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Slow Braise: Chicken with Eggplant

This recipe for braised chicken with eggplant is originally from Turkey and travelled through Spain and the Mediterranean.
[additional-authors]
August 10, 2023
Photo by Rachel Emquies Sheff

One of the standards for being a nekuchera, the Ladino word for an excellent Sephardic cook, is having the knowledge and ability to prepare good eggplant. There are so many traditional eggplant recipes in the Sephardic kitchen—baba ghanoush, Zaalouk (Moroccan eggplant dip), grilled eggplant salads, hash’we (eggplant stuffed with rice and meat) and of course, the all important, fried eggplant. 

There are trendy recipes that have established eggplant as a very fashionable vegetable. These include eggplant schnitzel and roasted eggplant topped with any combination of tahini, Silan (date syrup), pistachios, pomegranate and pine nuts. 

Of course, no list of eggplant recipes would be complete without the Italian classics of eggplant parmigiana and caponata and the Greek masterpiece moussaka.

While historians are unsure about the geographical origin of eggplants (they could be native to India, Africa or south Asia), there is proof they were grown in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory. The Arabs cultivated eggplants throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean area. With their conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century, they introduced the plants to Spain. Arabic language agricultural books from 12th century Spain and 14th century Italy describe the best methods for growing “Aubergines.” During the age of exploration, Europeans brought eggplants to the Americas. 

Heirloom eggplants in Carmel Market, Tel Aviv. Photo by Sharon Gomperts.

Eggplant is a nightshade and was once considered extremely poisonous. In fact, consuming the flowers and leaves of the plant in large quantities can be dangerous because they do contain the poison solanine. This led to the eggplant having a special place in Italian folklore of the Middle Ages, with the belief that eggplants could cause insanity. In 19th-century Egypt, it was also believed that insanity was “more common and more violent” when the eggplant was in season during the summertime.

Throughout history, Sephardic Jews mostly lived in the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe, all parts of the world blessed with temperate climates and plentiful fruits and vegetables. That probably explains why vegetables play such a prominent part in Sephardic cuisine. Many of the recipes feature mostly vegetables, flavored with small amounts of meat, chicken or fish. 

My husband Neil’s family is from Rhodes, Greece and I often heard that the large families could not afford a lot of meat, so they improvised by adding a little lamb or beef bones to vegetable dishes and slow cooking to release the rich flavors.

Along with okra, butternut squash, zucchini and tomatoes, eggplant is one of the most celebrated vegetables in the Sephardic kitchen. 

Along with okra, butternut squash, zucchini and tomatoes, eggplant is one of the most celebrated vegetables in the Sephardic kitchen. 

This recipe for braised chicken with eggplant is originally from Turkey and travelled through Spain and the Mediterranean. Eggplant, onions and tomato are a classic combination. I made it this past Shabbat and my family really enjoyed it. Searing the chicken pieces ensures that the meat is moist and flavorful. The eggplant is almost like a jam, thick and lovely and delicious.

—Rachel

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother Nana Aziza patiently frying eggplant on Fridays. If my uncle Menashe was around, he would always grab one or two or three slices from the frypan. She never reprimanded him.

The fried eggplant would be served at room temperature and served with classic overnight brown eggs, Israeli salad, slices of fried butternut, Iraqi laffah and amba (pickled mango paste) as part of the Shabbat lunch. 

Every Friday, I also prepare eggplant. It’s my silent tribute to my grandmother. Of course, in this age of busyness, I don’t have the patience to fry the eggplant. I slice it, salt it, drain it for at least an hour. I pat it dry and arrange it on a baking sheet. I drizzle extra virgin olive oil on top and roast it at 400°F. 

Unlike my grandmother, I’m not as patient when my very hungry daughters nibble away at the hot eggplant on a Friday afternoon. 

Then again, I can’t blame them—there is nothing in the world like the creamy sweetness of delicious, perfectly browned and caramelized eggplant.  

—Sharon 

GAYINA CON BERENJENNA:
(BRAISED CHICKEN WITH EGGPLANT)

2 medium eggplants
2 medium red bell peppers
Coarse salt
1/3 cup olive oil, more if needed
1 chicken cut into 10 pieces (breasts into
two) Or about 2 pounds boneless
skinless thighs or breasts
2 large sweet yellow onions, thinly sliced
or chopped
2 large garlic cloves, grated or finely
chopped
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 cup diced canned tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
½ preserved lemon skin finely diced
(optional) or juice of half lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

1. On bbq or in the oven, roast eggplants and bell peppers until the skin is charred on all sides.
2. Place grilled peppers in a bag for 30 minutes and then peel skin, stem and seeds off.
3. Place the eggplants in a colander for 15 minutes to cool and drain juices, peel skin off and sprinkle with coarse salt. Let sit in colander for an additional 30 minutes to drain additional juices.
4. Rinse chicken and dry well with a paper towel
5. In a large cast iron or heavy pan or tagine, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, then sauté until golden brown.
6. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside. Add oil to the pan, brown the chicken on the skin side or all sides if using skinless and boneless.
7. Cut the eggplant and remove the stem and any large parts that are filled with seeds. Chop the flesh into cubes and set aside.
8. Remove the chicken and set aside. Place the onions in the pot and add the spices. Sauté for two minutes, add the tomato paste and continue to sauté for a few minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, then add the eggplant and mix to coat all the pieces with the tomato and spices and onions. Cover with lid and cook for 5 minutes.
9. Add the chicken pieces on top of the eggplant mixture and add half the stock or water, cover and simmer for an hour, occasionally checking to see if more liquid is needed.
10. Chicken should be tender and falling off the bone and eggplant should be jammy.
Serve with rice or crusty bread or challah.


Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them
on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food. Website sephardicspicegirls.com/full-recipes.

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