Fried Eggplant with Sumac and Garlic Yogurt Dip

C has an aunt who used to work for a princess. Yes, a princess that lives in a palace in a kingdom not so far away. I would sit enthralled by her stories of riches so grand it was almost unreal…like my own personal One Thousand and One Nights. Gold and jewels and family vacations on private jets, mammoth shopping jaunts and bespoke sports cars and magnificent feasts.

The parts that captivated me most, not surprisingly, were the magnificent feasts.

As she is a kindred spirit when it comes to food and cooking, these were always the most colorful parts of her tales. Stories of the amazing meals prepared, the ingredients used, the sights and smells of the large (large!) pantry and kitchen. Befriending the chefs, she managed to learn the cuisine…which she brought back with her (along with a hoard of spices and dried herbs) and continues to share with us. The dinners she prepares are much-anticipated events involving multiple courses and an incredible array of exotic flavors.

Although this dish is not hers (I’m quite sure I adapted it from one of my Donna Hay magazines actually!), she was the one who introduced me to sumac. Sumac spice (not the poison plant!) is an unbelievably deep and velvety red, its flavor tart and a bit astringent. Unlike other aromatic spices that are used in more complicated dishes, what I like about sumac is you can simply sprinkle it on anything to which you would like to add a sour kick (much the way you would add a squeeze of lemon juice). So you don't need a degree in spiceology to use it ;)

Fried Eggplant with Sumac and Garlic Yogurt Dip
  • Olive oil
  • 300 grams small Asian eggplants (they are short and skinny)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Sumac

- Heat a couple of glugs of olive oil in a skillet. Slice the small Asian eggplants lengthwise into two. When oil is hot lay eggplants cut-side down in the pan. Fry until golden brown and then turn. Fry the other side until eggplant is cooked. I like mine with crisp edges but still soft in the center. If you’d like to fry it until totally crisp go ahead!
- While the eggplants are frying, prepare the yogurt dip. Mix yogurt, garlic, and olive oil in a bowl. Add sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Store it in the fridge until ready to serve. Top with a sprinkling of sumac just before serving.
- When eggplants are done, fish them out of the pan and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Dust liberally with sea salt and sumac. Serve with the yogurt dip.
- Serves two as a side dish.

As the name implies, small Asian eggplants are smaller versions of the long skinny eggplants most commonly used here. I love them solely based on their looks, as what’s not to love about a vegetable’s cuter version (one of the reasons I also love Brussels sprouts)? You can see them in this enticing still life of local vegetables. If you can’t find them where you are, substitute with any of your friendly neighborhood eggplants, and just slice them thinly.

Fried eggplant and yogurt is a pairing that works wonderfully for me – please have it freshly fried as the contrast between the warm eggplants and the cool yogurt adds to its deliciousness. The sumac adds a pleasing vibrancy to the whole dish, highlighting the eggplant's mild smokiness and the garlicky zing of the yogurt. We had this with our dinner, but you can easily prepare this as part of a larger spread of appetizers…or even as a video-marathon snack! If you are a bit health-conscious you can roast the eggplants instead with just a smidge of olive oil and salt. If you have leftovers (you won’t), mash the eggplants and yogurt together and you have a spread for tomorrow’s lunch.

Discovering new spices is one of my food thrills, especially if the discovery is peppered (no pun intended) with stories about royal feasts! I’m definitely glad for my introduction to sumac. Do you use it in your cooking? Any favorite ways to use it you would like to share? Yours may be the next sumac recipe that I post! :)