Eggplant is a staple in the Middle East, and they sure do know how to cook it. It's stellar: smoky and light and not at all bitter. The trick is to cook it whole over a gas stovetop burner or on a hot grill. The outside gets all charred as the inside steams, gathering a nice smoky overtone and becoming perfectly cooked. Toasted pecans and pickled jalapeños infuse some Southern accents into the traditional dish. If you can't find pomegranate arils (they come already "shucked" in the produce section), just omit them, or drizzle on a wee bit of pomegranate molasses.
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
20 thin jalapeño pepper slices
2 medium globe eggplants (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 teaspoons tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups arugula or watercress
1/4 cup pomegranate arils
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and crushed
How to Make It
Combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and add jalapeño; let stand 15 minutes. Drain.
Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
Place whole eggplants on grill rack; grill 15 minutes or until charred on all sides and tender when pierced with a thin knife, turning frequently. Remove from heat; gently scrape off charred skin, if desired. Cool eggplants slightly; halve lengthwise. Lightly score flesh.
Combine yogurt, tahini, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and garlic, stirring well. Drizzle 4 teaspoons oil and lemon juice over eggplant flesh; top with yogurt mixture.
Combine arugula, remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl; toss gently. Top each eggplant half with about 1/2 cup arugula, 5 jalapeño slices, 1 tablespoon pomegranate arils, and 1 tablespoon pecans.