Look on the Internet for eggplant recipes. Go ahead, we’ll wait. Did you notice anything? Yep, there are hundreds out there, but they’re all basically the same: eggplants cooked with tomato and garlic with some shape of pasta tossed in (the pasta might be optional). Hmm. We think we can do better than that by scratching up something new involving eggplant.
After looking for a new and different recipe for eggplant, we got the idea of combining eggplant with preserved lemon and we did a search for those two items in a recipe. Well, as you’d expect, there were a bunch. We looked at one or two; some looked difficult, some easy, but we were mainly looking for spices and other ingredients that we had in the house. We came across a recipe that used pine nuts, which we had, check, and another that used cumin, check. So, with those two additions, we were off and running. Oh, and the idea of making a pie came about because we had some pâte brisée left over from making a small tarte tatin.
Ah, those preserved lemons. They’re easy to make, but you have to have them on hand already, as they take several weeks to be ready. If you don’t have any, use the zest and juice from a lemon, realizing the flavor won’t be the same. Pine nuts sure are expensive, aren’t they? We wish we had a way of getting a good deal, but we just bite the bullet and get bags at Trader Joe’s.
Procedure in detail:
Salt and drain eggplant. Often the peel of an eggplant is tough, so let’s peel the eggplant and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Place all the cubes in a colander, sprinkle with about 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt and toss. The salt will do two things: remove some of the bitterness that eggplant sometimes have, especially older eggplant; plus, it’ll draw out some of the water. Now, don’t worry about the amount of salt. Let the eggplant drain 30 to 45 minutes, then rinse well and drain. See, most the salt is now gone.
Cook aromatics. Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the cumin seeds and the clove; they should sizzle. Stir and cook until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes, then add the onions and garlic. If you wish, sprinkle with just a bit of salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften, but not so long that they start to brown, about 5 minutes.
Add eggplant and mushrooms. Add the eggplant and give everything a stir. The eggplant will stick a bit as it cooks; just try to scrape it up from the bottom of the pan. When the eggplant just begins to cook, about 5 minutes, add the mushrooms and cook for another minute or so.
Add preserved lemon. Stir in the preserved lemon and about 1/4 cup of water. Scrape up any eggplant that has stuck to the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the eggplant is completely tender. Remove from heat and let cool. You want the filling to be about room temperature when you fill the pie crust.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Set a rack in about the center of the oven.
Roll crust. Either roll out the crust between two pieces of parchment, or lightly flour a work surface and roll out the crust to form about a 9-inch circle. Place the crust in the pie pan and trim the edges. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork.
Fill crust. Scoop the eggplant filling into the crust and sprinkle with pine nuts. No need to toast the pine nuts beforehand, as they’ll toast in the oven while the pie bakes.
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake until the crust and pine nuts are golden and the filling is heated through and perhaps bubbling in a few spots.
Stand. Let the pie stand for about 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Not your usual eggplant recipe, is it? The preserved lemons add a nice lemony flavor to the pie, which doesn’t seem like a flavor that you’d want in a savory pie. But, think about it a minute; isn’t lemon-caper sauce really good? Of course, lemon does work well for savory items like this pie. By using preserved lemons, you add some of those interesting flavors that develop while the lemons ferment, making for a better-tasting dish. But, it does seem as if the pine nuts ended up a bit overwhelmed by the lemon, making them somewhat superfluous, except for the texture they added. We think four stars.