Eggplant, brown rice and quinoa salad with quick pickled onion and a date and ras el hanout dressing

Eggplant, brown rice and quinoa salad with caramel dressing.
Eggplant, brown rice and quinoa salad with caramel dressing. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Dietary
Vegetarian

This dressing is salad caramel. It's the perfect accompaniment to the eggplant and pickled onion – complementing while being gutsy enough to hold its own, something you always want from a salad dressing. Many think it's all about what you put in the salad but to me, it's all about the dressing – it's what brings everything together and the final opportunity to add flavour and balance. Think dressing first, salad later.

Ingredients

2 eggplants, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup brown rice

½ cup red quinoa

Quick pickled onion*

1 red onion, finely sliced into half moons

½ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp caster sugar

Stir through

1 bunch parsley, leaves roughly chopped

1 bunch coriander, chopped

½ cup pine nuts, toasted

Dressing

8 tbsp olive oil

6 fresh dates, pitted and chopped

3 tsp ras el hanout

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from about half a medium-sized lemon)

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp honey

Method

1. Preheat oven to 175C fan-forced (195C conventional).

2. Place eggplant pieces on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over some sea salt and set aside for 5 minutes. Drizzle over the olive oil then roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through and golden. Allow to cool.

3. Cook the brown rice and quinoa separately, according to packet instructions. You can cook them in vegetable or chicken stock instead of water for additional flavour if you'd like, but it's not a deal breaker. Strain and allow to cool.

4. For the quick pickled onions, add all the ingredients to a bowl and give them a gentle stir and set aside. You just want some of that strong bite to subside and once the onion has softened a little, you can be confident they are good to go, about 20 minutes should do it.

5. Add the eggplant to a large bowl with the cooled rice and quinoa and toss together. Remove about half the onion pieces from the pickling liquid (reserve the leftovers in the fridge for another use, stored in their liquid) and add to the bowl along with the chopped herbs. Gently toss to combine.

6. To make the dressing add all the ingredients to a blender and blitz until creamy in texture and everything is thoroughly combined. Add half the dressing to the salad and toss again. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and dollop over remaining dressing to taste.

*Note: this makes more pickled onions than you need, but it is a handy fridge staple to have on standby. Try them with my beer and miso lamb ribs.