"Olive Jar" by Naomi Shihab Nye + Eggplant with Lentils and Pine Nuts

As a food blogger, publishing a post is like extending a hand or inviting someone to the table. After months of reading someone's blog, you feel as if you're getting to know a friend, someone you'd like to sit and have tea with, if only you lived in the same city. We often watch each other from afar, sharing in the joys and frustrations of cooking, writing, and finding our place in the food community. Although we've never met, Elizabeth Winslow from Farmhouse Table has helped me overcome my aversion to eggplant, so I'm grateful I stumbled across her recipe when I did. Elizabeth, if you're reading this, thank you!
  I've eaten eggplant in many preparations over the years—even charred and pureed into dip in a small village in northern Romania—but have never warmed to it. While browsing through Pinterest one afternoon, I saw Elizabeth's post for Eggplant Gratin with Herbs and Creme Fraiche. With a container of tomato sauce already in the freezer, I was halfway there and reasoned that anything baked until bubbly and covered in a layer of creamy herb sauce might stand a chance at converting my taste buds. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, which brings me to a lovely poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. It's not about eggplant. In fact, the word only appears once, and is tied into larger issues of family, politics, and memory.
Olive Jar

By Naomi Shihab Nye

In the corner of every Arab kitchen,
        an enormous plastic container
of olives is waiting for another meal.
        Green tight-skinned olives,
planets with slightly pointed ends—
        after breakfast, lunch, each plate
hosts a pyramid of pits in one corner.
        Hands cross in the center
of the table over the olive bowl.
        If there are any left they go back to
the olive jar to soak again with sliced lemon and oil.
        Everyone says
it was a good year for the trees.

At the border an Israeli crossing-guard asked
        where I was going in Israel.
To the West Bank, I said. To a village of
        olives and almonds.
To see my people.

What kind of people? Arab people?

Uncles and aunts, grandmother, first and second
cousins. Olive-gatherers.

Do you plan to speak with anyone? he said.
        His voice was harder
and harder, bitten between the teeth.

I wanted to say, No, I have come all this way
        for a silent reunion.
But he held my passport in his hands.
Yes, I said, We will talk a little bit. Families and
my father's preference in shoes, our grandmother's
love for sweaters.
We will share steaming glasses of tea,
the sweetness filling our throats.
Someone will laugh long and loosely,
so tears cloud my voice: O space of ocean waves,
how long you tumble between us, how little you

We will eat cabbage rolls, rice with sugar and milk,
crisply sizzled eggplant. When the olives come
        sailing past
in their little white boat, we will line them
        on our plates
like punctuation. What do governments have to do
with such pleasure? Question mark.
YES I love you! Swooping exclamation.
Or the indelible thesis statement:
        it is with great dignity
we press you to our lips.
-Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East. Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins. 2005.
My inspiration for today's recipe comes from the new and widely acclaimed cookbook Jerusalem. It is the story of two unlikely friends, one from Israel and one from Palestine.
“People in Jerusalem have so much in common in terms of culture and food. They’re going to the same restaurants—a Jewish family and an Arab family—sitting side by side, eating the same food, having the same conversations,” says Ottolenghi in Food & Wine Magazine. “People say, ‘If you and Sami can be friends and colleagues, maybe it’s a sign that the whole Middle East can.’” 
This might be an ambitious goal, but I hope we're moving in this direction. Food, after all, is a great equalizer. Cultures have fought over it, starved for it, and developed traditions to pass down over it. At the end of the day, food brings us together always.


1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin, plus more for the yogurt

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

2 garlic cloves, grated

3 eggplants, halved lengthwise

Salt and Pepper

1 cup beluga lentils

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

1 cup Greek yogurt

Squeeze of lemon


Stir together the olive oil, spices, and grated garlic. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place the eggplants cut side up, on a sheet pan. Spoon some of the oil over each one, making sure each eggplant is well coated. Season generously with salt and freshly cracked pepper. You'll likely have some oil left over; save it to coat the lentils. Roast eggplants for 30 minutes, or until golden and the flesh is tender.

While the eggplants bake, make the lentils. Fill a 4-quart stock pot three-quarters of the way full with water; bring to a boil. Season the water with a few pinches of salt, then add the lentils and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Drain the lentils, then return them to the same pot, then coat them with the reserved spice oil and fold in the pine nuts. Taste, and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Season the yogurt with salt and pepper, then stir in 1 teaspoon cumin and a handful of chopped parsley. Add a squeeze of lemon. Plate the eggplant, top with lentils, and finish with a dollop of the yogurt.