March 11, 2010

Eggplant salad with ume-tahini dressing

The salad as served on an 8" plate to company.
We recently had friends come for dinner and I planned an Asian-inspired meal with seitan and broccolini in a sweet and sour sauce over rice. I wanted to have a salad first, even though raw vegetables aren't usually found on Asian menus. I wanted the salad to have some connection to the main course so I looked through a Japanese cookbook, and found a recipe for eggplant salad — just eggplant, no greens. It had a dressing similar to one I used to make when I was following a macrobiotic diet and I was using many traditional Japanese condiments, like umeboshi. I decided to pan-grill (in a regular cast iron pan since I don't have a grill pan) the eggplant and serve it at room temperature on top of salad greens, with a umeboshi-tahini dressing and toasted sunflower seeds.

Some people blanch when they see "weird" ingredients like "umeboshi paste" listed in a recipe. It sounds so exotic and obscure. But is using umeboshi really so different from using all the other wonderful foods and condiments we've adopted from other countries? It's just another powerful flavor source that's good for your health as well as your palate. Look at all the Mexican foods like chipotle in adobo, or salsa verde, or Middle Eastern foods like felafel or tabooli. At one time they were considered exotic and strange.

The dressing.
Umeboshi plums and paste are made from a very small, round fruit closely related to the apricot, that is pickled with salt and shiso leaves. You can buy them whole or as a more convenient-to-use paste. It may seem expensive but it goes a long way, and I don't buy it very often. It has a salty-sour taste that goes especially well with the bitter flavor of tahini. (I even have a fabulous recipe for tofu cream cheese that uses umeboshi and tahini.)

The eggplant was cubed, soaked, patted dry, pan-grilled and cooled to room temperature before hitting the greens. The dressing was drizzled over all, and the salad was topped with toasted sunflower seeds. (I'm going to put in a plug for the Bob's Red Mill sunflower seeds I recently purchased. Maybe I was just lucky but these are the smallest, freshest, sweetest sunflower seeds I've ever bought. They're delicious raw or toasted and I love them.) I made enough salad for four people but the ingredients are flexible so use whatever quantities you wish. The dressing is very flavorful and goes a long way, but if you like your salad loaded with dressing or want leftovers, you can easily double the recipe.

The salad (missing carrots) served in a big bowl to me for lunch.
Eggplant salad with umeboshi-tahini dressing
  • 1/2 medium eggplant (cut the whole eggplant in half lengthwise)
  • avocado or olive oil
  • salad greens
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, toasted in a pan
  • 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup or maple syrup or 1-1/2 teaspoons brown rice syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water, more if needed
  1. Cut two 1/2" thick steaks from the eggplant half. Cut each steak into 1/2" cubes and soak the cubes in water for 10 minutes. This is supposed to get rid of bitterness. Drain the eggplant and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Place about 1 tablespoon of oil into a cast iron (or other heavy) pan and heat. Add the eggplant and brown on one side over medium heat about five minutes. Turn and brown the other side. Remove eggplant to a plate and let cool to room temperature while you make the dressing.
  3. Place the umeboshi, tahini, lemon juice, sweetener and water in a small dish or measuring cup. Mix to a smooth and creamy consistency. Add more water if necessary to achieve a creamy dressing that will drizzle from a spoon. The amount of water depends on the texture of your tahini.
  4. Toast the sunflower seeds.
  5. Place the salad greens on four individual plates or bowls. Divide the eggplant into equal portions and mound in the center of the greens. Artfully arrange the carrots. Drizzle dressing over all. Top with sunflower seeds.

Day-glo bread and other misc. stuff

Here's a bread to which I added turmeric to give it a golden hue (and because it's supposed to have so many health benefits). It actually came out a lot more golden than I expected, and looks kind of weird. (I haven't photographed the inside but believe me, it's BRIGHT.) It tastes good, though. It's got rye flour in the dough for a little extra flavor, and sesame seeds on top.

I've been making English muffins from my no-knead bread dough, and having sandwiches for breakfast. I'm trying to eat more in the early part of the day and less at night, and these hearty breakfasts seem to really stick with me. I've found that a thinner muffin bakes up more successfully so pat your dough to no more than 1/2" thick. This particular sandwich had a veggie burger, avocado, English cucumber and Russian dressing. Just looking at it now gives me hunger pangs. I've also had muffins with cannelini beans, avocado and salad greens. My current vat of day-glo no-knead dough seems a little too wet for successful English muffin making, so I'm using it for regular loaves. The muffin above was made with the previous batch of dough, which explains its normal hue.

This is kablooey — a tester recipe for Celine and Joni. It is kind of like tabooli but made with buckwheat.


