In Istanbul they told me many times: we are experts in one thousand and one way to cook eggplant. And indeed they are. Eggplant salad on a menu can stand for a dozen different things. One of our dinners included two eggplant starters plus one eggplant side dish and so different all these were that nobody felt overwhelmed by eggplant. However there is much beyond the classics. My favorite eggplant starter in Istanbul was a chef's special at Meze by Lemon Tree restaurant - spicy fried eggplant with sweet tomato sauce and creamy yogurt topping. I couldn't trace it in google, but I still found a way to make it. Trial and error method always works if you go on with it long enough.
Here you do not cook the eggplant whole (as it is often done in Turkish cooking), but slice it first. Perhaps you could fry it, but I prefer baking for simplicity. You bake it with olive oil and earthy spices: ground coriander, cumin and isot pepper/urfa biber. Isot pepper is something I discovered in Istanbul and brought back with me - red peppers picked up very mature and then fermented. It adds some special smokiness to the dish. It might be available in specialty stores where you live, but if it is not you can safely leave it out.
Thus eggplant becomes soft, dense and very intense in flavor. It makes the bottom layer of the starter. Then it is topped with tomato sauce adding sweetness and heat. On top of that there is chilling creamy yogurt and fresh parsley, which bring the whole thing to complete harmony.
I do think that in Istanbul they make the tomato topping from domates salcasi (locally available tomato paste, which tastes great). Ready made tomato paste where I live leaves much to be desired though. The closest substitute I found is Italian passata (tomato puree) plus processed sundried tomatoes. All in all cooking this starter is quite fast, easy and rewarding.
Turkish salad of spicy eggplant with sweet tomato and yogurt topping
2 eggplants, quarter lenghwise and slice 5 mm thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon isot pepper/urfa biber (can be omitted)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
200 g Italian passata (tomato puree)
4 sundried tomatoes, soak in warm water for 10 - 20 minutes and drain
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder or flakes
1/4 teaspoon zatar (wild oregano) or ordinary dry oregano
1/2 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon of salt
60 g (4 tablespoons) cream cheese (e.g. Mascarpone or Philadelphia)
60 g (4 tablespoons) good thick Greek yogurt or low fat creme fresh or sour creme
3 - 4 springs of parsley, leaves picked
Place the sliced eggplants in a medium size deep baking dish. Drizzle it with oil and sprinkle with salt, isot pepper, cumin and coriander. Toss and cover with foil. Bake at 200C for 30 - 40 minutes, stirring 1 - 2 times, till the eggplant is soft and a little browned. Take out of the oven and let cool.
Process passata (tomato puree) together with sundried tomatoes, chilli, zatar or oregano, garlic and salt. Pour the mixture into a small pan, bring to boil and cook on low heat, stirring for 5 - 10 minutes till you get thick sauce. Taste and add salt if necessary. Let cool.
Stir the cream cheese and yogurt together.
Transfer the eggplant into a serving dish, making sure it makes a dense layer around 2 cm thick. Top with tomato sauce. Then - with cream cheese and yogurt mixture. Cover with parsley leaves.
It is best if you let it stand in the fridge for 30 minutes (or more in the fridge). However it is very good right away too. Especially with fresh bread.
Caponata (Italian eggplant salad)
Baba ganoush (eggplant hummus)
Quinoa with smoky eggplant and roast pepper
Turkish baked halva (sicak helva)
Istanbul - a personal food guide