Israel’s late first lady Nechama Rivlin learned this classic Sephardic recipe from the family of her husband, Israel’s 10th president, Reuven Rivlin. In the 19th century, the Ashkenazi Rivlin family immigrated to Jerusalem with students of the Vilna Gaon. Here, dishes from Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities were prepared side by side and at times shared among neighbors.
Like previous generations, Nechama would dry eggplant slices on the windowsill before frying them. Whether you leave your slices to dry by the window or simply on the counter, make sure to salt them but not too much. The salt prevents the eggplant from releasing moisture as it’s fried. When choosing an eggplant, look for ones that are light and have a shiny, taut skin — and, when available, opt for baladi or heirloom varieties.
1 large baladi (heirloom) eggplant sliced into ½-cm / ¼-inch pieces lengthwise (or 2 regular eggplants slices crosswise into ½-cm / ¼-inch pieces)
½ cup neutral oil
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced
¼ – ½ green hot pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
6-7 parsley stems with leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 small can tomato paste (100 grams)
1 cup water
Juice of ½ lemon
Place the eggplant slices in one layer onto a paper towel-lined tray. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with ½ teaspoon salt, flip the eggplant over and sprinkle an additional teaspoon of salt over the eggplant slices. Set the tray aside (ideally in direct sunlight) for 1 hour and up to 4 hours. Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels on both sides to remove the excess liquid and salt and place the eggplant onto a fresh paper towel-lined plate.
Heat the oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Place the flour into a wide bow, add ½ teaspoon of black pepper and ½ teaspoon of salt and mix well.
Dredge a piece of eggplant in the flour until both sides are covered, dip it into the beaten egg and then dip it into the flour again to coat both sides. Transfer the eggplant into the sizzling oil and fry the eggplant for 6 minutes, until golden on both sides and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat the dredging and frying with the remaining eggplant slices, frying in batches without overcrowding the pan. If any small eggplant particles burn in the oil, strain those pieces out of the oil or replace the oil with clean oil.
Prepare the sauce: Place all the sauce ingredients except the tomato paste and water into a small pot over medium heat. Cook the sauce for 6 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomato paste and water and stir well. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and remove from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 340°F / 170°C. Place the eggplant into a large round baking pan or a rectangular glass baking dish. Pour the sauce over the eggplant until the eggplants are almost completely covered. Cover the pan with a lid or with a layer of parchment paper and then aluminum foil on top. Transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove the cover from the pan and add the lemon juice (if using) and bake for 10 more minutes or until the eggplant pieces are browned. Serve immediately or store, covered in the refrigerator for 3 days. Reheat the eggplant in an oven before serving.