Paula Wolfert's Casserole of Lentils, Eggplant, and Mint

Click here to download a printable PDF file fo this recipe. SERVES 4 TO 6

Here’s a delicious summer recipe from the coastal town of Senkoyon on the Bay of Iskenderun near the Turkish Mediterranean coast. In every home in this town there’s a small iron wood-burning stove called a kuzine that’s kept lit all day long, even in summer. These stoves are perfect for clay pot cooking—just what’s needed for this outstanding summer lentil dish.

What makes this dish stellar is the special technique used to prepare the eggplant slices. They are not merely salted but immersed in heavily salted water, which removes any bitter juices but keeps them plump. Another distinguishing trick is the way the slices that line the bottom of the dish are notched along their sides. These indentations ensure that any liquid that seeps down from above will be absorbed fully. Slow, steady cooking keeps this bottom layer from burning—and, in fact, transforms it into a lovely skin.

I like to make this dish early in the day and allow it to rest. It’s served at room temperature accompanied by bowls of garlic-spiked yogurt.

Preferred Clay Pot:

A 10- inch Spanish cazuela

If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pot.

2 pounds long, slender eggplant

Coarse salt

3/4 cup dried green lentils (4 ounces)

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, halved, seeded, and grated

1 small onion, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

⅓ cup loosely packed coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves

1 mild green chile, preferably Anaheim or Italian frying pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 tablespoon Turkish sweet red pepper paste

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon Marash or Aleppo pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 1/2 tablespoons imported pomegranate molasses or California pomegranate concentrate plus1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. At intervals, peel 3 lengthwise strips of skin from each eggplant, leaving it striped; cut each eggplant lengthwise into 6 slices. In a large bowl, dissolve 1/4 cup coarse salt in 2 quarts water. Add the eggplant, push it down to submerge it, and soak for at least 30 minutes. Rinse and drain the eggplant and pat dry. With the point of a knife, make a series of small slits along the edges of half of the eggplant slices.

2. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a small conventional saucepan, add enough water to cover by at least 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the lentils are about half cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain the lentils and set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the grated tomatoes, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the mint, the green chile, red pepper paste, tomato paste, Marash pepper, 1 tablespoon coarse salt, and black pepper.

4. Brush the cazuela with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil Arrange the snipped eggplant slices over the bottom in a single layer. Top with half of the lentils and half of the tomato mixture; repeat with the remaining eggplant, lentils, and tomato. In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses and remaining olive oil; drizzle over the top.

5. Cover and bring to a boil; remove the cover and cook over low heat for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from the heat and let cool for at least 2 and up to 6 hours. Serve at room temperature, with the remaining shredded mint scattered on top.

With thanks to Musa Dağdeviren and Ayfer Ünsal for sharing this recipe.

Mediterranean Bean Pots

A bean pot is one cooking vessel that must be made of clay, whether it’s produced in Boston, Italy, Egypt, Mexico, Spain, or China. There’s just a special affinity between earthenware and beans. Shape matters too. In Spain, earthenware bean pots, called ollas, are tall and straight. The Greek yiouvetsis and Turkish comleks, with unglazed exteriors and glazed interiors, are also straight sided and short. Yankee bean pots, like the Italian coccio are squat and potbellied. The Italians also have a tall, straight-sided bean pot, called a pignata.

When I lived in Tangier, Morocco, Fatima Ben Lahsen Riffi, my housekeeper, showed me one day how to use a gedra, a potbellied clay bean pot from her native village. She cooked dried fava beans in it and then used a smaller clay bowl to crush them against the sides until they turned smooth, at which point she worked in garlic and olive oil to create a dip she served with anise-flavored bread. (See my Slow Mediterranean Cooking for a Marrakech version of this dish.)

An exotic and complex menu that calls for an unusual partner

Turkish and Moroccan flavors combine to form a tantalizing meal
While one might not think of Turkish and Moroccan cuisines as being natural partners, the bold seasoning of these two dishes allows them to work well together. The sweet edge each has forms a bridge that really lets one complement the flavors of the other, allowing for an unusual wine pairing to work perfectly with both.

2007 Chateau de Fesles Rose d’Anjou
This unusal rose is in the classic Loire style, which means that it has a little residual sugar in it. It's produced with Gamay and Grolleau (as opposed to the more common Cabernet Franc), a wonderful indiginous grape from the Loire that gives this winner of a wine wonderful depth, complexity, and a distinct savory edge.

Photo credits: Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking:  Ed Anderson