Hearty Moroccan chickpea stew with charred eggplant and roasted tomatoes.
My love affair with Middle Eastern food began over twenty years ago when I lived in Boston’s South End. The gentrification wave, spreading out from the Back Bay, hadn’t made it to my street yet. When I bought my unit, my realtor had congratulated me on buying a flat in the first building renovated in the area. “Getting in early before the boom is a great investment”, he promised. But there were metal bars on my windows, and they weren’t for decoration.
One of my closest friend’s at the time was Lebanese and wanted to introduce me to the bevy of Lebanese restaurants at the end of my block. So one summer afternoon, we walked down my seedy (but soon to become hip) street into the first one. It was very narrow, with a handful of Formica tables and plastic chairs with metal legs scattered across a worn wooden floor, and a long way from the safe, predictably menus of Faneuil Hall. I started having second thoughts. An elderly woman with her hair pulled back into a tight bun, who may also have been the owner, and maybe the cook greeted us in broken English. She handed me a menu filled with a cacophony of foods I’d never heard of. Melissa ordered for both of us.
“What exactly did you order?” I kept asking afterwards.
“You’ll love it. I know you will.” she reassured.
My anxiety rose. She was going to a lot of trouble. What if I hated it? I tried to concentrate on our conversation, probably something about work since that filled both of our lives at the time, but kept weighing escape tactics I could employ. Could I suddenly be taken ill? Where’s appendicitis or the flu when you really need it?
A variety of mezze (small dishes) soon arrived, and after the first tentative nibble on a minuscule piece of tabbouleh, I was in love. After that, that little neighborhood place became my favorite restaurant. I realized I really did like eggplant. I tasted hummus for the first time and was happy to make that my meal with some warm pita bread.
My love for Middle Eastern food grew over the years, and spread up to Turkey and down to Morocco. Someday I’ll visit all those countries, but for now, I’m happy to visit them through their food.
Moroccan Chickpea Stew with Charred Eggplant and Tomatoes
- 6 small globe eggplants each measuring about 8” long by 4” wide at the base
- 4 medium red bell peppers
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups yellow onions chopped
- 6 minced garlic cloves
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 Tbsp ras el hanout
- 1 Tbsp harissa or make your own!
- ¼ cup red wine
- 4 cups water or vegetable broth
- 6 medium tomatoes or 3 large tomatoes chopped
- 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 2 ½ tsp lemon juice
- 3 Tbsp mint
- 3 ½ cups cooked chickpeas
- Balsamic vinegar optional
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Puncture five of the eggplant in a few places with a knife and lay on the baking sheet. Broil for 1 hour or until completely blackened. They should feel hollow when their skin is pressed.
- When the eggplants are cool enough to handle, slice off their tops and bottoms, and cut in half. Take each half and spread it out in your hands to reveal layers of seed strands. Remove as many of the seeds as easily possible and coarsely chop the meat.
- Broil the red peppers on the same baking sheet until completely blackened. Turn them over a few times to blacken on all sides. Chop off their tops, peel and remove the seeds. Coarsely chop.
- Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat until very hot. Add the chopped onion (it should sizzle when it hits the oil) and sauté until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Don’t move the onion around too much or it won’t brown. Add the minced garlic and cook another two minutes.
- Add the cumin, paprika and ras el hanout and sauté another five minutes to toast the spices. It should be very fragrant. Add the harissa, cook another minute, and then add the red wine, water/broth, chopped tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and mint. Fold in the chopped roasted eggplant and red peppers. Gently simmer for ten minutes to begin to meld the flavors.
- Using a blender, food processor, or my personal favorite – an immersion blender, purée the stew until thick and fairly smooth. There will be a rough texture to the purée, giving it a rustic look.
- Cut the final eggplant into 2/3” dice. Heat the remaining two tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan and add the eggplant. Sauté until browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. You may need to do this in batches and add a little olive oil between batches.
- Add the sautéed eggplant and chickpeas to the stew, and gently simmer for 20 minutes.
- Serve hot with crusty bread and a light salad. Garnish with chopped mint or a drizzle of a good Balsamic vinegar.