The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Vegan Eggplant Dishes From the Middle East and North Africa

Posted on March 11, 2011 by Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor

This article originally appeared in Vegetarian Journal Issue 2, 2010

Delightful Eggplant Dishes From the Middle East and North Africa

By Habeeb Salloum

From large and egg-shaped to small and thin, the many varieties of eggplants in produce sections have been catching an increasing number of consumers' fancy. From black to blue, mauve, purple, white, and all the shades in between, eggplants draw those seeking appetizing foods.

Versatile, visually appealing, and delicious, eggplants are a vegetarian's dream vegetable. For thousands of years, they were one of the most popular vegetables in their lands of origin. In China, India, Japan, the Balkans, and eastern Mediterranean countries, they have been used as a meat substitute for untold centuries. It is said that, if the eggplant recipes of all the Mediterranean countries were gathered, there would be well over a thousand. In the Arab countries of the Middle East alone, at least 150 eggplant dishes are known.

The nutritional value of eggplant is about average, on the same level as tomatoes. On the other hand, eggplants are not high in calories (if they are not fried), making them ideal for those watching their weight.

Eggplants can be cooked or preserved in various ways. When they are to be puréed, they can be roasted over coals or in the oven. Broiling over an open fire gives them a delicate smoky flavor, but baking them in the oven is much easier. The skin should be pierced in several places before roasting or baking, and the eggplant turned a few times as it bakes. When the skin blisters, the eggplant is cooked, and the skin should be removed immediately. The cooked pulp's light, creamy texture is extraordinarily delectable.

If the eggplant is to be fried or used in salads and stews, it should be sliced or cubed, placed in a strainer, and then sprinkled with salt. Next, a weight should be placed on top for an hour; this allows the pieces to drain and release their bitter juices. Then, fry the eggplant slices or cubes quickly to cut down on oil absorption.

When eggplants are to be preserved, use pickling ingredients and oil. This gives the pickled eggplant a smooth, rich taste. Centuries of experience have demonstrated that olive oil is the perfect medium to use when cooking or preserving eggplant.

Keeping these hints in mind, a cook can plunge quickly into the badhinjan world of the Middle Eastern lands. Try these simple recipes, modified and using very little oil to meet vegetarian and dieters' needs.

BADHINJAN MUTABBAL (EGGPLANT APPETIZER)

(Serves 4)

Traditionally, when this recipe is made, the slices are fried in olive oil. However, baking the slices in the oven is a much healthier method of preparing eggplant.

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (approximately 1 pound), peeled and sliced lengthwise and then cut into half-moon slices approximately ¼-½ inch thick

SAUCE

  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon pomegranate concentrate or grenadine syrup (can be purchased online), diluted in 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ small jalapeño pepper, very finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted blanched almonds
  • Sprigs of fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place eggplant in a pan and bake for 30 minutes, turning over once. Allow eggplant to cool somewhat. Remove from pan and allow to cool.

In the meantime, make the sauce by combining the coriander, diluted concentrate or grenadine syrup, lemon juice, garlic, jalapeños, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Place the eggplant slices on a serving platter, and then spoon the sauce evenly over top. Decorate with the almonds and the sprigs of coriander and serve.

Total calories per serving: 67 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 296 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

EGGPLANT AND TOMATO DIP

(Serves 6)

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (approximately 1 pound)
  • 2 cups stewed tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons fine vegan bread crumbs
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dry basil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place eggplant in a pan and bake, turning over frequently, for 1 1 / 4 hours or until the skin is crisp. Allow eggplant to cool somewhat. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin.

Place eggplant in a blender, along with the tomatoes, bread crumbs, garlic, basil, salt, cumin, and pepper. Blend into a smooth paste. Place in a serving bowl and refrigerate for an hour.

Decorate with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and parsley. Drizzle a little olive oil over top just before serving, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 78 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 366 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

SHAWRABAT BADHINJAN WA KUSA (EGGPLANT AND ZUCCHINI SOUP)

(Serves 8)

Numerous versions of this soup are found in North Africa; however, the eggplant is usually fried before it is added as an ingredient. This version is more healthful and even tastier.

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (approximately 1 pound), peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium-sized zucchini (approximately 6-7 inches long), diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 5 Tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste, diluted in 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup uncooked white rice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 4 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Place all ingredients, except the basil, in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 40 minutes. Stir in the basil and serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 96 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 376 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

EGGPLANT SALAD

(Serves 6)

This recipe, which originated in Yemen, can also be served as a side dish or as a dip.

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (approximately 1 pound)
  • 1 small Spanish onion, very finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 small tomato, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • ½ teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place eggplant in a pan and bake, turning over frequently, for 1 1 / 4 hours or until the skin is crisp. Allow eggplant to cool somewhat. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin.

In a mixing bowl, mash eggplant into pulp. Then, stir in the onions, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Mix well.

