Winter holidays beckon us to dust corners, polish silver, and decorate the house for visitors. Food magazines tempt us to navigate waves of new tastes when it comes to party food.
On a recent Saturday, I cooked with a lively group of women and tasted four trendy party bits that would greatly enhance any appetizer spread. We savored tiny Swedish Meatballs with Cranberry Sauce, bite-sized Butternut Squash Empanadas, Spicy Wilted Baby Kale on toast with goat cheese, and a Midwestern spinoff on the famed London chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s Roasted Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate.
Ottolenghi’s eggplant dish, brilliantly colored with parsley, pomegranate and blobs of Greek yogurt, gives off holiday sparkle. Surrounded by crisp cucumber slices for dipping, it meets criteria for something lighter, something vegetarian—if you leave off the yogurt, it’s vegan. The basic dip can be made two days in advance; it’s best at room temperature and can be fully plated hours ahead. As we prepare to induldge, why not dip into veggies!
Roasted Eggplant Dip with Tahini and Pomegranate
2 medium eggplants (about 12 oz. each)
2 cloves garlic
2 slices Serrano chili (optional)
6-7 tablespoons tahini
4-5 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2-4 chopped green onions
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Roast eggplants in 450º oven for 20-30 min. or broil 15-18 minutes, turning once. Eggplants should be collapsed, totally tender and burst. When cool enough to handle, split and scoop out flesh. Drain eggplant flesh in strainer 30 min. Mash garlic and chili with salt in mortar or on a board. Mix with tahini and gradually beat in water to form a white cream. Blend in pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and green onions. Chop eggplant and add to the tahini cream along with most of parsley. Taste for seasonings adding more salt or lemon as necessary. Chill several hours. Mound in serving dish, dollop over yogurt, sprinkle with parsley, pomegranate seeds and grind on black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Serve as dip with cucumber slices. Enough for 10-12.
Mary Jo McMillin was chef and owner of Mary Jo’s Cuisine in Oxford, Ohio for 18 years. Based on her restaurant/catering experience, she wrote Mary Jo’s Cuisine: A Cookbook (Orange Frazer, 2007). She moved to Wilmette, Illinois the summer of 2008.
Mary Jo began her professional career as a baker. Her wedding cakes soon led to receptions, dinners, and her own business. She has traveled extensively, studied in many commercial kitchens and learned from cooks who were from Tanzania, Africa and the West Coast to Washington, DC. For the past 30 years she’s been associated with the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. She has also offered classes in various cooking schools in the Cincinnati area and for Miami University (Ohio). Over the decades she has observed seasonal, whole food cooking, long before the concept became trendy. She now teaches, caters, and writes about cooking on Chicago’s North Shore. Her culinary knowledge is encyclopedic.
Follow Mary Jo's blog, Mary Jo's Kitchen