It’s the end of August and the markets are bursting with sun-ripened food. I have been cooking in Naramata, B.C., for the past three weeks and the Penticton Farmer’s Market is hands down one of the most amazing places I’ve ever shopped for ingredients at. For starters, a two block stretch is devoted entirely to organically farmed produce. Not even the incredible 2.5-kilometre long Saturday market in Arles, one of the most beautiful and abundant I have ever been to in France, can boast that. Also the farmers are incredible – passionate and dedicated, each specializing in something a little different and ready to share what they know and love about the food they grow. It is heaven.
One of the best things about shopping the market is how much it changes each week. The variety is inspiring and guaranteed to keep any good cook on their toes. Last week we came across the cutest little eggplants and just knew we had to buy the whole lot. Lucky we did, because this week there were none to be seen.
Cooking eggplants can be daunting, involving salting the vegetable to mitigate its natural bitterness. If you don’t want to deal with this step, ask your farmer about less-harsh varieties. You are sure to find some.
The most important part of preparing eggplants is ensuring they’ve been cooked enough. They should be as soft as the softest pillow and not the least bit spongy or cottony in texture. As eggplants are made up of about 90 per cent water, rotating often while cooking helps achieve a more evenly roasted result, rather than just ending up steaming them.
Labneh, a Middle Eastern-style strained yogurt, is a super easy way to take plain yogurt to a new level. Often mistaken for cheese, this thick and creamy delight works great as a base for both sweet and savoury toppings. Start with high-fat organic yogurt and allow to strain overnight in a cheesecloth. It is important to check back after the first hour or so to make sure the liquid draining is clear. If it is flecked with white, you may not have layered the cheesecloth enough and be unintentionally losing actual yogurt instead of just the whey.
Roasted Eggplant with Labneh and Garlicky Granola
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 1 litre plain organic yogurt, 3.5 per cent milk fat recommended
Line a non-reactive mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a deep stable bowl that will fit into your refrigerator. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth. Fold up the sides of the cheesecloth into a bundle and tie with an elastic band. Place in the fridge and allow to strain overnight (approximately 8 to 12 hours).
Remove the thick strained labneh from the cheesecloth and place in a sealed container in the fridge until ready to use. Can be made up to 5 days in advance.
The resulting whey can be saved and used as a base liquid for soup or bread or to cook vegetables in. Otherwise it can be discarded.
- 1 clove of garlic, microplaned
- ¼ cup grapeseed oil
- 2 tbsp millet
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 2 tbsp flax seeds
- 3 tbsp almonds, roughly chopped
- ½ cup rolled oats
- 1 tsp kosher salt
Bring the garlic and grapeseed oil to a simmer in a small pot. Immediately remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Preheat the oven to 375 C.
Toss the cooled garlic infused oil with the millet, seeds, almonds, oats and salt and spread out on a parchment-lined sheet tray. Bake for 5-10 minutes until golden brown, checking every 2 minutes or so to flip and toss the mixture for even browning. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to use. Best if made the day-of but can be made up to 2 days in advance.
- 20 small eggplants measuring 2 to 4-inches each, such as fairy tale eggplant
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
Pre-heat the barbecue on medium-high heat. Toss the eggplants with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Grill whole on the barbecue until tender and completely cooked, anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes depending on the size and type of eggplant, flipping often to ensure even cooking.
Putting it all together
- Garlicky granola
- Roasted eggplant
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh thyme
- Fresh cracked black pepper
Divide the labneh and grilled whole eggplants between 4 small bowls. Season with freshly cracked black pepper and a healthy dose of olive oil. Top with garlicky granola and sprinkle with fresh thyme. Serve immediately.