Najmieh Batmanglij shops at my local farmers market and upon occasion demonstrates recipes from her wonderful cookbooks. Her exploration of the Silk Road inspired a rice salad that she based on a Georgian rice pilaf. I wondered how well quinoa would work as an alternative grain. What I discovered in the case of this eggplant salad, it is far better to dress the vegetables than the warm grains, at least for the sake of texture. Modifications to her original recipe include the addition of pomegranate molasses since it works so well with eggplant in many Eastern Mediterranean dishes. If you think of it the night before, set a few stalks of celery in a jar of lime-infused water in the fridge and chop up the crisp results to add to your salad. —Eliz.
dried tart or sour cherries
cayenne (to taste)
scallions, slivered, greens and all
toasted walnuts, chopped
parsley, chopped (I permit you to use curly leaves)
Salad greens of choice
freshly squeezed lime juice
Pedro Ximenez or Spanish sherry vinegar
Dissolve pomegranate molasses in half a cup of hot water before adding sour cherries. Leave them to plump and assume a tarter, intriguing flavor as they grow increasingly unattractive.
Dump spices, salt and garlic in bowl large enough to accommodate eggplant before dicing the latter into half-inch cubes and, let's face it, polygons, given rounded sides. I favor white eggplants from the farmers market, but thin Asian or Graffiti work well, too. The object is to use a variety with thin skins that becomes tender rather quickly. Once you've done with the knife, throw eggplant into bowl and coat with seasonings. Or hand a wooden spoon to a child and let him do it; it's fun.
Meanwhile, place the enameled Dutch oven you bought for No-Knead bread on the stove to heat a few minutes, then raise heat to medium high and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of pan. When you think the fat is hot enough, toss in a piece of eggplant just to make sure it sizzles. Okay? Then start adding the rest of eggplant bit by bit. Stir with your wooden spoon from time to time. The eggplant should turn golden and soft in 10 minutes or so.
Then, read this carefully: reserve soaking water from tart cherries as you drain them. Add a little more water if necessary to measure half a cup and add this to eggplant. Turn down heat to medium low and cover, letting eggplant stew until tender. Check in 5 minutes, then again in 10. Uncover and let any excess water evaporate before turning off burner and draining eggplant on paper towel.
As eggplant cools, prepare the quinoa. I recommend running it under cold water and straining the grains just like everyone else does. I also belong to the toasting school and think a minute of stirring the strained quinoa in a pot with a thick bottom until the tiny seeds that didn't remain stuck to your strainer, fingers and stove top become dry. No need to coat them with oil first, though, you could. Add 2 cups boiling water and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. When water is fully absorbed and you see your cute little spirals, remove lid briefly to place clean dishtowel in between top of the pot and the lid. Let this contraption sit a spell off the burner as steam rises to become one with fabric and as you move on to final things.
Mix dressing. Here's where I am going to leave matters up to you and ask you to just keep stirring vigorously as you emulsify and combine ingredients to your liking. Start with only a wee bit of pomegranate molasses as recommended and the same, trifling amount of Spanish vinegar. A strong, bitter olive oil is going to make this taste ghastly, but do not despair. Pinch of sugar and a glug of neutral oil (Bittman dislikes canola, but not me) evens out disparate elements and as you adjust, there will be a joyful "ah!" moment. Go with that. The point is to retain that original citrus accent and don't let the molasses play more than a very minor role.
Assemble salad by dressing a bed of greens first. Pour the remain dressing over the cooled eggplant and combine your nightshade family-member with fork-fluffed grains. Coarsely chop cherries and mix with the remaining ingredients before serving all on the bed of greens.