EGGPLANTS WITH CREAMY WALNUT SPREAD AND POMEGRANATE SEEDS

Serves 4-6 as a meze or side dish

This stunning meze combines two of Paula’s great loves: eggplants and stuffed vegetables. It’s no wonder it ignited her love of Georgian cooking when she tasted it on a junket to the USSR in 1988. She admired the technique of steam-sautéing the eggplants, which “eliminates greasiness without sacrificing taste,” as she wrote. She also enjoyed the contrast of flavors and textures in the silky eggplant, creamy pureed walnuts, lively herbs, and crunchy pomegranate seeds. Dried marigold petals are a Georgian staple but turmeric is a worthy stand-in.

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 baby eggplants or 6 slender Asian eggplants with stems (about 2 pounds | 900 g total), halved lengthwise
  • 1-3/4 teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • 2 cups (200 g) walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika (pimentón de la Vera picante), or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground marigold petals or ground turmeric
  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) ice water
  • 1/3 cup (15 g) chopped celery leaves
  • 1/3 cup (15 g) chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup (10 g) shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup (25 g) minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons mild vinegar, such as cider or rice
  • 1/4 cup (45 g) fresh or thawed frozen pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
  • Svaneti salt, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Line a sheet pan with paper towels. Sprinkle the cut sides of the eggplants with 1 teaspoon of the salt and arrange them, cut side down, on the prepared sheet pan. Weight the eggplants down with plates and let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse the eggplants under cool running water, then squeeze gently with paper towels to draw out excess moisture.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the walnuts, garlic, paprika, marigold petals, and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and process until an oily paste forms, about 2 minutes. Add the ice water and process until the paste is light and smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl, add the celery, cilantro, basil, onion, and vinegar, and stir to mix. Fold in the pomegranate seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and vinegar if needed. Cover and set aside.

Line a sheet pan with paper towels. In a large nonstick frying pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the eggplant halves, cut side down, cover, and cook until the cut sides are golden brown and the eggplant flesh is very tender when pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the eggplant halves to the prepared sheet pan and let drain and cool to warm or room temperature. As needed, add 1 1/2 teaspoons more oil to the pan before frying the second batch.

Using your fingers or a fork, split open the cut side of each eggplant half along the center, creating a cavity. Mound an equal amount of the walnut filling in each cavity. Garnish the eggplants with more pomegranate seeds and with the parsley leaves and Svaneti salt, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.