Israel Series: Harissa Roasted Eggplant with Aromatic Tomato Quinoa

Eating my way across Israel, there was a spicy eggplant dish that kept reappearing. Hotel buffets, small roadside restaurants, elegant cafes in Tel Aviv; it was everywhere! The dish was usually served room temperature and sat nonchalantly amidst bowls of other vegetable salads as is so often the case on an Israeli table. The eggplant was always cooked until lusciously soft and the chili sauce coated every single piece, oozing with oil. It was fiery, to say the least, but so deliciously addicting that I could never stop at just one helping.

This harissa roasted eggplant recipe is my tribute to that spicy, oily and all too delicious eggplant dish that I ate every day in Israel. Originating in north Africa, harissa is a mixture of several different kinds of spicy peppers. Today it is widely used in north Africa and many countries in the Middle East, including Israel!

For this recipe, I’ve added several things and changed it a bit from its inspiration, as I often do. The result is quite different from the eggplant I ate in Israel, but is no less delicious!

Layered with a complex mix of different spices and flavors, and a variety of textures from the silky eggplant, the crunch of pine nuts, and the chopped parsley, this dish is so addicting I often can’t stop myself from eating half the tray straight out of the oven!

I’ve added an aromatic quinoa pilaf as a base for the eggplant to make it a full meal. Although these two dishes can be eaten separately, they are amazing together! The quinoa is salty from the capers and a lovely orange color from the spices and tomato. I use a classic Israeli spice mix to season the quinoa called baharat. It is a mix of many different spices including cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper and is a common ingredient in many Israeli foods.

As a topping for this meal I opted for the quintessential Israeli sauce, thina, otherwise known as a simple tahini sauce using just four ingredients: tahini paste, lemon, salt and water. More than any other food, this reminds me of Israel like nothing else. It’s used to top just about any savory morsel you could imagine, from falafel to salads, to yaprah (stuffed grape leaves), to shawarma and so much more. For this recipe it takes some of the fire out of the eggplant and adds a welcome creamy component to the dish. It also rounds out the flavors of the eggplant and quinoa, making everything come together in each swoon-worthy bite.

With the grains, veggies and nuts in this dish, it is quite filling on its own and doesn’t need much else to make it a full meal. I like to pair it with a crisp green leaf salad tossed in a bright, tangy dressing to keep it light.

Eggplant ingredients:

  • 1.5 large eggplants
  • 2 Tbsp harissa paste
  • 2 Tbsp sundried tomato paste
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 generous Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Large handful freshly chopped parsley (about 1/3 cup when chopped)

Quinoa ingredients:

  • Glug of olive oil
  • 1 tsp baharat spice mix
  • 1.5 cups quinoa
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 10-12 cherry tomatoes quartered
  • 1/3 cup capers
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Tahini sauce ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup raw tahini paste (make sure it is not roasted!)
  • 1/3 cup filtered water
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • Pinch of sea salt

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Begin by making the eggplant dish. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the eggplant right down the middle width-wise. Then stand one side on the flat cut end and slice it vertically into inch-wide strips. Keeping one hand on the eggplant so the strips stay together, slice strips going the opposite direction so you have thick french fry shapes. Finally lay the strips on their sides and slice these into cubes. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant.

Place the eggplant cubes in a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except the pine nuts and parsley. Mix this together thoroughly for several minutes, making sure all sides of every eggplant cube are coated with the paste and oil.

Tip the mixture out onto a baking sheet and spread the cubes out evenly. They will probably touch each other, which is fine, but make sure they are not overlapping.

Roast these in the hot oven for 20 minutes. At that point take them out, drizzle another bit of olive oil on and give them a good shuffle before placing them back in the oven. Roast them for another 20 minutes.

When the eggplant is done it will be soft and velvety and will be almost shiny. Take the tray out of the oven and allow it to cool for a moment as you prepare the toppings.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet, turning constantly so they don’t burn. Pine nuts are one of the most delicate nuts, so stay attentive and remain at the stove!

Roughly chop the parsley and add it along with the toasted pine nuts to the eggplant. Mix the garnishes to incorporate them in with the eggplant; then transfer everything to a serving bowl.

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In the meantime make your quinoa.

Add a glug of olive oil to a medium sized pot over a medium heat. Allow the oil to heat for a few minutes before adding the baharat. Stir the spices into the oil and let them toast for a few minutes to increase the aromatic qualities.

Rinse your quinoa and add it to the oil and baharat mixture. Stir everything together to coat the quinoa with the spices.

Once the liquid from the quinoa has evaporated, pour in the water and bring to a boil. Then turn the flame down to simmer and cook covered for 10 minutes.

While the quinoa cooks, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Wash and quarter your tomatoes and chop the cilantro.

After ten minutes of cooking, add in the tomatoes, capers, spices and salt. Cover again and cook for another five minutes.

Once the water has evaporated, turn off the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro. Do a taste test and add more salt as necessary.

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Finally make your tahini sauce. Simply add everything to a small bowl and whisk thoroughly. You can also do this in a blender if your tahini is hard. The amount of water will seem like overkill initially, but as you mix the tahini will eat up the liquid and you will be left with the incredibly creamy sesame goodness that seems to unabashedly appear in every Israeli meal.

Plate this delicious meal by first placing a few spoonfuls of the quinoa mixture in a shallow bowl and then topping it with a generous portion of the spicy roasted eggplant. Last but certainly not least, drizzle the tahini sauce over everything; be generous!

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