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Summer salads: Roasted eggplants and charmoula sauce

Roasted Eggplants 2

Roasted Eggplant and Chamoula Sauce (Photo by: Jean-Mark Sens)

Roasted Eggplant and Chamoula Sauce

Serves 4

This Moroccan inspired recipe is close to a Caponata. Unlike traditional Caponata, nothing is fried but vegetables are grilled. While Caponata is generally served as an appetizer or a side dish, this dish is truly a salad and served with salad greens, preferably Romaine that has a nice, refreshing crunch contrasting with the soft eggplants.

Although requiring a certain amount of hot cooking this salad is not very time consuming to make and can be made a day ahead for the main components.

Ingredients:

Egg plants: about 2 to 2 ½ pounds, clean, trimmed, not peeled, and cut on the bias to make ¼ inch thick slices, sprinkled with salt on both sides, ready to grill.

Red Onion: 2 small (about 4 oz total), peeled and halved longitudinally (Optional)

Olives, Kalamata (preferred): pitted and chopped: ½ cup

Garlic: 2 cloves, crushed

Italian dry herbs: 2 tablespoons

Salt

Black pepper

Olive oil: ¼ cup or olive oil spray

Mint, Moroccan type: chopped 1 tablespoon

Basil: chopped, ¼ cup

Romaine: 2 hearts, cut 1 inch pieces for plating.

Red bell pepper: 1 large whole for Charmoula sauce

Directions:

On a seasoned grill lay roast red bell pepper whole on all sides, set onion halved cut side down. Put eggplants, and grill on each side till soft and tender. Remove and put in a wide bowl mixing well with olive oil till hot and Italian dry herbs, and garlic.

After mixture has cooled mix in olives and herbs. Toss well and had a bit olive if mixture looks dry. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste as needed. Slice onions in thin rings and toss with egg plants.

Let continue to cool in bowl while making the Charmoula sauce dressing.

Charmoula Sauce dressing

Makes about 1 cup

Charmoula is a sauce/ dressing widely popular in Moroccan cooking. It has as many variations as there are cooks. The great pleasure of it is that it has for foundation roasted bell pepper and some tomato paste that with paprika that gives this dressing a pronounced red ochre color and smoky flavor. It incorporates different spices sometimes the traditional Raz-el- Hanout mix or some of its component. It is not spicy hot but bold and layered with flavors.

Ingredients:

Red bell pepper: 1 large roasted, peeled and seeded, cut in pieces.

Garlic: 1 to 3 cloves peeled and crushed

Sherry vinegar/ red wine vinegar: 1 Tablespoon

Lemon juice: 1 Tablespoon

Tomato paste: quality, thick from a tube 1 Tablespoon

Chipotle paste: ¼ teaspoon (more to taste)

Ground cumin: ½ teaspoon

Spanish/ sweet paprika: 1 teaspoon

Olive oil: 1/3 cup

Italian flat Parsley: ¼ cup chopped + some for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Once the red pepper is roasted, peeled and seeded cut it in pieces and put it a blender on high till it liquefies.

Blend in garlic, vinegar, lemon juice then add all the other ingredients but the oil that you will pour in last to emulsify the dressing.

Assembling salad:

Toss cut Romaine in a bit of oil to lightly coat leaves. Arrange on each plate and pour over or mount on top roasted eggplants and some roasted onion rings.

Dollop dressing over each plate and sprinkle with some parsley.

Jean-Mark Sens grew up in France and Belgium and has been living in the Southern United States of America for the past 25 years, except for a short stint in the deep East of Maine, which brought him back to New Orleans. He has taught culinary arts at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, Eastern Maine Community College and more recently for Mississippi University for Women on the Gulf Coast, and also works with the Goldring Centre for Culinary Medicine in New Orleans. He has published a collection of poetry, Appetite, with Red Hen Press. The present recipes are part of Leafy Greens and Sundry Things, a book on the arts and technique of composing salads in need of a publisher.