Eggplants were on sale at the market this week, so I picked one up and challenged myself to do something other than fry it. Since fried eggplant is so delicious in dishes like Eggplant Parmesan, I think it tends to be my easy go-to answer. I had something else in mind this time: an afternoon snack with a quick, delicious tahini dip that would carry us through until dinner.
The recipe was a success: no frying, lots of bright herbs, a little Parmesan and a quick spin in the oven to bake until crisp. That's it. Quick — as all afternoon snacks should be.
If you're not familiar with za'atar, it's a Middle Eastern spice blend used in many recipes, from flat breads to grilled meats. In this recipe, it adds an herby brightness to the eggplant, and balances out the salty Parmesan cheese nicely. There are many styles and blends of za'atar. Some go heavy on thyme or coriander while other dip into marjoram. I tend to like blends that rely on sumac and sesame seeds, with about an equal ratio of thyme and oregano. We have a recipe on The Kitchn to make your own (see below), or you can likely find the blend in the spice aisle of a well-stocked gourmet grocery store or Middle Eastern market.
The beauty of this recipe, overall, is that it doesn't need much explanation or introduction. But I will say that these fries are definitely best eaten right out of the oven. As happens with many baked eggplant dishes, when the fries have a chance to cool fully, they can get a little limp and not nearly as delicious. I also like to sprinkle flaky salt on them the moment they come out of the oven.
We've also been known to double the recipe for Lemon Tahini Sauce and spread it on sandwiches, fold a little into omelettes, or spoon it atop warm grain bowls. Store the sauce, covered, in the refrigerator and just thin it out with additional water if it settles or thickens.
→ Make Your Own Spice Blend: Za'atar
Baked Za'atar Eggplant Fries with Lemon Tahini Dip
For the fries:
1 large eggplant
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/4 cup za'atar spice blend
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 large eggs
Flaky salt (like Maldon), to finish
For the dip:
1/2 cup tahini
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon za'atar spice blend
2-4 tablespoons water, to thin
To make the eggplant fries, preheat the oven to 425°F. Wedge a wire rack atop a baking sheet (so the fries will be slightly elevated and not directly touching the baking sheet).
Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Then cut each round into 1/2-inch thick spears. Set aside.
Pour the flour into a small bowl. Beat the eggs together in another small bowl. In a third small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, za'atar, salt and cayenne.
Roll the eggplant spears in the flour, dunk them in the egg, and then roll them into the bread crumb mixture. Lay each spear close to one another on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with flaky salt.
While the fries are baking, combine all the ingredients for the dip except the water in a small bowl. To thin, add a drizzle of water and stir vigorously until you reach the desired consistency.
Serve the fries with the dipping sauce while the fries are still hot.
(Images: Megan Gordon)