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Eggplant, otherwise known as aubergine or guinea squash, is the star of a Middle Eastern dish called raheb, a vegan treat known worldwide. To the Lebanese, al-raheb translates to "monk," perhaps due to the dish's simple-yet-vibrant quality. Beyond the eggplant, this salad requires just a few other vegetables and spices to make it colorful, flavorful and worth repeating.
The cornerstone of the raheb's texture and flavor is the eggplant and how well it is cooked to bring out the flavor. To make a family-size portion, about four eggplants will be needed. These should be grilled over a campfire, in a grill, or even by resting them on the grates of a stovetop flame. The skin should be chargrilled before the eggplant is done. After a little cooling, the stem is chopped off and the burnt skins are peeled away, with just the inside meat left to be eaten.
The raheb's skinless eggplants should be chopped into small chunks. This is best executed by cutting each in half, then into lengthwise slices. Aligned, these slices are easily chopped into tiny, bite-size cubes. These eggplant pieces should be used to fill half the bowls, as they will form the foundation of the raheb salad. Salt and pepper is usually added to the eggplant before, rather than after, the rest of the ingredients are heaped on top. This "meaty" section of the dish will require the most seasoning.
Freshness is key when making a quality raheb, since all of the ingredients are vegetables, herbs and oil. Luckily, each ingredient is a common garden staple. On top of the eggplant cubes will go a liberal amount of diced onion and tomato, but not too much or the eggplant will be overshadowed. A finely chopped chile pepper will give the dish an element of heat, if so desired. The bowls are then left out until they reach room temperature.
Before serving, raheb is lightly dressed in olive oil and occasionally a few drops of lemon juice. On top of this goes fresh parsley, pomegranate seeds and mint leaves, each according to individual taste. The dish can be tossed or left in layers that the diner can pick apart with a fork. Aside from being a stand-alone meal, al-raheb is also a common garnish or side dish to meals with meats, pairing easily with poultry, beef, lamp, pork or seafood.
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