Arabic Eggplant and Walnuts with Cauliflower Couscous (vegan and gluten-free)

syrian eggplant and walnut stewWhat do you get when you cross meltingly soft, walnut oil-infused eggplants with 7-spice walnuts and silky tomatoes?

No, this isn’t a seriously bad joke, but a serious question. I am not au fait enough with the difference between Turkish, Syrian and Lebanese spicing to plump for one or there other, so I have dubbed it Arabic. I don’t think many could argue with that. Or maybe you can as Arabic doesn’t include Turkish. Oh dear, I’m really in a muddle here. No joke.

And then there is the actual category itself: is it a stew, a topping or something else entirely? I still don’t know. So it is just Arabic Eggplant and Walnuts. Over a crazy-simple but outlandishly un-Arabic cauliflower couscous.

I am always wary of labelling food as coming from a region or country unless I am dead-sure of my facts. And that usually only happens when a recipe is a tweak on a well-known dish. And as I kind of just made this up based loosely on Syrian meat and eggplant stew (of which there are numerous), with completely different spicing and no walnuts, I am at a bit of a loss. Perhaps there are even glimmers of Georgia (the country, not the US peach capital). But no matter.

Although this recipe DOES have an identity crisis, and I am too much of a rubbish food historian to follow this up, it is a bit of all right. I am sure it would also be good with half lamb mince and half walnuts, but it is very satisfying and intense with all walnuts, tempered by the mild, creamy-fleshed aubergines.

We had it over cauliflower couscous, to which I had added feta cheese. That was just too much flavour in one dish. Is that even possible? Yes it is. Keep the underbelly plain – my ‘plain’ cauliflower couscous recipe, polenta, rice, crushed potatoes, bread, ‘normal’ couscous or quinoa.

This is my second – and final – recipe for the Maille Culinary Challenge. I loved using their walnut oil in both this recipe and my Soft and Chewy Molasses Crinkle Cookies. Two very different recipes from one bottle. Versatile stuff, walnut oil.

My favourite food joke: What do you call a mushroom who buys all the drinks? (Answer after the recipe!)

syrian eggplant and walnut stew

Arabic Eggplant and Walnuts with Cauliflower Couscous

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy-moderate
  • Print

This is my take on a traditionally meaty Syrian stew. But my spin is vegan and not really a stew – more of a substantial savoury topping and an excuse to use crunchy-creamy (!) walnuts and luxurious walnut oil. Add vegetable stock (or maybe just extra water, or water and a medium-bodied red wine) to make it wetter. The walnut oil adds an incredible richness, so try not to leave it out.

I have taken the liberty of popping this stew that’s not a stew onto some finely minced and roasted cauliflower. I also added feta, but to be honest that was overkill. Just sprinkle over some feta as a garnish, if you like. This would also be damn fine over rice, couscous, vermicelli or any of the usual starchy suspects.

2 medium aubergines, cubed

3 tbsp walnut oil (I used Maille), divided use

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

200g walnuts, roughly chopped

½ tbsp ground allspice

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp sumac (optional)

¼ tsp ground cumin (*can use a seven-spice mix, like baharat, instead of the spices listed above*)

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional) – Turkish dried pepper is mild and sweetly warm

1 tbsp tomato puree OR pomegranate molasses (I used puree)

Juice of one lemon (about 3 tbsp)

Double handful of cherry tomatoes OR 1 tin of plum tomatoes, crushed

200 ml water, plus extra as needed OR stock OR water+red wine

Parsley and mint, as garnish

  1. Toss the aubergine cubes in 2 tbsp of the walnut oil and bake in a 160C oven for about 30 minutes, or until the aubergines are soft and golden.
  2. In a large sauté pan, gently sauté the onions and garlic over a low heat, stirring frequently – about five minutes. Add in the walnuts, spices, salt, red pepper flakes (if using) and tomato puree, and stir well, cooking for another minute.
  3. Add the lemon juice, tomatoes and water. Let the mixture come to a fast simmer then turn down the heat and cover for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The result should be quite saucy and thick, but add more liquid if you like, remembering to adjust the spices and seasoning. When it cools a little check the seasoning and perhaps add some honey, sugar or other sweetener if it needs it. My tomatoes were lovely and sweet so that wasn’t necessary.
  4. Serve warm over couscous (cauliflower –see below – or otherwise), polenta, quinoa, rice, bread, pasta or even potatoes. Garnish with the remaining walnut oil, chopped parsley or mint.

NOTE: I made the mistake of pureeing one-third of the mixture and mixing it back in. Although it tastes absolutely fine, it is not a good look. As you can see. Don’t blend! Except, if you have leftovers, blending would make it a good dip for toasted pitta chips.

Soft Food Diet: blend all or blend walnuts that have been soaked then cooked with the spices and onions before blending.


cauliflower couscousCauliflower Couscous 

Roast grated cauliflower as per my Loaded Cauliflower Couscous Salad recipe and, once roasted, pop the cauliflower in a saucepan. Add 75ml of hot vegetable stock, some gratings of fresh nutmeg (just a little) and lightly mash with a potato masher.

Joke Answer: A ‘fungi’ to be with! Terrible, but I like it :-)

To go with this dish:

Syrian Chopped Leaf Salad, from SBS Food

Syrian Mountain Bread, from SBS Food

Lebanese Rice Pudding, from Mama’s Lebanese Kitchen

Disclaimer: I was provided with a product to use in this recipe but I was not paid in any way, and opinions are my own.


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