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Pomegranate Glazed Baked Eggplant

Growing up, my older brother would regularly order "limonada con granada": typically this would come back as limeade mixed with granadina (pomegranate syrup), yet occasionally, when lucky, the syrup would be replaced by fresh pomegranate seeds. I was always fascinated by the gummy crunchy seeds in lrage part because they tinted the drink bright pink.

Originally Persian, they are ubiquitous in Mexico: one of the most iconic dishes, Chiles en Nogada, is finished with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. They are pretty and delicious, tart with a hint of sweet.

Pomegranates are super foods, and have been so for a long time. They appear in everything from religious and ancient texts (the Bible, Quran, Greek mythology), and are cultural symbols of fertility, prosperity and eternal life in Judaism and Hinduism. The tiny seeds are health and antioxidant powerhouses, linked to plaque reduction in blood vessels, heart health, and lowering bad cholesterol and blood pressure.

Contrary to popular opinion, the seeds are very easy to fish out from the fruit, and relatively mess-free. All it takes is a large wooden spoon, and some muscle (see note after recipe).

Eggplants are sponges: they absorb everything (so think twice about frying them). Here they are baked for slowly in a pomegranate vinegar marinade, which makes for a sweet, soft eggplant, with bright notes from the ginger, lemon zest and red pepper. This recipe was inspired by "Supernatural Everyday", one of my favorite cookbooks, with various changes to the ingredients and process.

If you don't have pomegranate vinegar, sub pomegranate molasses (as in the original recipe), or a good quality, fruity balsamic vinegar. Tahini is a superb topping, and it would also pair wonderfully with savory cashew cream (dairy-free), or a dollop of greek yogurt stirred with olive oil, za'atar (middle eastern spices), smoked paprika or cumin.

Ingredients: 1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise into even slabs 2 small garlic cloves, smashed 1/4 inch ginger coin, peeled zest from 1 lemon 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 1/3 cup pomegranate vinegar 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil seeds from 1 pomegranate fruit (see note), ~1.5 cups tahini for drizzling handful of cilantro leaves kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C, with a rack in the middle of the oven.

Sprinkle eggplant slabs generously on both sides with salt. Leave on a strainer over sink, for at least 30 minutes. This removes some of the bitterness from eggplant, seasons it from the inside, and will help it retain it shape while cooking. You should see droplets of liquid come to surface. Set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. Chop and smash the garlic into a paste, using the flat side and blade of your knife. Combine garlic paste, red pepper flakes, lemon zest in a bowl. Finely grate ginger into mix. Add the pomegranate vinegar and stir to combine ingredients. Slowly whisk in olive oil.

Put salted eggplant slabs in a bowl toss with marinade. Arrange eggplant in a single layer on a baking sheet, and pour in any marinade from the bowl on top.

Bake for 45-65 minutes, flipping eggplant over at the 35 minute mark. Eggplant should be soft and starting to caramelize.

Arrange in plates, drizzle with olive oil, tahini and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Serves 2-4 as side

Note: To remove pomegranate seeds from fruit, cut fruit in half crosswise. Hold half over a large bowl, cut side down, and smack the fruit with the back of a large wooden spoon. Use some muscle (and mind your hands!): a few good whacks should release all seeds. Repeat with remaining pomegranate half. Discard any bitter, spongy white membranes.

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