going insane. To that end, we're planning to cut back on eating out, to enjoy wine and cocktails in moderation just three days a week, to get our butts into the gym and ... to eat more vegetables. Which leads me to today's post.

I'm sure you've heard of "Meatless Mondays"—there's a whole website dedicated to it!—but when I proposed the idea to my hubby, he gave me a look and a smirk. "I'm not making it up," I exclaimed with a laugh. "It's a thing." I told him it would be good for us to commit one day a week to eating just fruits, veggies and whole grains. We're not big meat eaters, it's mostly fish and chicken in our house, but nevertheless. More veggies is always a good thing. To inspire our cooking, I picked up what is veritably one of the best all-veg cookbooks on the market: "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi."

Tonight, our first Meatless Monday, we will be making the dish that so beautifully graces the cover of Yotam Ottolenghi's critically-acclaimed vegetarian-friendly tome: Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce. We stopped by St. Pete's Saturday Morning Market this weekend and picked up two gorgeous eggplants for the occasion. While I have no idea how it will all turn out, the recipe looks and sounds mighty delicious, so I'd love to invite you to cook along with us! I'll post our results on Instagram.

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce
Recipe from "Plenty" by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 as a starter or side, or as a light meal when accompanied by crusty white bread or pita

2 large and long eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish
Maldon sea salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon za'atar (if you can't find this Middle Eastern spice blend, you can make it at home, traditionally with thyme or untraditionally with oregano; the trick then is finding sumac)

9 tablespoons buttermilk (you can also make this yourself, with milk and lemon/vinegar!)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don't eat it). Using a small sharp knife, make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped (or crosshatch) pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oilkeep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh. Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

While the eggplants are in the oven, seed the pomegranate. (You can use the cut-and-whack method, using a wooden spoon to beat the seeds out of a halved pomegranate, or you can use the cut-then-pull-apart-while-submerged method, shown in this tutorial, which promises less mess.) Once you have all the seeds removed, sift through to remove any bits of white skin or membrane.

To make the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve: Spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za'atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

As always, if you give this recipe a try I'd love to hear your thoughts. Fingers crossed we can find za'atar, or at least sumac, at the store this afternoon. If you have any favorite vegetarian recipes, please share—we need all the Meatless Monday inspiration we can get!

(Top photo taken by me at the Saturday Morning Market, 
Plenty book image via Chronicle Books)

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