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Eggplant with Sweet-Sour Onions & Pickled Cherries (Visneli Patlican Bayildi)
“This layered dish features super-tender roasted eggplant and sweet sautéed onions spiked with tart and fruity pomegranate molasses. Serve with pita as part of a mezze course or as a side with a larger meal.”
2½ pounds eggplant, trimmed
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups grapeseed or canola oil
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1½ pounds red onions, sliced
¼ cup pomegranate molasses (see Tips)
¼ cup water, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup pitted fresh or dried sour cherries (see Tips) or dried cranberries
¼ cup tart cherry juice
¼ cup white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1Peel eggplant to leave alternating purple stripes. Halve lengthwise and slice into ¾-inch pieces. Sprinkle both sides with allspice.
2Line a baking sheet with three layers of paper towels. Heat oil in a medium cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add one-third of the eggplant in a single layer and cook, turning once, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant in 2 more batches. Sprinkle the eggplant with ¼ teaspoon salt. Let the oil cool; save for another use or discard. Wipe out the skillet.
3Combine onions, pomegranate molasses, water, tomato paste, ¾ teaspoon ginger, sugar and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and the juices are thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. Add more water, 2 tablespoons at a time, if necessary to prevent burning toward the end.
4Spread half the onions in the skillet. Top with half the eggplant, pressing to evenly pack it down. Repeat with the remaining onions and eggplant. Place a plate directly on top to weight the layers down. Bring to a simmer over high heat then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until the liquid thickens and begins to reduce, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully remove the plate. Let cool completely, about 2 hours.
5Meanwhile, combine cherries (or cranberries), cherry juice, vinegar and the remaining ¾ teaspoon ginger in the saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for 1 minute. Pour into a bowl.
6Carefully invert the skillet onto a serving dish. Serve the eggplant topped with the fruit mixture, mint and cilantro.
To make ahead: Refrigerate pickled cherries (Step 5) for up to 2 days.
Tips: Pomegranate Molasses: Made from reduced tart pomegranate juice, this dark red syrup adds sweetness and acidity. Use it up: Glaze roast meat; stir into tea; drizzle over roasted vegetables; make muhammara.
Dried Sour Cherries: Also known as dried tart cherries, they have a lip-puckering flavor. Use it up: Stir into granola or oatmeal.