By using reconstituted dried chickpeas in this dish they remain nicely toothsome — tender but not mushy. Combining them with roasted eggplant, onion, bell pepper and tomatoes makes for a hearty and healthy recipe (vegetarian and vegan!) in which flavors blend extremely well. It makes a great side dish served with lamb or roasted chicken but can also be a main course when served with rice or crusty bread. By starting it on the stove top and finishing it in the oven — and using a sauté pan with deep, straight sides — a lot of the moisture that the veggies release as they cook is retained. Great marriage of both textures and flavors, and leftovers taste even better the next day. —The Stout Sprout
8 as a side dish, or 4 as a main dish
dried chickpeas, picked over for stones and other debris and well-rinsed (or use two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained...but forgo the soaking and boiling in the recipe)
medium eggplants, cut into 2-inch cubes
medium onion, cut into 2-inch chunks
yellow bell pepper, cut into 2-inch chunks
whole grape or cherry tomatoes
garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
Additional Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to season
A drizzle of pomegranate molasses for serving (optional but recommended)
Chopped fresh parsley for serving
Serve with cooked Basmati rice or crusty bread (optional)
Begin by placing the chickpeas and baking soda in a medium sauce pan and covering with water by two inches. Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes before turning off the heat and covering the pan. Allow the chickpeas to soak for at least an hour. The chickpeas will double in size as they soak. Add more warm tap water as needed to keep the chickpeas submerged while they soak. After an hour has passed, drain, rinse well, and return the chickpeas to a clean sauce pan, covering with fresh water by three to four inches. Add the bay leaves and simmer over medium heat for approximately one more hour or until tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Place the eggplant chunks in a colander set over the kitchen sink or a clean bowl. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt over the eggplant, using your hands to distribute it evenly and massage it in to the eggplant. Allow the eggplant chunks to drain for 30 minutes, pushing on the eggplant lightly to extract any additional liquid as it drains.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place the oven rack in the middle lower position.
In a large, oven-proof frying pan (preferably with steep, straight sides), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the onion chunks and bell pepper chunks and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and sauté for another 1 – 2 minutes while stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and eggplant and continue to sauté for another 10 minutes, stirring the mixture every couple of minutes to distribute the vegetables evenly around the pan.
Transfer the pan with the vegetables to the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring the mixture approximately every 15 minutes. By the time 45 minutes has passed the eggplant should have cooked down a good deal, making room in the pan for the chickpeas. Add the drained chickpeas with the bay leaves, stir well, and return the pan to the oven for another 20 – 25 minutes, until the flavors are nicely incorporated. The dish should be moist but not watery. You want a ratatouille-like consistency…a ragu.
When finished, remove the bay leaves, season to taste with Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper and serve the roasted vegetables with drizzle of pomegranate molasses and a little chopped fresh parsley over cooked Basmati rice, or with a hunk of French or sourdough bread.