Falafel-Crusted Sole on Eggplant Puree with Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce

A harmony of well-loved Israeli flavors—crunchy falafel, garlicky eggplant puree, cool yogurt with cilantro—breathes new life into same-old fried fish. To coat the fillets, I rely on packaged falafel mix; some brands are rather anemic-flavored, so I always taste a bit first, then doctor as necessary.

The versatile eggplant puree also makes a tempting dip or a dairy-free spread for challah, and the yogurt sauce is a good complement to cooked vegetables, fried eggplant, rice, and bean dishes like Mujadderah.

Ingredients

For the Eggplant Puree

  • 2 pounds eggplant
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed or very finely minced
  • About 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • About 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce

  • 1 cup Greek plain yogurt, labneh, or a mixture of ¾ cup plain yogurt, drained for about 1 hour, and ¼ cup sour cream
  • cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated onion
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • teaspoons finely minced or pressed garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Cayenne (optional)

For the Fish

  • 2½ to 3 pounds sole, flounder, or similar white-fleshed fish fillets (any stray bones removed with a tweezer or paring knife), wiped with a damp paper towel and patted dry
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • About 2 cups packaged falafel mix

Optional additions

  • smoked paprika, ground cumin, coriander, cayenne
  • ¼ cup olive or canola oil, for frying

Method

Make the eggplant puree: an alluring smokiness is the essence of this dish, so begin by charring the eggplants. Roast each one whole on the stove over a gas burner as you would a red pepper: either impaled on a long-handled fork or set on a roasting rack placed over the flame. Turn the eggplant with tongs until it is thoroughly blackened on all sides. (Avoid piercing the eggplant with the tongs.) You can finish roasting in the same way, by lowering the flame a little and turning frequently, keeping a close eye on the eggplant until the flesh is very tender throughout. (They will probably exude some of their juices, so be prepared to sponge off the stove while the eggplants cool.)

Or, after the initial charring, you may find it quicker, simpler, and less messy to place the eggplants on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet in a preheated 450°F oven. Prick them with a fork a few times so they won’t burst, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Or roast the eggplants until soft on a charcoal grill.

(If you don’t have a gas stove, char the eggplants under the broiler, then finish roasting them in the oven.)

Let the eggplants cool until you can handle them. Peel off and discard the blackened skin and cut off the eggplant cap. Place the flesh in a colander for about 30 minutes to drain off any bitter juices, pressing down on the pulp with a spoon. Transfer to a food processor, add the garlic, mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, mint, and salt and pepper to taste, and process to a smooth puree. Add the parsley and pulse a few times. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more mayonnaise, lemon juice, or salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the sauce: combine the yogurt, cilantro, dill, onion, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and optional cayenne to taste in a bowl and stir well.

Make the fish: sprinkle the fillets lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon water in a wide, shallow bowl or pie pan. Spread the falafel mix on a large sheet of wax paper or a plate. Taste and, if underseasoned, add smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, cayenne, and/or salt and pepper as desired. Taking one fillet at a time, dip it into the beaten egg, coating well on both sides. Let the excess egg drip back into the bowl. Dredge the fillets on both sides in the falafel mixture. To prevent loose crumbs from falling off and burning in the hot oil, pat the fillets firmly on each side so the falafel adheres, then place them on a rack and let stand for about 5 minutes to set the coating.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch heavy sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the fillets (in batches, as necessary, to avoid crowding the pan), and sauté them for 1 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and cooked through.

Transfer the fillets as they are done to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb excess oil, keeping them warm, if necessary, in a 200°F oven, until the rest are done.

Arrange each serving of fish over a puddle of eggplant puree. Top with a dollop of cilantro-yogurt sauce. Pass any remaining sauce separately, and serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Optional accompaniment

  • bottled hot sauce
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