The past few weeks I’ve been taking care of my friend’s garden while she’s on a month long vacation, and it has been an absolute delight (the garden I mean, not the absence of my dear friend). It’s made me realize how much I miss gardening, the feel of having my hands in the dirt, the joy of eating the freshest possible veggies, the smell of tomato vines and basil, the low drone of bees collecting pollen. It’s a process that soothes the part of my brain that’s always going going going, a sort of meditation, that always leaves me feeling refreshed and lighthearted.
This recipe is a celebration of spring, inspired by all of the goodies that are growing and blossoming right now. The eggplant is producing in abundance, propped up with a trellis to counteract the heavy weighted fruits (yes, technically an eggplant is a fruit—not a veggie— since it contains seeds. Mind blown? Maybe?). There are so many herbs—basil, mint, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary—that I start feeling overwhelmed just thinking of the possibilities of what the heck to do with all of them. And the edible flowers—ohh the edible flowers! My favorite part of the garden and this salad.
The cilantro had all bolted (in other words, was flowering and in the process of going to seed), as had the fennel and arugula. All taste like a variant of the real thing, the downy white cilantro flowers a bit more mild and earthy, and the sunshine yellow bursts of fennel blossoms more warm and sharply anise-flavored. Society garlic, with their delicate purple petals, and red and orange marigolds, are sporadically planted around the garden to attract beneficial bees and insects. I collected the peppery flavored nasturtiums and the mild and gorgeous star-shaped blue borage just up the road, where they have begun to bloom and are free for the taking. A small volunteer begonia in one of my succulent pots by my front door produces pastel pink flowers with a surprising lemon zing.
The eggplant in this recipe is sliced and cooked to dreamy creamy perfection, and placed on a bed of vibrant herbs and arugula. Halloumi, if you’re unfamiliar, is a Greek style cheese that is quite firm and retains a very high melting point. This means you can grill it, fry it, cook it, without it losing shape. I enjoy it best when still warm. The tahini-lemon-sumac dressing is bright and earthy, which serves to both unite and elevate the many flavors of herbs and flowers present in this dish. The edible flowers I’ve used for this salad are by no means the ones you have to use. It’s quite amazing how many flowers are edible once you start looking in to the subject. They are such a fun ingredient, each lending their own unique flavor, and all of them beautiful. If you have any flowers growing in your yard—or in your neighbors yard (if they wouldn’t mind, of course)— I encourage you to investigate if they are in fact edible. If you ever want to add some pizzaz/flare/pow/bang/allure/dazzle/wow factor to a dish, edible flowers are the answer.
Eggplant and Halloumi Salad with Edible Flowers
recipe inspired by Bon Appetit
Notes: Only eat flowers that you know beyond a doubt are NOT poisonous. Also, stay away from flowers that may have been sprayed with pesticides. Other than that, feel free to experiment with whatever edible flowers you have access to. You don’t have to use the same edible flowers that I did. Here’s a very thorough guide on what flowers to use, and also what to steer clear of.
If you have the right equipment, such as a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix), or a good quality food processor (like a Cuisinart), I encourage you to make your own tahini for the dressing. I often find that tahini bought at the store tastes old, or sometimes even rancid. Making your own ensures you will have the best tasting ingredients. Here’s a link from The Kitchn on How To Make Tahini.
1 1/2 cups (loosely packed) arugula
1 cup (loosely packed) mint leaves
1 cup (loosely packed) basil leaves (torn if the leaves are big)
1/2 cup (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/3 cup chopped green onion
2 medium eggplant, stems cut off
1/3 cup olive oil for brushing
8 oz. Halloumi cheese, cut into 1/3 inch slices
A handful of assorted edible flowers
Tahini Lemon & Sumac Dressing (recipe follows)
In a medium bowl, toss together the arugula, mint, basil, parsley, and green onion. Transfer and spread out evenly onto a serving platter.
With a vegetable peeler, remove vertical strips of the eggplant skin every inch or so. Cut eggplant in 1/3 inch slices. Heat a griddle over medium-high. Lightly brush with olive oil and sprinkle salt on only one side of each eggplant slice just before grilling. Place the eggplant slices oil-side down and cook 5-7 minutes, or until eggplant is beginning to soften and has char marks. Just before flipping, brush the top sides with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Flip slices and cook again for 5-7 minutes, or until eggplant is cooked through. Remove from stovetop and set aside on a plate.
Brush Halloumi cheese with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Grill each side just until char lines appear, about 1-2 minutes on each side.
To assemble: on top of the bed of arugula and herbs, alternate staggered layers of eggplant and Halloumi cheese. Drizzle desired amount of dressing over the eggplant and Halloumi. Top with edible flowers. Serve/enjoy immediately.
Tahini Lemon & Sumac Dressing
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup hot water
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac
1 clove garlic
sea salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a blender, and blend on low until smooth. At first the dressing may appear curdled, but just keep blending until everything becomes fully incorporated and creamy.