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Roasted Eggplant Spread

When I was at the farmer’s market last weekend, I had an overwhelming desire to combine eggplant with one of the numerous heads of garlic that kept appearing in my CSA box. I gave in.

We were due to head to an outdoor concert venue that evening where bringing a picnic is equivalent to sport. Having already purchased cheese, naan, figs, watermelon, a selection from the Whole Foods olive bar, and fresh cherry tomatoes (did I mention, we were only two?), I thought a nice dip or spread would help complete the smorgasbord.

I chose to use Japanese eggplant mostly because they have fewer seeds and tend to roast or cook more quickly. With two pounds of eggplant, I added a red bell pepper, red onion and a head of garlic. Within five minutes, everything was ready to roast on a single baking sheet.

Once everything was cool enough to handle, I transferred the chopped vegetables to the food processor along with the eggplant pulp, scraping it from the skins. It was a little messy, but I think roasting it in the skin adds flavor and prevents the eggplant from drying out. Lemon juice and tahini brightened it up, and our spread was done. At the picnic, we ate it with our naan and tomatoes. Since then, I’ve made sandwiches using it as a spread, or just served it with crackers for a snack.

Roasted Eggplant Spread

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds eggplant, halved
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 red onion, peeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 head garlic, split into cloves but unpeeled
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
Basil for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Brush 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil onto the cut sides of the eggplant. Place cut side down on large, rimmed baking sheet. In a large bowl, toss bell pepper, onion and garlic with kosher salt, black pepper, cayenne and remaining olive oil. Scatter around eggplant on baking sheet. Roast for 35 minutes or until eggplant is very soft and vegetables are beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let cool about 15 minutes.

3. Transfer bell pepper and onion to a food processor. Squeeze the garlic from its skin and add it, along with the eggplant, scraping the pulp from the skin with a spoon. Add tahini, lemon juice and sea salt, and pulse until combined. Garnish with basil.

Serve with pita, bread, crackers, or raw cut up vegetables, or use as a sandwich spread.

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