I met Hemy when I lived in Israel 45 years ago, and she and I became lifelong friends. She taught me to cook some of the dishes that her mother taught her. Like most cooks in that part of the world, she could make eggplant dozens of different ways. Recently, an old, dear friend who lived with me for a time in Israel requested that I make Hemy's eggplant, which I had not made in some 30 years. I called Hemy up, and she reminded me how to make her dish. I consider this a five-ingredient dish, and it is so easy. You will use lots of olive oil, so have the bottle right by the stove top as you fry the eggplant. The recipe features crushed red pepper as the main seasoning, and you can adjust the amount of red pepper you use. Hemy taught me to make the eggplant "harif" or spicy. NB: I have come to prefer baking the eggplant slices in the oven, so have included these instructions as an alternative to frying on the stovetop. During your outdoor grilling season, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill direct until the eggplant reaches desired softness. —Bevi
Test Kitchen Notes
This dish has a wonderful flavor and is super easy. I found that the eggplant absorbed a lot of the oil, so the first pieces were much moister than later pieces, but the flavor was awesome, and the sauce came out great. I think a good alternative to frying would be to coat the eggplant slices with olive oil and grill them, and then layer them in the sauce. —Asa Martin
6 to 8
Olive oil, as needed
medium eggplants, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch thick rounds
large clove garlic, minced
small onion, chopped
heaping teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes
Heat a 10- to 12-inch flame-proof casserole dish over medium-high heat. Add enough olive to cover the bottom of the dish in about 1/4-inch. Add enough eggplant slices to cover the bottom of casserole, with a little room between the slices. Fry until golden to tawny brown on one side, flip, and fry slices on other side. Transfer to paper towels and blot well.
Continue to fry the eggplant, adding more olive oil as needed to prevent the bottom of the casserole from scorching. When all eggplant is fried, blot the slices and set aside.
OR: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the eggplant slices on a large sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush olive oil on each slice; flip the slices, and brush the second sides of the slices. Place in oven. After 15 minutes rotate the pan. When the slices are golden brown, flip to the second side. Roasting may take 20 minutes or more. Proceed with the recipe as follows:
In the same casserole, add a bit of oil to gently sauté the garlic and onion over medium heat. When the onion is translucent, add the crushed red pepper flakes. Stir and sauté until you can smell the red pepper.
Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato paste, and stir in until the paste is incorporated into the onions, garlic, and red pepper, about a minute.
Add the chopped tomatoes, and stir well. Add the sugar, and allow the sauce to reduce by about a quarter. Add the salt and pepper to taste. NB: I prefer to use skinless tomatoes. Simply boil water in a 2 or 3 quart saucepan, make an "X" on the bottom of each tomato with a knife, and allow tomato to sit in boiling water for less than a minute. Peel off the skin, allow to cool, and proceed to chop.
Add some of the eggplant slices in one circular layer, and then gently push the eggplant layer into the sauce with either a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon. Then, create another layer of eggplant on top of the first. Again, push the eggplant layer into the sauce until almost submerged. Continue this process until all the eggplant is placed into the sauce.
Cook over very low heat for about 25 minutes, being careful to retain the layered look of the eggplant, and occasionally slide a metal spatula underneath the bottom layer of eggplant to avoid scorching.
Turn off the heat and set the casserole aside. Allow to cool to almost room temperature. Serve with lots of good crusty bread.