Roasted Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

 Since I began teaching cooking classes almost two years ago, I have had several requests for vegetarian classes. Although there may be vegetarian recipes interspersed here or there in my classes, I haven't done a class strictly devoted to vegetarian cooking. I prefer thinking of myself as a "thoughtful flexitarian" or a "happy omnivore".

Last weekend I was coming down off the high of teaching the Celtic Feast class (definitely not for vegetarians!) and I spent an enjoyable afternoon reading through some cookbooks from the library. I found the book Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi totally inspiring. Before I knew, I had a new class planned (see the cooking class schedule) and I've been testing and trying recipes ever since.

You will see that the spice za'atar is called for in this recipe. I have to confess that I had polished off two halves of the eggplant before I realized that I hadn't sprinkled the za'atar over any of it. I did sprinkle some over the remaining two halves and had a couple of bites. It does add a little something, but it's by no means necessary. Za'atar is available at finer spice shops or Middle Eastern grocery stores. If you want to make your own, see the recipe below.

When I made this earlier today, I used two baby eggplants instead of the large ones. The eggplant turned out to be so delicious, I'm kicking myself now.

Roasted Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce
Serves 4.

2 large eggplants
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Finely chopped fresh chives
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
Finely chopped red onion
1 tsp za'atar (optional)*

1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
1 small garlic clove, minced
Pinch fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the stalk. Make several cuts on each side of the eggplant with a sharp knife, without cutting through the skin. Place the eggplants, cut side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each half with olive oil and continue brushing until all of the oil is used up. The oil will soak into the eggplant nicely. Sprinkle with the chives, salt, and pepper. Roast for 50-60 minutes, depending on how big the eggplants are. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
Whisk together all of the ingredients for the sauce. Taste for seasoning and chill until needed.
To serve, generously spoon the buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle with the finely chopped red onions and the za'atar, if using. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.
*Za’atar Spice: 1 part ground sumac berries, 2 parts dried thyme, 1 part sesame seeds. Mix all together and store in an airtight container.