Unseasonably warm temperatures suggest summer while the calendar and market options are becoming decidedly autumn. Blending the seasons seems to be the best strategy this week. Za’atar Roasted Mushrooms and Eggplant with Barley and Tomatoes marries summer and autumn for a filling meal that straddles the seasons with ease.
Mushrooms in all their mossy earthiness are an autumn star but I also find at the market a basket of baby purple and white striped eggplant so both are roasted in a heady za’atar spice blend. The powerful aroma suggests the deep heat of summer.
Tomatoes are still making an appearance at the market. This late-season crop has been soaking in the sun and I find they have a deep, ripened flavor that, to me, is very different from the fresh mid-July tomatoes. I chop some leftover plum tomatoes but cherry tomatoes work well, too, and still appear to be plentiful at the markets. They are lovely sliced raw but I throw them under a broil for a few minutes to char.
The barley is tossed with softened shallot and garlic to brown a bit in the pan before adding the water. I think the light toasting gives this nubby grain a deeper flavor and heartier texture.
To complete the dish, the spiced mushroom and eggplant mixure is given a quick toss with the cooked barley, tomatoes and an extra swirl of olive oil. I don’t find any additional seasoning necessary but you might want to add an additional sprinkle of za’atar.
Slightly chewy, richly aromatic and deeply satisfying, I find this dish just as enjoyable hot as it is warm or even cold. It’s decisive in flavor but flexible in temperature and seems well suited for these mid-September market days.
- 2 cups baby eggplant, chopped in ½ cubes (or regular eggplant, peeled)
- 6 oz. porcini mushrooms
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms
- 2-3 Tablespoons Za'atar spice blend (or your favorite spice blend with thyme)
- 4-6 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large shallot, peeled and diced.
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 3 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup tomatoes (seeded and chopped or cherry tomatoes sliced)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Prep mushrooms by cutting off rough stem and quartering (halving if mushrooms are small)
- On a large sheet pan, toss mushrooms and eggplant with 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil to coat and dust with 2-3 Tablespoons za'atar until all the vegetables are lightly coated.
- Roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until vegetables are tender and slightly browned.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil (enough to lightly cover bottom of the pan) over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add shallots and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and heat for 30 seconds.
- Add barley and stir to coat with olive oil mixture. Keep stirring over medium heat until barley lightly browns. Add water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat to low and gently simmer uncovered according to directions, usually about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on barley to ensure there is enough water. Different barley cooks at different rates, consult directions. Add more water if necessary.
- Once barley is softened, add roasted vegetables and tomatoes. (raw or broil for a few minutes until blistered)
- Drizzle with olive oil, toss gently and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper or za'atar, as necessary.