This za’atar-coated eggplant is earthy, spicy, and delicious. What is za’atar, you ask? Za’atar is the Arabic word for thyme and also for a Middle Eastern spice mix.
The main ingredient of the spice mix is – you guessed it – fresh thyme. I’m told that when za’atar is mixed with olive oil and eaten with warm pitta bread, it sharpens the mind. You can find za’atar spice at Middle Eastern food stores, or you can make your own. I like to make my own.
I also like the technique of scoring the eggplant. By scoring the eggplant, the inside will be soft, but where the scores meet, the top will be crisp. It creates a nice contrast of soft and crispy textures that, when rubbed with the za’atar spice mix, are guaranteed to make you smile.
1 large globe eggplant
¼ teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons za’atar spice (*see recipe below if you want it fresh)
1 clove garlic (minced)
2 tablespoons parsley (chopped)
1½ cups cooked rice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Slice the eggplant in half, then score deeply with diagonal crosshatching at one-inch intervals. Be careful not to cut through the skin. Season each cut side with ⅛ teaspoon salt sprinkling it inside the scored areas if possible.
Mix olive oil, za’atar spice, and garlic together. Rub one tablespoon of the za’atar paste into the top of each crosshatched eggplant slice and place the slices on the prepared baking sheet cut side up.
Place sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for one hour, rotating the sheet after 30 minutes. After an hour, pierce with a fork. If they are very tender and juicy, they are done. If not, bake for another ten minutes and check again.
Remove the eggplant from the oven. Garnish the eggplant with parsley and plate with ¾-cup of cooked rice on the side. Oh…and don’t forget to bring warm pita bread to the table!
*Za’atar Spice Mix
4 tablespoon fresh thyme (leaves stripped from stems)
1 tablespoon ground sumac
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Place the thyme leaves on a baking sheet and bake for about ten minutes or until just dry. Use a mortar and pestle to grind the thyme leaves. Remove thyme from the mortar to a small prep dish and set aside.
Place the sumac and salt in the mortar and grind until fine. Add the thyme leaves back in and grind the sumac, salt, and thyme together. Add the sesame seeds and stir to combine. Store in an airtight at room temperature until ready to use. This recipe makes about six tablespoons.