On a hot mid-summers day, the palate demands a meal which delivers flavor without overwhelming ones senses with too much spice or heavy ingredients. A simple, vegetarian bake that can be served as an appetizer, entrée or accompaniment to a meat based dish came to mind. Based on easily available ingredients, this eggplant and feta bake sings of the cuisine of the ancient islands of Greece.
Feta cheese is indigenous to Greece. After several years of debate the EU has legislated that this brined, curd cheese has to be produced in accordance with the traditions of some areas in Greece and has to be made purely from sheep milk or a mixture of sheep and (up to 30% ) goats’ milk for it to be sold as “feta cheese” in the EU. Any other brined, similar cheese that originates from other areas in the Mediterranean must be termed as “white cheese”. Greek mythology elucidates stories of the Cyclops
Polyphemus as “the first cheese manufacturer” as he is said to have carried sheep milk in an animal skin bag which turned to solid in a few days. Additionally, Homers “Odyssey” contains references to this salty, acidic and creamy cheese.
This recipe can be prepared and refrigerated several hours prior to baking. However, the feta must be crumbled just before popping it into the oven otherwise the cheese will melt whilst in the fridge.
Eggplant and Feta Bake (feeds 4)
- 3 large Eggplants
- 4 Tomatoes (peeled, deseeded and chopped)
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 large onion
- Chopped green olives
- Mushrooms (Optional)
- Dried thyme
- 4 – 5 Basil leaves chopped
- Rock salt and pepper
- Creamy full fat Feta Cheese (can be replaced with low fat feta for weight watchers)
- Olive oil
1. Cut the eggplants into discs approximately 1 cm thick. Place flat on a tray and sprinkle salt and set aside for at least half an hour till water is released.
2. In a wok heat about 3 tblsp of olive oil and sauté the onions. Add the chopped garlic till light golden brown and fragrant then add the chopped tomatoes and cook on low heat till the tomatoes are soft and pulpy and a paste starts to form (squeeze gently with the back of your spoon for the juices to be let out). Add the mushrooms, olives, oregano, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 5 – 8 minutes. Add the chopped basil and set aside.
3. Pat the eggplants dry with a paper towel. In a frying pan add not more than 2 tblsp of olive oil and fry the eggplant discs on each side until they are slightly browned. Do not add more oil in the pan while frying. Add another tblsp or two of oil before frying each batch of eggplants. Alternately, you can grill the eggplants as a healthier option.
4. Drizzle some olive oil on to a baking dish and layer with the fried eggplants. Pour the tomato sauce over the eggplants and repeat these steps to your preference. (This layered dish can be refrigerated overnight as well)
5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
6. Top the dish with crumbled, creamy feta (be generous here). Sprinkle with a dash of olive oil and some dried thyme.
7. Bake for about 30 minutes till the crumbled feta is golden and the bake is slightly bubbling.
8. Serve warm with crostini or hot crispy bread!
Anicca A. Usmani is an educationalist, avid reader and budding novelist, who loves to cook on the side.