While biking down Telegraph Street from Berkeley to Oakland, I smelled a delicious BBQ and saw a large group of people gathered outside the Halal market. With my naturally inquisitive mind, I stopped my bike and asked a boy, “What’s going on?”. He said, “We are celebrating the end of Ramadan”. Ramadan is an Islamic month of fasting from dawn until sunset to spiritually cleanse and worship God. The festival of breaking the fast at the end of Ramadan is about “giving and sharing”. Some Ethiopian boys, who had come all the way from LA to visit their relatives, showed off the new shoes and clothes they’d just received in the special celebration. The owner of the Halal market was also very gracious. He made delicious BBQ chickens & salads and gave them to everybody who walked by his shop. While sitting down to eat with folks from the local Islamic community, I thought of a similar fast-breaking meal I had eaten in Tunisia, and the smile on my face grew even bigger.
Tunisia is one of my favorite Islamic countries in the world. The scenery of the Sahara Desert, the rich historical sites, and the especially beautiful Islamic architecture are remarkable. Camel treks were also wonderful. We ate meals cooked by open fire and baked in the sand. Every night I slept outside the nomad’s tents to look at the stars. How breathtaking it was to stare at the gorgeous sky covered with jewels of stars, while listening to the silence. Two words that describes Tunisia is “EASY GOING”. It’s fairly easy to travel around the country and relatively hassle-free to wander around the streets. Tunisians are easy-going, laid-back & kind-hearted. One evening, I got lost on the street and walked into a gas station to ask for a direction. Men inside were just finishing up prayers and starting to set up their evening meal on the floor that would break their fast for Ramadan that day. They invited me to stay and eat with them. I graciously accepted their invitation. The simple meal they offered me was impressive. I loved eating everything they made, especially an eggplant dish I am replicating in my kitchen this week.
First, I cut off the stems of 5 long thin eggplants and then cut the eggplants into ½ inch thick cubes. Next, I heat some olive oil and stir-fry 1 minced onion, 4 crushed garlic cloves, 2 tomatoes (chopped) & the eggplant cubes with 2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, juice from 1 lemon, some sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. I occasionally stir the mixture and cook until the eggplant turns into a “jam-like” texture. Lastly, I add 4 tablespoons of cilantro to the mixture and eat with na’an, pita bread or couscous.
This eggplant dish has rich, complex flavors. Eggplant flesh sucks in tasty olive oil, distinct flavors of cumin seeds, spiciness of cayenne, smokiness of paprika & the tart lemon juice. I often see people wiping out the plate with bread before asking me “can you send me the recipe?”
I pair this dish with a German white wine, a 2008 Liebfraumilch from the Rheinhessen region situated north of Heidelberg. It’s a straight-forward, simple, everyday wine made from a blend of Riesling, Silvaner and Kerner grape varietals. This light, approachable German white wine is food-friendly, almost like drinking mineral water. The refreshing crispness of green apple & peaches in the wine nicely complements the tartness & richness of the eggplant dish. Also, the slight sweetness of the wine pleasantly rounds off the paprika & cayenne pepper spiciness of the dish. This cross-continent marriage is delightful.
So, what do you think of making “easy-to-make” Tunisian eggplant dish while tasting “easy-to-drink’ German white wine on an “easy-going” weekend? Let me know your thoughts!