  1. I am not an eggplant fan, but I'd be up for trying the dressing. I've never had umeboshi before. I've seen it around but never had the slightest clue about what to do with it.

    Your bread looks good to me. Not weird at all!

  2. Everything looks great, including the kablooey! Your salad sounds like a dish called "Grilled Eggplant" that we used to order at a local Japanese restaurant--browned eggplant with a yummy sauce over top. But I like the idea of adding greens, carrots and seeds to yours. And the bread doesn't look glowy at all to me--maybe my eyes are worse than I thought! ;)

  3. Funny! I've got the same cloth at home (on pictures 2 & 3). This Swedish company, it is everywhere! I like the combination you do with umeboshi & tahini, in your both recipes. I'm not sure I've ever tried it on day, I have to. Umeboshi gives a good flavored change to lemon in your tofu cream.

  4. Adding turmeric to your bread is a great idea (I too have been reading up on the health benefits). What a great trick it would be when making challah (to mimic the yellow from the traditional eggs).

  5. The salad sounds fantastic! I love eggplant :-)

    Your English muffin sandwich pics and descriptions are making my mouth water, lol!


  6. Kiersten,
    I never used to like eggplant either but it's grown on me. The camera didn't fully capture the strange appearance of the bread — and you didn't see the inside. :)

    If you saw the bread in person you'd probably still be questioning your eyes. You'd think, "the bread can't possibly be that color. There must be something wrong with my eyes." Ahem.

    The cloth is actually a beautiful bag that a friend made for me as a going away present. One fabric is the outside and the other is the inside.

    I was kind of thinking about the challah trick when I added the turmeric, but I think I added way too much. Also, I think whole grains are more difficult to color than unbleached white. I may try adding 1/4 teaspoon next time. (I added 1 teaspoon.)

    I have to say, the English muffin sandwiches were great!

  7. Oh! Everything looks so good! I have a jar of umeboshi paste here, actually, which I bought to make vegan cheese but haven't used yet... I really must become a bit more exotic! ;O)
    Adding turmeric sounds like a great idea. I'll be dolloping some into my next batch! Thanks for the great ideas and inspiration, as always. :o)

  8. All of this food looks so great! I like your notes on umeboshi paste. I've never tried it before but am reconsidering it now. I love the idea of adding turmeric to bread for colour. I wish you included a picture of the bright inside! The English muffins also sound fantastic. I really need to be brave and make my own bread someday.

  9. Penny,
    You should definitely make the cheese and post a recipe so I can see it. Be careful how much turmeric you add to your bread dough — mine was seriously garish!

    Thanks! I think I'm going to go snap a photo of the inside of the bread — if there's any left.

  10. Yum! the eggplant salad looks great and so creative. Love the day-glo bread, so curious to see the inside though. :-)

  11. I love "weird" ingredients. I have never had the chance to use umeboshi paste but I think I'll look for it now to make that salad. It looks so beautiful and delicious!

  12. OK, so I am now craving the muffins with cannelini beans, avocado and salad greens!

  13. Chow vegan,
    I'm going to post a photo of the inside, soon. Maybe a little turmeric would have been nice but I really did use too much. Too much.

    Umeboshi paste is salty and sour — my favorites, though usually I try to limit salt. It's a very interesting ingredient to have around. You can also get umeboshi vinegar.

    I'm craving the veggie bugger muffins. Perhaps I will have one.

  14. Actually, I am feeling to say that I am learning and enjoying your blog a great deal. Thank you for all the work you put in.

  15. What an interesting salad! Bring on the "exotic" ingredients! :)

    Your bread is gorgeous! I love adding turmeric to baked goods too, it gives them a beautiful color.

  16. Oh Wow, everything looks fantastic! I'm a huge fan of eggplant. Your tahini dressing looks and sounds so delicious,I'll definitely give it a try very soon:)

  17. Steve,
    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I was worried the salad might be a little too "interesting" for my guests, but they seemed to like it. :)

    I'm going to try adding turmeric to baked goods with more moderation — I got a little carried away with the bread. I added just a pinch to soup and the color was beautiful.

    I made a LOT of dressing while I was testing the recipe and I'm still eating it on salads!

  18. Oh my GOD that salad is calling my name. That sounds perfect for me. I've eaten umeboshi things in restaurants, but I've never cooked with it. It will be my next splurge, for sure! (Also, I like your newspaper placemat.)

  19. Mary,
    Umeboshi seems expensive at first but it's so sour and salty that a little goes a long way, so it's not so bad. Actually, I'm pretty shocked at how expensive things like tahini and almond butter have gotten.

    Maybe my next splurge should be new placemats. Although, when you think about it, there's a new newspaper every day.


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