A few years ago, I went to visit a friend in New York for the weekend. She was doing a religious study program in Crown Heights, which is a very religious neighborhood in Brooklyn and also the headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. A family who was affiliated with the program, invited my friend and I, as well as a few of her classmates to their home for Shabbat dinner.
In the Jewish religion hosting people for Shabbat is considered a huge mitzvah, or a good deed. We are encouraged to open our homes and extend hospitality in the tradition of our ancestors.
So that cold and rainy Friday evening, we trekked our way north to the family’s home which was a few miles away from the Chabad-Lubavitch neighborhood and closer to the Jamaican/Caribbean Islander part of Crown Heights. We walked past closed kosher restaurants and markets and passed a stream of families and young bochurs making their way to 770 to pray. Past the stately townhomes that line the main drag of Crown Heights until they gave way to lively bodegas and bars.
After about thirty minutes of walking we ended up at a non-descript short squat building , our intrepid guide indicated this was it. I looked around – to my left was a restaurant blasting Jamaican reggae music, to my right an empty alley way. Needless to say it seemed like an unlikely residence for a frum Chabad family to reside.
We walked in and were immediately greeted by the host’s children, the strong scent of spices and roasted meat filled the air and a massive table was set for a feast. I was reminded of the story of Abraham and his pleasure in hosting strangers in his desert based home. Like this feast, many of Abraham’s guests were surprised to find such decadence in an unlikely place.
Surprisingly the family was Iranian (Persian descent), a rarity in the very Ashkenazi Chabad movement, so we were able to sample some traditional foods that evening. Of the many delicious dishes that I sampled that evening, one simple salad stood out to me.
This recipe is low carb and paleo but it is not low calorie since it’s fried. If you want to make it low calorie, I recommend roasting the eggplant instead of frying it, just keep in mind that the flavor and texture will not be the same if you bake or roast it.
Serves: 4 as an appetizer
Cooking time: 45 minutes
1 large globe eggplant – look for a long eggplant approximately 8-10 inches long. If you can’t find one this size use two smaller (5-6 inch) eggplants.
4 crushed and finely minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon lemon
3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup of oil
2 tablespoons of salt
- Wash eggplant and cut off the top. Peel a few strips from the eggplant lengthwise making sure to leave a strip of skin every inch or so. (If you really hate eggplant skin you can remove all of it – but it does keep the eggplant together while frying)
- Start slicing the eggplant into ½ inch thick rounds.
- Place eggplant slices on a rack with a tray or tea towel underneath. Liberally sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt, then flip and sprinkle the other side of the eggplant with salt. Let the eggplant sit for twenty minutes. Once you see brown water forming on eggplant, wash the eggplant pieces off well, making sure to remove the brown water and remaining salt .
- Pat the eggplant pieces dry with paper towels and then let dry for ten more minutes on paper towels.
- Once eggplant is dry, heat half of your oil in a large frying pan. Make sure you have about ½ inch of oil in your pan at all times. Eggplant is a sponge for oil, so as you’re adding eggplant pieces to the pan add additional oil little by little.
- Once the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices. Try not to crowd the pan. Cook eggplant slices for about 3 minutes on each side you’re looking for a golden brown color (not burnt) and for the eggplant to start softening.
- Remove eggplant slices using a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Let cool for 10 minutes.
- Fry your garlic for about 2 minutes on a medium heat, being careful to not let it burn – you just want to cook it for a bit. If you prefer the taste of raw garlic you can skip this step.
- Once the eggplant is cool add to a medium sized bowl, and add garlic, chopped parsley, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and pomegranate seeds. Mix well, making sure that all the eggplant pieces absorb the liquid. Taste and if necessary add salt – you may want to skip the salt because the initial salting of the eggplant tends to give it a salty flavor – it’s really a matter of taste preference to add more. You can also add pine nuts to this dish if you want an added crunch.
- Let the salad marinate and sit for 30 mins at room temperature and then serve.