This is a super yummy side dish that comes together in about the time it takes to make the main. The spunky funk from preserved lemons gives it a touch of depth and complexity that makes you want to gobble it UP. Check out the Notes section at the bottom for more on preserved lemons and a few other details.
1 medium leek
1 pound eggplant, diced into half-inch cubes, skin on (see notes)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt (or half this amount if using table salt)
Ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil, plus 1 Tablespoon (divided) (see notes)
2 fat garlic cloves, skins removed, smashed and roughly chopped
1 generous Tablespoon mashed-up preserved lemon (see notes)
2-3 Tablespoons minced parsley
1. Chop the white and pale green parts of the leek into rough half-inch pieces. (You can freeze the darker green parts for a future batch of soup or stock.) You should have about a cup and a half of chopped leeks. Swish them in a large bowl of cold water, letting any dirt fall to the bottom. Leave the now-clean leeks floating in the bowl until you’re ready to use them.
2. Warm 1/4 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. When hot, add half the eggplant, quickly sprinkle with half the salt and some pepper, and toss to evenly distribute everything, leaving the eggplant in a single layer. The eggplant will quickly soak up all the oil in the pan, so work quickly to be sure all the eggplant pieces have their fair share of oil. Let the eggplant brown in a single layer for about 3 minutes, then toss with a wooden spatula and cook for about another 2 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the pan and repeat the process with the rest of the eggplant, removing it from the pan when it’s finished as well.
3. Warm the final 1 Tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high. Scoop the wet leeks from the bowl of water and add them to the pan (letting most of the water drip back into the bowl). Saute for about 10 minutes, until the leeks are soft. Turn the heat to medium and add the garlic and preserved lemon, tossing briefly until fragrant. Stir the eggplant back into the skillet, toss with about half the parsley, turn the heat to medium-low and put the lid on. Simmer for about 5 minutes to let everything soften and mingle together.
4. Taste, and add a pinch more salt if needed. If the eggplant seems a bit too chewy, put the lid back on to cook a little longer. When ready, toss the remaining parsley with the other ingredients in the hot pan before serving.
I made this up as a quick side dish for chicken thighs on a recent weeknight, and my family loved it so much they demanded seconds (oops, hadn’t made enough) and then insisted I make it again immediately.
If you’ve never used preserved lemon, it’s time to get on board. They’re whole lemons, rind and all, cut and rubbed all over with salt, then left to funkify (I think that should be a word) in a jar until delicious. They’re savory, salty, a little funky, and lemony. When you cook with them, they add a muted lemony brightness, along with lots of character.
Depending on how long they’ve been fermenting (that’s the actual word), they may be fall-apart tender (my current jar is) or more solid. If yours are more solid, you can mince them (pulp + rind) or whir them in a blender or food processor to use in this recipe. Whatever state they’re in, discard the seeds.
I used young, fresh eggplant for this recipe that I bought from a local farm stand (hello Coeur et Sol Urban Farms!), and it was lovely! If you’re using globe eggplant from the supermarket and are concerned about bitterness, you can toss the cubed eggplant pieces with a teaspoon of salt, then leave them to drain in a colander for about 20 minutes. But if you still want them to caramelize a bit as called for in this recipe, you’ll have to rinse and dry them before cooking. (To me, that sounds like a whole lot of work! So I think I’d either just cook with them as-is, or saute them in Step 2 without worrying about browning them.)
Eggplants insist on drinking up all the oil you cook them in, and you’ve just got to go with it. Let them have their way. In this dish, the end result is a nicely balanced amount of oil, as the eggplant eventually comes around and shares its oil with the rest of the ingredients in the final steps. So it’s all good.
You can make this a day or two ahead and store in the fridge, then reheat in a pan with just a little oil before serving.