In many households Yom Ha’atzmaut marks the beginning of the grilling season. Throughout the country people are dusting off their grills, buying bags of charcoal and deciding whether to cook chicken, red meat or both for the festive menu.
Families familiar with the Turkish culinary heritage might be feasting this holiday on eggplant kebab. This celebrated Turkish specialty is much more than grilled skewered eggplant. You could describe it as a marriage of eggplant and meat.
I first tasted eggplant kebab at a restaurant in Gaziantep, a.k.a. Antep, a city in southeast Turkey known for its superb lamb and excellent kebabs. I watched the chef prepare eggplant kebab by alternating meatball-sized pieces of seasoned ground lamb with eggplant slices on skewers and carefully grilling them until the meat and eggplant were perfectly done. He served the kebab the traditional way, on the skewer, accompanied by fresh flatbread. The succulent meat flavored the eggplant, and the result was delicious.
Some cooks, like Binnur Tomay, author of Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook
, use beef instead of lamb. Tomay skewers thick eggplant slices and beef meatballs and broils them, at the same time broiling tomato halves, pale green peppers and garlic cloves in a tray. To serve the dish, she cuts the grilled meatballs, tomatoes and peppers in pieces, peels the eggplant and garlic and mixes all the elements together, then sprinkles the medley with olive oil, salt and crushed red pepper. She recommends wrapping the mixture in a thin flatbread or spooning it into a pita.
Not all cooks serve eggplant kebabs directly from the grill. In some kitchens, grilling the meat mixture and eggplant might be the first step in a more complex preparation. They are then simmered in a pan with tomatoes and peppers to create a stew with a slight grilled flavor.
Some eggplant kebabs are not what we think of as kebabs; in fact, they never see the grill at all. Neset Eren, author of The Art of Turkish Cooking
, makes eggplant kebabs from meat cubes sauteed with onions, then cooked with chopped tomatoes until tender. The eggplant is separately sauteed, then topped with the cooked meat, green pepper rings and tomato slices and simmered together.
Tugrul Savkay, author of Turkish Cuisine
, presents an elaborate version of eggplant kebabs. Here, too, the meat and vegetables don’t go anywhere near the grill. The lamb is sauteed with onions, and then simmered in an herb-flavored sauce. The eggplant is cut in long, thin slices, deep fried and used to wrap the meat cubes, and this “package” is topped with tomato halves and baked.
With a growing interest in vegetarian cooking, you’ll sometimes find eggplant kebab that is meatless. For example, in Kybele Turkish Restaurant in Marietta, Georgia, the eggplant kebab is made from skewered marinated eggplant with portobello mushrooms, green peppers and tomatoes.GRILLED CHICKEN AND EGGPLANT
WITH CORIANDER-CUMIN MARINADE
This marinade, flavored with ground coriander and cumin, goes well with chicken, meat and vegetables. If you’re preparing this dish at home rather than in the park, you might like to serve the eggplant and chicken with rice pilaf garnished with toasted almonds.
1.3 to 1.6 kg. chicken legs and thighs
2 medium eggplants, cut in slices 6 mm. thick
6 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
21⁄2 tsp. ground coriander
21⁄2 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1⁄4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. grated onion
Put chicken on plate and eggplant slices in a tray. Combine olive oil, coriander, cumin, cayenne and salt in a small bowl. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the marinade over the eggplant slices and rub them into the eggplant.
Add onion to remaining marinade and pour it evenly over both sides of chicken. Rub spice mixture into chicken. Let chicken and eggplant stand at room temperature while heating coals or refrigerate up to 2 hours.
Set chicken and eggplant on a rack about 13 to 15 cm. above glowing coals. Cover and grill eggplant for 7 or 8 minutes per side, and chicken about 15 to 18 minutes per side or until thickest part of meat near bone is no longer pink when cut. Serve immediately.
Makes 5 or 6 servings.GRILLED EGGPLANT AND MEAT IN SPICED TOMATO SAUCE
Choose tender beef steaks or, if you prefer, purchase beef or lamb for kebabs and thread the cubes on skewers before grilling them. Serve with fresh pita or cooked basmati rice.
2 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
an 800-gr. can tomatoes with their juice, chopped
8 large garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1⁄2 to 1 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste
1 cup water
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut in crosswise slices
about 1 cm. thick
550 to 800 gr. tender beef steak or lamb for kebab
1⁄4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional)
Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons oil in a shallow stew pan. Add onion and saute over medium heat for 7 minutes or until golden. Add tomatoes, garlic, salt, pepper and 1⁄2 teaspoon allspice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Add water, cover and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until thickened.
Meanwhile, prepare a grill or heat broiler with rack about 10 cm. from heat source; or heat a ridged stove-top grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush grill rack lightly with oil. Brush eggplant with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add enough slices to make 1 layer in grill without crowding. Grill or broil for 3 or 4 minutes on each side or until nearly tender.
Rub meat with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a little allspice on both sides. Grill or broil meat about 3 or 4 minutes per side or until nearly tender. Cut meat in cubes. Quarter eggplant slices.
Taste sauce for seasoning, and add pepper flakes and more allspice if you like. Add meat and eggplant pieces to stew pan and spoon sauce over them. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer, occasionally stirring gently, for 5 minutes or until meat is done to your taste and eggplant is tender when pierced with a fork. If sauce is too thin, remove meat and eggplant and simmer sauce uncovered until thickened, then return meat and eggplant to sauce. Serve sprinkled with parsley.
Makes 4 servings.CHICKEN WITH EGGPLANT AND TEHINA IN PITA
Hot-off-the-grill chicken and eggplant make a delicious sandwich in a pita. Serve it with s’hug or hot sauce if you like.
11⁄2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 small cucumber, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut in small dice
1 green onion, chopped
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
4 or 5 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, cut in crosswise slices about 1 cm. thick
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 fresh pitot
about 1⁄2 cup tehina
Prepare sauce. Mix lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes and onion.
Prepare a charcoal grill or heat broiler with rack about 10 cm. from
heat source; or heat a ridged stove-top grill pan over medium-high
heat. Rub chicken and eggplant with oil and sprinkle with salt and
pepper on both sides.
Set chicken and eggplant on an oiled rack above glowing coals, on
broiler rack or on grill, with skin facing down. Grill or broil chicken
until meat feels springy, about 5 minutes per side. To check whether
chicken is done, cut into thickest part with tip of a sharp knife;
color should be white, not pink. Eggplant will take about 7 or 8
minutes per side, or until it is tender when pierced with a fork.
Cut chicken in slices. Serve chicken, eggplant and salad mixture in pita with tehina.
Makes 4 servings.Faye Levy is the author of
Feast from the Mideast.