Tuesday, July 27, 2010


How many eggplant recipes do you know? Until a couple of days ago my repertoire was limited to griddled eggplant with various accoutrement depending on the season and what I had on hand, and that old standby eggplant parmigiana.

Thanks once again to my mom and her insatiable appetite for food from the flea, (she returned from work the other day with three enormous specimen to add to some we had purchased from Kelly Farm Stand) I've got a couple more recipes to add to that list.

The best part about starting with a raw ingredient is the 'research'. I love pulling my books off the shelf, thumbing through well worn pages, writing down notes and envisioning the outcome of each recipe read. Of course the internet is also a rich source of ideas and techniques. I usually spend more time than I need to looking up recipes. Not because it's necessary, but because I get so caught up in all the possibilities.

Eggplant is such an alluring fruit. It comes in many varieties, its shape varies from slender and elongated to small and oval, and the color can be rich deep aubergine, variegated purple and white, vivid green and even red. My eggplants were fairly common. I had a two of the large, firm, oblong shaped variety as well as a few of the long, thin Japanese eggplants.

I've been doing a bit of experimentation with spices lately and so a recipe for Madras eggplant caught my eye first. Madras sauce originated in the South of India. It is made up of blend of chili, cumin, coriander, anise, cinnamon, paprika and turmeric. Some savory ingredients used are garlic, fresh ginger, lemon and chilies. The dish varies and can include some or all of these ingredients depending upon the cook. Typically it has a tomato base and can be used with meat, fish or vegetables.

I began by roasting the eggplant until it was browned but still firm. Then I set to work on the sauce. I finely diced onion, garlic and ginger and cooked them in a pot on medium with olive oil, ground chili, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and smoked paprika.

The recipe I had also listed fenugreek seeds which I had heard of but never used. I didn't have any on hand so I looked up its flavor profile and any substitution suggestions. It was described as combination of bittersweet and maple. There were suggestions to use fennel, mustard seeds or vinegar instead of fenugreek. Given that information, I put together a blend of dijon mustard, maple syrup, fennel seed and red wine vinegar and added it to the pot.

I let the alliums and ginger cook until they were translucent and imbued with the flavor of the combined spices. I added one can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes and let it all simmer. I cut the cooled eggplant into half inch cubes and drained a can of chick peas to add to the simmering sauce. I finished the dish with a handful of roughly cut cilantro and fresh grated nutmeg.

My second eggplant dish was inspired by Alice Waters. Alice listed an eggplant and tomato gratin that sounded so Chez Panisse, simple, highlighting just the ingredients. I imagined it, elegant and concise accompanying a rustic dish of grilled lamb. Just right. It was my intention to reproduce it just as it was written but part way through I thought to make a couple of subtle changes.

I diced a bit of garlic and enough onion to cover the bottom of a gratin dish and sauteed them with bay, thyme olive oil and butter. To that I added oregano. I sliced the eggplant into discs about a quarter of an inch thick and the tomato twice that thickness. When the onion was soft and sweet I spread it into the bottom of a buttered gratin dish. A sprinkling of diced kalamata olives and capers was my addition. Then I layered the tomato and eggplant, drizzled olive oil and seasoned the whole thing with salt and pepper. I baked the dish, covered in the oven at 400 for 45 minutes. I finished it uncovered for another 15 minutes and then let it cool and set before serving it.

My timid additions of oregano, kalamata and capers were a success. The finished dish felt Mediterranean and tasted earthy and brite at the same time. The original recipe is, of course, perfect as is. But, I think, Alice would approve. I hope she would.

Even today, a few days after this eggplant cooking extravaganza, I am still eating eggplant! I have enjoyed it and I'm already thinking of new and different applications for all that I learned.

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