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I first made this dish with friend in the Poconos, and since we were at a real live house and not a tiny New York City apartment, we had a grill and put it to good use cooking up the eggplant. We seasoned them with the basics —salt, pepper, oil, and a pinch of dried red chili flakes, then topped the finished product with a homemade tomato sauce. It was fantastic.
Back in New York City, without any access to a grill, I decided to recreate the splendor of that weekend by making an easy, home kitchen version suited for a quick weeknight meal. The best part of this recipe, in my opinion, is the kick of harissa, a spice-filled Tunisian sauce that's made with chiles, garlic, cumin, coriander, caraway, and oil, and can be found in most supermarkets these days; it adds a ton of flavor to the sauce and works wonderfully with the eggplant and tomato.
Shopping for and cooking the eggplant correctly are key components of success, but both are easy to do well, so don't worry. When buying eggplant, look for one that's firm and dense, without any soft spots, which indicate that it will be more bitter. Eggplants act like a sponge, so during the cooking process you want to make sure to cook them slowly, as they'll absorb a lot of oil and cook unevenly if the heat is too high.
If you have a microwave, you can place the eggplant on a single layer between paper towels between two plates, and cook for about eight minutes to soften them up before cooking them in the oil. Browning the eggplant gives it both color and flavor and helps to break it down before you add it back to the pan (much the same as grilling does). If you do notice any slices that have soaked up the oil and have a rubbery skin and stiff flesh, give them the boot, as they'll have a bitter taste.
Since tomatoes are still in high season, I made this recipe with fresh ones, but you can easily do it with canned whole tomatoes any other time of the year (see my thoughts on making tomato sauce from scratch here). I feel strongly toward using Bulgarian feta in the brine, as it's hands down the most lushly flavored and textured feta on the market. I love the topping of crumbled feta, as it adds a creamy component that pairs well with the meaty eggplant.
This is definitely a light and healthy dinner, so if you're looking for a starch to round out the meal, I'd recommend serving it over couscous or with a crusty loaf of bread on the side to soak up the delicious sauce.
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