Here in New York City, I often have the pleasure of browsing the shelves of some culinary specialty store or other, weather a Latino market in my neighborhood of East Harlem or a classic high-end food store like Eli's. Too often I am seduced by some ingredient I have never seen before, and am afraid I'll never find again, such as a bottle of pomegranate molasses I recently stumbled on. I vaguely remembered reading something on pomegranate molasses in one of Paula Wolfert's books, which ended up being "The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean." Wolfert explores the cuisines of Slavic Macedonia and northern Greece, Turkey, the Levant and Georgia. She finds common threads running through each of these cuisines (not surprising given their shared history), especially an emphasis on vegetable dishes in which meat plays an accompanying role rather than being the main attraction. About pomegranate molasses, Wolfert has this to say:
Pomegranate molasses has a wonderful flavor and a heady aroma, and its thickness and dark color make food look very appealing... The uses for this thick, tangy, piquant syrup are many. It blends will with walnuts, adds a tart and pungent flavor to beans, sharpens the taste of poultry, gives a clean, tart taste to fish, gives an astringent edge to salads and vegetables, and is a great tenderizer for lamb and pork.
For my first guided experience with pomegranate molasses (I must admit to opening it before settling on a recipe and indiscriminately pouring it over things) I choose to try Wolfert's Eggplant with Pomegranate Sauce, a recipe from the Lebanese mountains. The fresh pomegranate seeds are optional, but if it's pomegranate season (as it's just beginning to be now) they add a beautiful jewel-like shimmer to the dish.
Wolfert suggests looking for long, narrow eggplants for this preparation, no more than 3/4 pound each. Mine were a bit larger, but it's what I could get. Wolfert doesn't drain the eggplant first, but I hate bitter eggplant so I did (to do this, cut the eggplant as directed, sprinkle with a little bit of salt and set in a colander for half an hour until it has released some of its liquid). Start this recipe early, because the eggplant needs time to macerate.
Eggplant with Pomegranate Sauce
2 (1 1/2 pounds total weight) long Japanese eggplants
For the sauce
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, crushed with 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 - 3 tablespoons shredded fresh mint (spearmint is best, she says)
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh pomegranate seeds (optional)
Oven set to 425, lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Cut the eggplants on the bias into 1/2-inch thick slices and spread them out on the prepared backing sheet in one layer. Brush with a bit more olive oil and bake on each side for around 12 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the slices to a shallow dish.
In a small bowl combine the first 6 ingredients for the sauce and drizzle it over the eggplant. Top with the last 3 ingredients, cover with plastic wrap and let stand until ready to serve. This can be done the day before, the eggplant placed in the refrigerator to macerate, but bring to room temperature before serving.
UPDATE: Leftovers are so freakin' good on sandwiches. Especially the open-faced kind made with crusty country bread, tomato and cucumber. Put the eggplant layer closest to the bread so it can absorb some of those great pomegranate juices. Just yum.