You know when it’s hot and muggy and you can’t decide if you want cold food or hot food or no food at all? Real food or just, like, watermelon for dinner? It wasn’t even that hot last night here in NYC but I had dark chocolate sorbet for dinner (the kind from Ciao Bella Gelato—it’s dairy free and has this weird chalky texture I like).
But the thing I like about this dish—adapted from Plenty/Yotam Ottolenghi—is it’s excellent cold, warm, or room temperature. It’s the perfect dish to pack up for lunch, bring on a picnic, or eat in front of your computer (where, let’s be honest, I eat more of my meals than on a picnic blanket). Now, it does require a little bit of heat because you broil the eggplants in your oven or char them on your gas burner. Of course, if you have a real grill (but I live in an apartment in Brooklyn with no such luxury) you could probably put the eggplants right in the coals to do this. Whether you grill over your burner or broil in your oven remember to prick the eggplant multiple times with a knife to prevent the flesh from popping through the skin when it gets hot.
In addition to the lentils and the eggplant you can toss in any number of vegetables you may have, adapting to what’s in season. I picked up some beautiful radishes at the farmer’s market on Saturday that would be great in this, or any combination of fresh herbs.
Lentils with Broiled Eggplant
adapted from Plenty
2 thin, long eggplants
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper
1 cup small dark lentils (small green or Puy), rinsed
3 small carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1 small onion, white or yellow
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2/3 c cherry tomatoes, halved (about 12-15)
1/3 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped herbs (such as parsley, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill)
1 cup chopped salad greens or spinach (optional)
2 tbsp yogurt or crème fraîche
Cook the eggplants: the best way to really char the eggplants is to grill over the open flame on your burner, rotating with metal tongs and taking care to ensure they don’t catch on fire. I put the vent on high to trap any smoke that’s produced. You may want to first line the area around two burners of your stove with aluminum foil to protect them from splatters. Now it’s key that you buy thin eggplants as opposed to the more common fatter eggplants you see in American grocery stores. These wider ones (I learned the hard way) don’t cook through all the way. So if you have the thin kind they should blacken on your stove in 12 to 15 minutes. If you only have the standard wide ones, like I did, grill over the burner for 12–15 minutes and then transfer to your oven on a baking sheet or in a casserole dish, set the broiler on high, and cook for additional 10–15 minutes to cook all the way through. Alternatively you can broil them like this in your oven for the entire time, approximately 1 hour for wide ones, turning them a few times. The eggplants should deflate completely and the skin should burn and break.
Remove the eggplants from the heat. If you used your oven change the setting from broil to 275F. Cut the eggplants in half and let the steam escape. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh (avoiding the blackened skin) into a colander and let any liquid drain off for about 15 minutes. Then season with salt and pepper and 1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice.
While the eggplants are broiling, place the lentils in a medium saucepan. Cut one carrot, one celery stalk, and the onion each in half and toss in the saucepan. Cover with plenty of cold water, and add the bay leaf and thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked but not mushy. Drain the lentils and discard the onion, carrot, celery, and herbs. Transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl and add the remaining lemon juice, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.
Cut the remaining carrot and celery into small pieces and mix with the halved tomatoes, remaining oil, sugar, and some salt. Spread in an ovenproof dish and cook for about 20 minutes, until the carrot is tender but firm. Add the cooked vegetables to the lentils, followed by the herbs and greens (if using). Taste and adjust for seasoning (I had to use quite a bit of salt to get it just right). Spoon the lentils into your serving dish, followed by a spoonful of eggplant, then the yogurt or crème fraîche, and a drizzle of olive oil.