Roast eggplant with spiced yogurt on pilaf makes a hearty, comforting meal. (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Roast eggplant with spiced yogurt on pilaf makes a hearty, comforting meal. (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Roasted eggplant, Yemeni spices come together in comforting, versatile dish

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This Roasted Eggplant with Spiced Yogurt and Pilaf brings together many of the Sephardic and Mizrahi flavors I love in one versatile dish. I developed this recipe because I needed a filling, comforting get-well recipe for a friend. It looks attractive and tastes wonderful.

You can serve it as a vegan/vegetarian main course or side dish. Or you can skip the rice pilaf and serve the eggplant covered with yogurt as an appetizer dip, alongside sturdy crackers and vegetables.

Hawaij is a Yemeni spice mix for soup that is sometimes labeled as Israeli spice mix for soup. Hawaij and the optional garnishes — tahini, silan (date syrup) and pomegranate molasses — are available online and in some Middle Eastern, kosher, spice and specialty stores. If hawaij is unavailable, you can substitute curry powder.

Roasted Eggplant with Spiced Yogurt and Pilaf

Serves 2 as main, 4-6 as side dish

  • 1 large eggplant (1¼-1½ pounds)
  • Spiced Yogurt (see below)
  • 1 cup white basmati rice
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • ½ tsp. hawaij spice mix or curry powder
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp. cayenne, optional
  • 1 cup butternut squash or sweet potato, cut in ½-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped spinach, chard or other leafy greens
  • About 2 cups warm vegetable broth
  • ¼ tsp. salt or as needed
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper or as needed
  • Garnishes (see below)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Roast eggplant for 30 minutes. Flip. Continue roasting until the eggplant is totally soft and a fork glides through without resistance, about another 20-30 minutes.

Have ready the Spiced Yogurt (see below).

Rinse and soak rice for 20 minutes. Drain.

Place 2 Tbs. oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add onions. Sauté 5-7 minutes until softened. Add garlic. Sauté 1-2 minutes until golden. Stir in hawaij, cinnamon and cayenne. Add squash and sauté until browned and beginning to soften, or about 10 minutes.

Stir remaining 1 Tbs. oil into pan. Stir in drained rice until coated in oil. Sauté 1 minute. Add ½ cup warm broth. Bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered until liquid has been absorbed.

Stir in chopped spinach. Add another ½ cup warm broth. Simmer until absorbed. Add another ½ cup. Once the liquid is absorbed, bite into a grain of rice. It should be tender with a little resistance in the center. If the rice is not ready, add ¼ cup of broth, and simmer until absorbed. Test again for doneness and, if needed, add broth (or water if you run out) ¼ cup at a time as needed, letting the liquid absorb between additions. Taste, and stir in salt and pepper as desired.

Let eggplant cool slightly. Cut off and discard stem. Peel eggplant. Cut whole eggplant in half lengthwise over a bowl to collect any liquid from inside. Place pilaf in large serving dish. Drizzle eggplant liquid over pilaf. Place eggplant halves cut side down on top of rice. Use sharp knife to chop eggplant in place and or mash with fork (keep the eggplant’s oval shape). Serve with spiced yogurt spread on top of eggplant. Garnish as desired (see below). Serve hot, warm or room temperature. Alternatively, if serving as a main course, divide pilaf on two plates, top each with half an eggplant and half of the yogurt and garnishes.

Spiced Yogurt: Combine 2 cups dairy or nondairy plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest, ½ tsp. crumbled, dried mint leaves, ⅛ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. ground sumac (or use an extra ½ tsp. zest), ¼ tsp. ground cardamom, and ¼ tsp. sharp (hot) or sweet (regular) paprika. Mix well. Refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Flavors will intensify). Use at room temperature.

Possible Garnishes: Sprinkle with sliced almonds, chopped pistachios, pomegranate seeds and/or chopped fresh herbs such as cilantro, mint and parsley. Drizzle with tahini, silan and/or pomegranate molasses.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].