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Casserole of Lentils, Eggplant, and Mint

Updated February 23, 2016
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Here’s a delicious summer recipe from the coastal town of Senkoyon on the Bay of Iskenderun near the Turkish Mediterranean coast. In every home in this town there’s a small iron wood-burning stove called a kuzine that’s kept lit all day long, even in summer. These stoves are perfect for clay pot cooking--just what’s needed for this outstanding summer lentil dish.

What makes this dish stellar is the special technique used to prepare the eggplant slices. They are not merely salted but immersed in heavily salted water, which removes any bitter juices but keeps them plump. Another distinguishing trick is the way the slices that line the bottom of the dish are notched along their sides. These indentations ensure that any liquid that seeps down from above will be absorbed fully. Slow, steady cooking keeps this bottom layer from burning--and, in fact, transforms it into a lovely skin.

I like to make this dish early in the day and allow it to rest. It’s served at room temperature accompanied by bowls of garlic-spiked yogurt.

With thanks to Musa Dagdeviren and Ayfer Ünsal for sharing this recipe.

Cooking Methodbraising

CostModerate

Moderate

Total Timehalf-day

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationmain course

Mealdinner, lunch

Taste and Textureherby, savory, umami

Type of Dishcasserole

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds long, slender eggplant
  • Coarse salt
  • ¾ cup dried green lentils (4 ounces)
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded, and grated
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 mild green chile, preferably Anaheim or Italian frying pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Turkish sweet red pepper paste
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste, preferably homemade
  • ¼ teaspoon Marash or Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3½ tablespoons imported pomegranate molasses or California pomegranate concentrate plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • A 10-inch Spanish cazuela

Instructions

At intervals, peel 3 lengthwise strips of skin from each eggplant, leaving it striped; cut each eggplant lengthwise into 6 slices. In a large bowl, dissolve ¼ cup coarse salt in 2 quarts water. Add the eggplant, push it down to submerge it, and soak for at least 30 minutes. Rinse and drain the eggplant and pat dry. With the point of a knife, make a series of small slits along the edges of half of the eggplant slices.

Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small conventional saucepan, add enough water to cover by at least 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the lentils are about half cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the grated tomatoes, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the mint, the green chile, red pepper paste, tomato paste, Marash pepper, 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, and black pepper.

Brush the cazuela with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Arrange the snipped eggplant slices over the bottom in a single layer. Top with half of the lentils and half of the tomato mixture; repeat with the remaining eggplant, lentils, and tomato. In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses and remaining olive oil; drizzle over the top.

Cover and bring to a boil; remove the over and cook over low heat for 1 ½ hours. Remove from the heat and let cool for at least 2 and up to 6 hours. Serve at room temperature, with the remaining shredded mint scattered on top.

If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pot.

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I wonder whether this could be made in a crockpot, which I have bought at a garage sale but never used! Thanks for your help. theamontandon@live.com

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