It is a widely touted fact that saffron is the world's most expensive spice, and that it is collected by hand—the stamens of a crocus flower, plucked and dried. Thankfully, it only takes a pinch of saffron to make a dish.
This salad is my knock-off of an appetizer I had at The Red Bicycle in Santorini, Greece, last summer. The eggplant is soft and tender, and just crispy-burnt around the edges. It is draped in a rich sauce of nothing but Greek yogurt and saffron, and the salad is topped with torn fresh basil and crunchy toasted pine nuts. It's not an exact replication—the rendition the owner taught me has brown sugar and pomegranate seeds thrown in the mix—but this is Red Bicycle redux, and it's pretty fabulous. It has what saffron always imparts: the color, the flavor, the smell of the exotic. There's nothing uncommon about the ingredients in this dish (even saffron stocks the shelves of every grocery store in the country) but saffron still has that magic spell, like a free ticket halfway around the world.
- Active time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- Total time:15 minutes
- 2 1 1/4-pound eggplants, cut in 1-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus extra
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 10 basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
In a large colander, toss the eggplant with the salt. Allow to drain over the sink for 30 minutes. Do not rinse. Preheat the broiler.
Toss the eggplant with the olive oil on a Silpat- or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Arrange the eggplant in a single layer, close together, on the baking sheet. Broil in the top third of the oven, but not directly under the broiler, stirring 3 times, until the eggplant is soft and just beginning to char, 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While the eggplant roasts, combine the saffron and hot water in a small bowl, and allow to steep. Once the eggplant is cool, blend together the saffron, its water, and the yogurt in a small food processor. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange the eggplant in a single layer on a wide platter. Top with the saffron yogurt sauce, then basil leaves, and finally pine nuts. Serve at room temperature.