Many weeks ago now we had a dinner party where I tried to tie together the different courses by repeating certain ingredient components. We started with these hallomi and aubergine (eggplant) stacks with pomegranate jewels and pomegranate syrup; followed by a main of baked salmon with dill yoghurt and a lemony cucumber and dill salad; with Almond and Lemon Cake with Pomegranate Syrup for dessert. (So lemon, dill and pomegranates made at least two appearances each). It was great – not only a very satisfying menu, but easier to manage as there were fewer ingredients to shop for and several components could be made in advance.
These aubergine stacks are perfect for such an occasion – they can be mostly made in advance, and then heated in the oven just shortly before being served; they have all the wonderful rich saltiness of halloumi, offset by the sweetness of the pomegranates; and they could also make a delicious vegetarian main course (Nick and I made them again the following day for lunch, and they provided a very satisfying full meal). Also, they look rather impressive.
Aubergine and Halloumi Stacks with Pomegranate Syrup
Serves 8 as a starter
(Original recipe inspired by Silvena Rowe)
For the Syrup
250ml pomegranate juice
4 tbsp runny honey
1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses
For the Stacks
2 large aubergines (eggplants)
3 tablespoons of plain flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
200g (7oz) halloumi
If you didn’t happen to make a double batch of pomegranate syrup from the Almond and Lemon Cake with Pomegranate Syrup you should begin with that. (Note: The pomegranate syrup and jewels are what makes this meal – it may sound slightly odd, but it should not be omitted.) You can make the syrup up to five days in advance and store it in a sealed jar in the fridge until needed. To make it, combine the pomegranate juice, honey and molasses in a small pan. Heat over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. The honey should be dissolved, the liquid should have reduced in size, and it should have a syrupy consistency. Take off the heat and set aside.
Begin by slicing your aubergine (eggplants) into 1/4 inch thick rounds. You will have rounds of all sizes, which is fine – you probably won’t end up using all of them, so I would suggest frying the larger/prettier ones first. If you want to serve right away, preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F), otherwise you can do this before you want to heat them up to serve.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour with two large pinches of salt and several good grinds of black pepper. Toss together to combine, and cover a plate with the flour mixture, adding more as the plate stops being covered. Working in batches, cover both sides of aubergine slices with the flour mix. Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan (or two), place over medium heat, and, when the oil is hot, add the first batch of aubergine (eggplant). Cook until carmel brown on both sides (not quite as dark as above) and then remove to drain on a paper towel while frying up the next batch.
Once the aubergine is cooked, place on a large plate to one side, and wash your frying pans. Slice the halloumi into 1/4 inch slices. (It is fine if they are not perfect as they are going to be cut smaller eventually). Heat a non-stick frying pan (with no oil in it) on medium-high. Add the pieces of halloumi, and fry until brown on both sides (don’t worry if they release some liquid – just don’t overcrowd them in the pan). Remove from heat and cut into squares about the size of a postage stamp.
A little time before you are ready to serve, preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F), if you haven’t already. Make up your stacks – their size will depend on how much halloumi you have, but as a general rule it is good to layer starting with a piece of aubergine (eggplant), until the stacks contain three or four layers of aubergine (eggplant) and halloumi. Place your stacks in a baking tray and put into the oven for roughly 5 minutes, until the stacks are hot but not turning dark brown. (Be careful as you don’t want the top piece of halloumi to burn).
While the stacks are heating in the oven, remove the jewels from the pomegranate. Serve hot, sprinkled with pomegranate jewels and with the syrup poured over the top (don’t worry about being generous with the syrup). I promise you, it will taste amazing.