Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is that dinner.
It shouldn’t surprise you at all when I tell you whose recipe it is; Suzanne Goin’s, of course. I feel about a Suzanne Goin cookbook the way that a child might feel about a sorcery book; only, instead of pretending to make your stuffed animal levitate, Suzanne Goin’s books really do produce mystical, magical results. Her recipes are astounding. They’re also difficult. But that’s part of the fun.
For this recipe, which comes from her indispensable new AOC cookbook, I skipped a major step and I don’t regret it. That step is: making your own lamb sausage. Because I live near a wonderful butcher (McCall’s), a butcher that sells lamb sausage, I knew I’d do just as well to buy it from them.
Don’t worry, though, there was still plenty of work to do. Namely, making the eggplant jam that serves as the base of the dish. To start, you slice two globe eggplants, score them and season them with salt to draw out the bitterness.
Also, cut some X-es into the bottom of six tomatoes. We’ll get back to those in a moment.
Heat a non-stick skillet with olive oil and when it’s good and hot, pat the eggplant dry and fry it in batches. I’ll tell you a secret here: the eggplant acts like a sponge and drinks the olive oil, so when you flip it over, if you don’t add more to the pan, you’ll have one golden beautiful side and the other will be white and kind of limp. So keep adding olive oil and you’ll be rewarded at the end, I promise.
While you’re doing that, drop those tomatoes into simmering water and blanch for 30 seconds or so until the skin loosens.
Then shock in ice water.
When you’re done, you’ll have a bunch of fried eggplant pieces:
And, after you peel them, six sexy looking tomatoes:
OK, so then you flavor the eggplant by chopping it into 1/2-inch chunks and tossing it with smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, minced garlic, and cilantro.
To bring it all together, you heat more olive oil in a wide skillet with a rosemary sprig and two crumbled chiles de arbol (if you don’t have those, I highly recommend buying some from Rancho Gordo; they’re wonderful):
When that’s good and fragrant, you add a chopped onion:
When the onion’s translucent, you add those tomatoes (which you’ve chopped), their juices (which you’ve collected in a strainer, you’ll see in the recipe below), sugar, and vinegar.
Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are cooked.
Then you add the eggplant, turn up the heat, and cook 8 minutes more.
At this point, you’ve probably given up on this recipe, but behold the results:
That eggplant jam is so packed with flavor, so intense and luxurious with olive oil, you could put a piece of beef jerky on top of it and it’d look like something fit for a king. The craziest part is that, as much as you curse Suzanne Goin for making you do so much to pull this off (and as much as you want to drag her to your apartment to do all of the dishes), the results are undeniable. Once you make it, you’ll never make it any other way. That’s the power of a brilliant recipe.
The other thing I love about Suzanne Goin cookbooks is that I always learn something new when I cook from them. For example, the green olives that go on top of the finished dish here. I might’ve spent 30 minutes smashing each one with a knife to get the pit out; instead, Chef Goin offers up a trick. Put the olives on a dish towel:
Wrap the towel around them:
Beat with a rolling pin and voila:
The pits come right out. Then you toss the olives with shallots, lemon juice, olive oil and parsley.
To finish, I simply cooked the store-bought mergez in a wide skillet with (you guessed it) a layer of olive oil. When it was good and golden on all sides, and cooked all the way through (I cut into one of them to know), I piled the eggplant jam on to a plate, topped with three sausages, and spooned the olive mixture on top.
It’s easily one of the best dinners I’ve ever made, and the kind of thing that, once you make it, you can do it the next time without looking at the recipe. It’s also great for summer when eggplants and tomatoes are plentiful, and grilled sausage makes more sense than a long-braised stew. Consider it your boss-is-coming-to-dinner dish for the next few months; the kind of thing you’ll always be glad to have in your back pocket. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got 800 dishes to do.
Recipe: Lamb Merguez with Eggplant Jam and Green Olives
Summary: Adapted from Suzanne Goin’s AOC Cookbook
- 2 pounds globe eggplants (about 2 medium)
- About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil PLUS more for the olives and sausage
- 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 6 medium)
- 1 small sprig rosemary
- 2 chiles de arbol , crumbled
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 ounces Castelvetrano olives
- 2 tablespoons finely diced shallots
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 12 lamb merguez sausages (3 per person if serving 4)
- Cut the eggplants into 1/2-inch-thick slices, score each slice, and season with 1 tablespoon salt. Let sit 10 minutes, and then dry with paper towels. Heat two large sauté pans over high heat for 2 minutes (you may need to do this in batches). Swirl 3 tablespoons olive oil into each pan, and wait 1 minute. Add the eggplant to the pans in a single layer. Once the slices start to color, turn the eggplant over and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes (I added more olive oil at this point), until tender and golden. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.
- Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch chunks, and toss in a large bowl with the paprika, cayenne, and 2 teaspoons salt. Pound the garlic with a mortar and pestle (or smash it into a paste on the cutting board) with a pinch of salt, and add it to the eggplant with the chopped cilantro. Taste for seasoning. It should taste pretty spectacular.
- Cut an “X” on the bottom of each tomato, and blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Cool the tomatoes in a bowl of ice water, and then use your fingers to slip off the skins. Remove the cores, and cut each tomato in half horizontally. Squeeze the tomato halves cut-side down over a strainer set in a bowl. Scoop the seeds out with your fingers, and discard them. Chop the tomatoes coarsely, and reserve the juice.
- Heat a medium-large sauté pan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the rosemary and chiles, and heat for another minute. Add the onion, season with 2 teaspoons salt, and some pepper, and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes, their juice, the sugar, and the vinegar. Season with 2 teaspoons salt, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are cooked. Add the eggplant to the pan, turn up the heat, and cook for another 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often until well integrated and jammy in texture. (At this point, I fished out the rosemary stem and also the bigger pieces of chile de arbol; that’s up to you, though.)
- Place the olives on one side of a kitchen towel, wrapping the towel around to cover the top of the olives as well. Tap the olives very gently with a mallet or rolling pin, uncover the cloth, and remove the pits one at a a time.
- Place the shallots and lemon juice in a small bowl, and let sit 5 minutes. Stir the pitted olives, 5 tablespoons olive oil, and the chopped parsley into the shallots taste for balance and seasoning.
- Cook the sausages on a grill on in a hot skillet with a splash of olive oil until seared on all sides and cooked all the way through.
- To plate, spoon some eggplant jam (about 1/2 cup per person) onto 6 large dinner plates. Arrange the merguez on top and spoon over the green olive salsa. Serve right away.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4