Spiced Eggplant and Halloumi with Polenta
The taste of late summer or early fall: Pan-fried eggplant, zucchini and halloumi are layered on a Berbère-spiced tomato sauce, baked right in the pan until bubbly, then served over soft polenta. Vegetable sizes are of course approximate; use enough to generously fill your pan or baking dish. This recipe uses an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker for the polenta, shortening prep time and reducing the amount of stovetop attention required. NOTE: You’ll need a large, wide, heavy duty, oven-safe sauté pan or skillet to make this. Alternatively, use a smaller sauté pan or skillet and build the casserole in a 9″ x 13″ or other similarly sized baking dish instead. It works just as well. Serves 6-8.
2 C polenta
2 t fine sea salt (2.5 t if using kosher salt)
8 C cold water
4 T unsalted butter
- Vegetables and Halloumi
Approx. 1 C olive oil
2-3 medium eggplant, sliced .5″ rounds
3 medium zucchini, sliced .5″ rounds
16 oz halloumi, drained and sliced approx. .25″ thick (See Notes for vegan substitutions)
1 T olive oil
1 large cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes with juice, blended briefly to break up into coarse chunks
1 t Aleppo pepper flakes (See Notes for substitutions)
1 t Berbère spice blend (I like this one)
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped from stem
- To Serve
- Have all ingredients prepared and a sheet pan ready for the browned vegetables and halloumi. Heat a wide, shallow, oven-safe 6 qt stainless sauté pan or cast iron skillet on medium high. When a droplet of water dances and evaporates on its surface (shake from wet fingertips), add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and swirl to coat. Quickly add eggplant in a single layer and pan-fry until browned and nearly burned, then flip carefully, adding another tablespoon or two of olive oil as needed. Remove and set browned eggplant rounds aside. Repeat with remaining eggplant and zucchini. Take your time and keep the pan hot and uncrowded so the outsides brown and develop a bit of crust but the insides don’t get mushy.
- With pan still on medium high heat, add halloumi slices and pan fry in batches until browned and crisp on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.
- Heat oven to 400°F. If you plan to bake your veggies and halloumi in a baking dish instead of the pan, have the baking dish ready. No need to oil it.
- Put polenta, sea salt and cold water in a 6qt Instant Pot. Stir briefly to combine. Set the valve to Sealing and cook polenta for 10 minutes on high pressure. When time is up, turn off Instant Pot and allow it to release naturally for 10-15 minutes. When time is up, carefully quick-release the valve. Add butter and whisk until polenta becomes smooth and thick.
- While polenta cooks, wipe out the sauté pan and heat on medium. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, swirl to coat, and add minced garlic. Sauté 1-2 minutes until softened but not browned. Add blended tomatoes and spices, scraping pan to combine. Simmer on medium high until slightly thickened and remove from heat. Pour sauce into baking dish, if using. Arrange eggplant, zucchini and halloumi slices on top of tomato sauce, alternating vegetables and cheese. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Tomato sauce should be bubbling.
- Serve polenta topped with vegetables and tomato sauce. Garnish with cilantro and more thyme, if desired.
- To make this dairy free and vegan: Slice 1-2 pounds extra firm tofu and press between cutting boards lined with paper towels to compress and remove excess moisture. Season with salt, Aleppo pepper flakes, dried or minced fresh garlic, pepper.
- Aleppo peppers taste brighter, fruitier, more flavorful and about half as spicy as typical chile flakes, closer to sweet paprika. They’re worth seeking out, but if you need to substitute, use .5 t chile flakes and 1 t sweet paprika.
- I like to extend summer by browning the vegetable rounds, freezing them in a single layer, then storing in a labeled freezer bag. Start at Step 2 and build the dish with frozen veggie rounds. Add about 15 minutes to the baking time.