By Ryan McKay
Do you want to know the quickest way to clear a kitchen at the firehouse? Say the word “vegetarian.” As many of you may or may not know, the majority of fire service members are card-carrying carnivores and have a subconscious, near-violent reaction when even the whisper of a protein-free meal is suggested. But, as many civilians are hungrily seeking vegetarian, gluten-free meals, we in the fire service are starting to take notice.
With many a traditional side being prepared for Thanksgiving, I suggest a dish to parts less traveled for a culinary adventure on a plate. This one will strike many a conversation as well as break up the monopoly of roasted vegetables that litter the table (think carrots, Yukon and sweet potatoes, and pumpkins galore).
For myself, as I’ve expanded my culinary studies to cuisines less traveled, I find more and more that most cuisines have a reverence for the vegetable, and henceforth, have gone to great lengths to extract all of its flavors. This leads me to my latest offering and challenge, the enigmatic eggplant. That which many decry as tasteless and beyond all hope (unless breaded and fried), I foolishly have decided to bring a rendition to my firehouse table wrought with heavy spice, layered quinoa, and a complex sauce.
A few after-the-fire critiques: To ramp up the spiciness, toast whole spices, then grind them with a spice grinder. I can’t recommend this more highly. If you can’t find the pomegranate molasses (I found mine at an international food market for cheap as well as the preserved lemon), you can substitute balsamic vinegar (reduced), honey and/or agave, with a squeeze of lemon. Speaking of pomegranates, feel free to sprinkle a few on the finished plate for a great pop of both color and sweet bitterness.
This recipe was based on one from two of my culinary mentors, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
*Feeds 4 comfortably
Quinoa (1 Cup)
Chicken Stock (1½ Cups)
Almonds (½ Cup, toasted)
Golden Raisins (⅓ Cup)
Green Olives (⅓ Cup, Chopped)
Green Onions (3 sliced)
Preserved Lemon Peel (1-2 Tbs.)
Garlic (2 Cloves, Minced)
Greek Yogurt (½ Cup)
Cilantro (1 Bunch, Chopped)
Coriander Powder (2 tsp.)
Cumin Powder (2 tsp.)
Smoked Paprika (1 tsp.)
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (1 tsp.)
Olive Oil (1 Cup)
Lemon Juice (½ Lemon or 2 Tbs.)
Pomegranate Molasses (1-2 Tbs.)
Medium Pot (2, one with a cover)
Small Sauté Pan
- Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
- To make the Chermoula, place the garlic, preserved lemon, *coriander, *cumin, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, ½ of EVOO, and salt; then mix to combine and reserve.
- Slice the eggplants in half. Then, making sure not to pierce the skin, deeply score the eggplant in a crisscross pattern.
- Using a spoon and/or a brush, apply the Chermoula lavishly on the exposed flesh. Allow it to penetrate the crevices.
- Place on baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes or until completely cooked through.
- Boil a cup of water, then place over the raisins to cover. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Strain, keeping the water in reserve.
- Place 1-2 Tbs. olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add the quinoa and toast, stirring frequently for 3 minutes, being careful not to burn them.
- Add the chicken stock, a pinch of salt (or more), and then bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 15-18 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
- Remove from heat, place folded kitchen towel on top, replace lid, and let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Add the olives, raisins, almonds, half of the cilantro, lemon juice, and salt to taste and mix to combine.
- In a small bowl, add the yogurt, pomegranate molasses, and enough raisin water together until it almost reaches a heavy cream-like consistency.
- To assemble, slice the eggplants in half widthwise and cover them with enough quinoa so that it falls from one side to the other. Stream on the yogurt, and sprinkle with cilantro, a splash of EVOO, and some finishing salt. Indulge!
* Toast in small sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant. Place in spice grinder and grind coarsely.
Ryan McKay is a 12-year fire service veteran and a firehouse cook from Atlanta, Georgia. His goal is to bring the fast-paced lifestyle of the fire service with the slow-paced art of cultivating family and crew through the tool that is food. He has made an appearance on NBC’s primetime show “Food Fighters,” is a co-founder of the Metro Atlanta EMS Conference, and works intimately with the SafePath Child Advocacy Center.