Transfer to a serving bowl and decorate with tomatoes and coriander. Sprinkle with paprika just before serving.

Total calories per serving: 69 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 199 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

SALATAT BADHINJAN WA LUZ (EGGPLANT AND ALMOND SALAD)

(Serves 5)

This is a unique salad. You can use other types of nuts-such as Brazil nuts, pecans, cashews, or walnuts- in this salad instead of the almonds.

  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (approximately 1 pound), peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Nonhydrogenated vegan margarine to prepare baking pan
  • ½ cup coarsely ground toasted almonds
  • 4 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon pomegranate concentrate, diluted in 3 Tablespoons water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Parsley sprigs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the eggplant, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt into a bowl and thoroughly mix until the cubes are coated. Spread evenly on a greased baking pan and bake for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Combine the eggplant mixture and the almonds in a bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, except the parsley sprigs. Then, stir into the eggplant-almond mixture.

Place in a serving bowl, decorate with parsley sprigs, and serve.

Total calories per serving: 135 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 10 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 236 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

SHALADA BRANIYA (MOROCCAN EGGPLANT SALAD)

(Serves 6)

In Morocco, salads are often made from cooked vegetables.

  • 1 large eggplant (approximately 2 pounds), peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • Lemon slices or wedges

Place the eggplant, garlic, water, and ¾ teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-low heat for approximately 5 minutes until the eggplant is cooked but still firm.

Place the saucepan contents in a strainer. Allow to drain and cool.

Transfer saucepan contents to a salad bowl and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Stir in the remaining ingredients, except the coriander and lemon wedges, and then gently toss. Decorate the salad with the coriander leaves and lemon wedges and serve.

Total calories per serving: 89 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 395 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

BABA GHANNUJ (EGGPLANT-TAHINI DELIGHT)

(Serves 6)

This dish originated around Syria, but it has become very popular in all the eastern Arab countries. Now, it is found at every feast and party, having become a true part of all eastern Arabs' kitchens.

  • 1 large eggplant (approximately 2 pounds), pierced with a fork on all sides
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 5 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 Tablespoons tahini
  • 4 Tablespoons water
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 small tomato, finely chopped
  • A little olive oil (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place eggplant in a pan and bake, turning over frequently, for 1 1 / 4 hours or until the skin is crisp. Allow eggplant to cool somewhat. When cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Mash pulp well, place in a mixing bowl, and set aside.

Place remaining ingredients, except the parsley, tomatoes, and olive oil, in a blender. Blend mixture for a few moments, adding a little water if too thick. Stir the mixture into the eggplant.

Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl. Decorate with parsley and tomatoes and serve. Drizzle a little olive oil over top just before serving, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 119 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 218 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams

MANAZILET BADHINJAN (EGGPLANT AND CHICKPEA CASSEROLE)

(Serves approximately 6)

Changing up the ingredients, such as by adding potatoes, zucchini, or mushrooms, yields tasty variations for this dish.

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium sweet red peppers, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 medium-sized eggplant (approximately
  • 1 pound) peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas
  • 2 cups stewed tomatoes
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Sauté the onions and red peppers over medium heat for 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry for another 3 minutes. Add the eggplant cubes and quickly stir-fry for 1 minute.

Transfer the frying pan contents to a casserole dish and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Total calories per serving: 237 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 551 milligrams Fiber: 11 grams

BADHINJAN MISHWI BIL FURN (BAKED EGGPLANT STEAKS)

(Serves 6-8)

Serve this dish with mashed potatoes or cooked rice.

  • Nonhydrogenated vegan margarine to prepare casserole dish
  • 1 large eggplant (approximately 2 pounds), peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
  • ½ teaspoon salt

BASTING

  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ½ cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • ½ small jalapeño pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Grease baking pan or casserole dish with margarine. Set aside.

Lightly sprinkle eggplant with the salt and place in the pan. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make the basting by placing the remaining ingredients into a blender and making a soft paste, adding a little water, if necessary.

Brush the eggplant slices with a quarter of the basting and bake for 20 minutes. Turn slices over, brush with another quarter of the basting, and bake for another 25 minutes or until done. Top with remaining basting and serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 95 Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrates: 13 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 394 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

BADHINJAN MAQ'ID (CANDIED EGGPLANTS)

(Serves 8)

  • 1 dozen tiny eggplants (approximately 3 inches long), washed and stemmed
  • 2 cups sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 3 cups water
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 Tablespoon orange or rose blossom water
  • 4 Tablespoons lemon juice

Place eggplants in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes. Remove and drain in a strainer.

Place the sugar, water, and cloves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the eggplants, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 25 minutes. Stir in the orange or rose blossom water and lemon juice and cook for another few minutes. Remove and allow to cool before serving, with or without the syrup.

Total calories per serving: 236 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 60 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 5 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

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