The summer lends well to cooking Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. Local, fresh produce is at the heart of many of their dishes. Eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchinis abound in grocery stores and my cookbooks simultaneously.
When I spotted this Turkish casserole stew, also known as mualle, I knew I had a great summer dish. I don’t immediately think of stew as a summer dish, but here, layers of eggplant, tomatoes and lentils are slowly braised with mint and pomegranate molasses to create a melt-in-your-mouth dish. Aleppo chili flakes add a nice burst of heat. Sweet, salty, sour, spicy, it has all the components of a great dish. I didn’t even need to turn on my oven, to boot!
After the long stove-top braise, I allowed the stew to return to room temperature. Leftovers were phenomenal. This stew was delicious served with a toasted baguette. By the end of the week, my bread was more stale, but I plopped it in with the stew for a few hours before lunch, and it was great. I can finally start to see the appeal of a bread salad like panzanella. Others have recommended serving it with rice and garlic-spiked yogurt, which is more authentic.
This recipe was adapted from Almost Turkish Recipes, who adapted it from Food & Wine (July 2004). I will decrease the olive oil a lot next time (2 tbsp may even be sufficient), as can be found in a very similar recipe by Paula Wolfert in Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking.
Turkish Eggplant, Tomato and Lentil Stew with Pomegranate (Mualle)
3-4 long, narrow eggplants (around 1.5-2 lbs total)
1/2 cup lentils (I used green lentils, and will increase this amount next time)
1 medium onion, chopped
5-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped or 2 tbsp dried mint
1 tsp Aleppo chili flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or less, I think this could be halved)
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
salt, to taste
1. Peel the eggplant partially, leaving lengthwise strips of skin. Cut eggplants in 4 lengthwise. Chop every piece crosswise into 3. Place them in layers in a sieve, sprinkling salt between the layers as you go. Let them stand for an hour to remove the bitter juices. Rinse and pat dry.
2. Bring lentils to a boil with 2 cups of water. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are soft. Drain and set aside.
3. In a bowl, mix tomatoes, onion, garlic, mint, salt, chili flakes, and tomato paste.
4. Coat the bottom of a large skillet or casserole dish with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. Put 1/2 cup of the vegetable mix on the bottom. Cover with half the eggplant, then half the lentils, and half the remaining vegetable mix. Top first with remaining eggplant, then with lentils, and then with veggie mix.
5. Pour the remaining olive oil down the side of the pan. Sprinkle the pomegranate molasses over the top.
6. Bring the stew to a boil. At the beginning, it will be the olive oil that boils but juices will be leached from the vegetables as well. No need to add any extra water. Cover and cook over low heat until the eggplant is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours. The stew is best when made ahead and allowed to mellow for at least a few hours.
Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, with yogurt, bread or rice.