Eggplant is something people have strong opinions about. I happen to love its hearty texture and delicate flavor, but I prefer it when baked instead of fried, because eggplant likes to soak things up, and frying can cause it to soak up too much oil. For this Mediterranean-inspired eggplant chickpea bake, we are going to broil the eggplant instead of frying it. Then we layer it with yummy things like tomato sauce with oregano, tangy feta, and hearty chickpeas, and we bake it. While baking, the eggplant will soak up beautiful, sunny Mediterranean flavors from the sauce, rather than oil from frying. I call that winning at eggplant!
I’ve adapted this recipe from Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Harvest. She is one of my favorite recipe authors (you may know her from the New York Times Recipes for Health column) and I am often inspired by her creativity with vegetables. In fact, I am a total fangirl and I often consult her cookbooks and recipes when confronted with a vegetable conundrum (like what shall I do with this eggplant?). To the original recipe, I added the oregano, feta cheese, and pine nuts. If you want to make this vegan, just leave out the feta cheese.
- 1 lb. (1 large or 2 small) eggplants, peeled if desired, cut in half, then sliced about ½ " thick into half-circles
- 2 T. olive oil
- Good quality olive oil cooking spray (this is a good time to pull out your Misto filled with olive oil, if you have one)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2-4 garlic cloves (to taste), pressed or minced (I used 4, because I love garlic)
- 1 can (28 oz.) chopped tomatoes with their juice
- Pinch of sugar
- 3 T. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 8 oz. crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ c. pine nuts
- Fine sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- 3 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Broil the eggplant slices: Set a rack about 2 inches from the heat source and preheat your broiler. Lightly oil a baking sheet with olive oil, lay out your eggplant slices in a single layer (use two baking sheets if needed), and mist the top of each slice with olive oil spray. Lightly salt and pepper each side of the eggplant. Broil for 2-3 minutes each side, until lightly browned and softened all the way through. Watch closely so they don't burn. Once you're done with the broiling, set the eggplant aside and turn the oven down to 350 degrees F.
- Make your tomato-chickpea sauce: Open the can of tomatoes, add a pinch of sugar to it (this is to cut down on the acidity) and measure out your tomato paste so it is good to go (I just put everything in the tomato can and leave it on the counter until I'm ready to use it - you will need to add it at a moment's notice so your garlic doesn't burn). Heat 2 T. olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Lightly salt the onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and oregano, and cook while stirring about 1 more minute, until the garlic is fragrant (but not burned). Add the tomato mixture, season with salt to taste, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, about 20-25 minutes. The sauce will turn thick, jammy, and fragrant. Add a few twists of freshly ground pepper, taste, and adjust salt if needed. Stir in the chickpeas.
- Assemble the casserole: If you haven't already, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 2-quart baking dish (or you can use 4 mini cocottes + a 1-quart baking dish if you like - I set the mini cocottes on a baking sheet for easy transport). You're going to layer the ingredients, similar to making a lasagna, like this: ⅓ of the tomato sauce, ½ the eggplant, ⅓ the feta. Repeat. End with the remaining ⅓ tomato sauce, ⅓ feta, and scatter the pine nuts on top. Ta da!
- Bake the casserole: Bake for 20-30 minutes (for a 2-quart dish) or 15-20 minutes (for the mini cocottes and 1-quart dish) until bubbling. (You might want to leave the 1-quart dish in for about 5-7 more minutes than the mini-cocottes.) Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes. Sprinkle with parsley before serving. Enjoy!!