The Nature of Things·Recipe

Nik Sharma's roasted eggplant with herbed yogurt dressing

Cool yogurt helps balance hot chili peppers in this side dish that will delight your taste receptors

Cool yogurt helps balance hot chili peppers in this side dish that will delight your taste receptors

This dish strikes the perfect balance between hot and cool flavours, offering just the right amount of heat. Food writer, cookbook author and recipe developer Nik Sharma explains the science behind the dish in the documentary Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking. (CBC / Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking )

Nik Sharma studied molecular biology in university and worked in the pharmaceutical industry before quitting his career in science to pursue cooking. Today, he’s a food writer, cookbook author and recipe developer, but he returned to his lab roots for Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking, a documentary from The Nature of Things. 

This veggie side dish, featured in the documentary, strikes the perfect balance between hot and cool flavours, offering just the right amount of heat. 

“Temperature plays an important role in appreciating the flavours of this dish,” Sharma adds.

“The eggplant is served warm, the herbed yogurt dressing is chilled, and the chutney can be served chilled or at room temperature. This results in different sensations on the surface of the tongue, as your taste receptors are simultaneously sampling and experiencing flavour molecules at different temperatures.”

Roasting the eggplant in the oven tenderizes the flesh as well as the skin, making them easy to eat. For a different flavour, try making this recipe with delicata squash. For a milder taste, Sharma explains, you can modify the dressing. 

“To make this sauce less allium-intense, I’ve used a shallot. If you want to tone it down even more, sauté the shallot and garlic — you can also sauté the ginger — in one tablespoon of ghee until translucent, then blend it with the rest of the ingredients.”

Serves 4 as a side dish.



  • 3 or 4 Chinese eggplants
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Fine sea salt, to taste

Herbed yogurt dressing

  • 1 cup plain unsweetened Greek yogurt, chilled
  • bunch cilantro
  • 1 shallot, peeled and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1 green chili
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Fine sea salt, to taste

For serving

  • 2 tbsp raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1 tbsp thinly sliced scallions
  • ½ cup chutney of your choice


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Trim the eggplants and cut them in half lengthwise, leaving the skins on. Cut the halves into ⅜-inch-thick chunks and place them in a medium bowl. Drizzle the chunks with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, sprinkle on the pepper and season with salt. 

Arrange the eggplant on the prepared baking sheets in a single layer, and roast until tender and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Cover to keep it warm until ready to serve.

Place the yogurt, cilantro, shallot, garlic, ginger, green chili and lemon juice in a blender. Blend on high speed until combined. Taste and season with salt. Keep the dressing chilled until ready to serve. 

Toast the pepitas in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat until they just start to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the pepitas to a small bowl. 

When ready to serve, garnish the eggplant with some of the scallions. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the dressing and chutney over the eggplant. Serve with the remaining dressing, chutney, pepitas and scallions on the side.

Nik Sharma was trained as a scientist, but his real passion is food. He emigrated from India to the U.S. when he was 20, but after graduating college and working in the pharmaceutical industry, he turned his passion into a profession. He’s a contributor to the New York Times, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written two award-winning cookbooks. His latest, The Flavor Equation, is about the science behind tasty food — and it’s been published around the world.

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