29. October 2013 · Comments Off on A Bit About Recipes: Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Eggplant · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Stuffed Mediterranean-Style Eggplant - photo by Rob NovakThe food co-op seems to like eggplant this time of year. It keeps showing up, much like zucchini at the height of summer. This is a bit of a challenge, because to be honest it’s not a vegetable that I use a lot. Especially the big Italian aubergines. At least the little Asian ones can go into stir-fries pretty easily. The big guys… let’s just say that babaganoush, as tasty as it is, is getting old and I’m not a fan of frying it and covering it in cheese and tomato sauce.

Choices? Moussaka? Tasty, but a fair amount of work. So, I dug up a recipe a while back for stuffed eggplant and gave it a whirl. I pretty much followed it to the letter, unfortunately disengaging my thinking in the process. So, I just trusted it to be seasoned to my tastes, and to have an acceptable level of flavor.

You know what? Recipes, even mine that I post here, suck. Well, they suck if you follow them slavishly. And I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t follow them, at least not literally. The most important thing that you can do when cooking is taste the food as you prepare it. Even if it’s something as simple as an adjustment in the amount of salt, it can make a world of difference. My ingredients are not going to be gram-for-gram identical to yours. You might prefer more or less of something. And you’ll never know unless you taste the food you’re making before it hits the table. More »

04. September 2013 · Comments Off on On Mashing Things to Make Them Tasty · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Roasting EggplantSo, we got a couple of big eggplants in our co-op basket this past week. Now, I’m not a big eggplant person. Every once in a while, I’ll chop up the skinny Asian varieties and use them in a stir-fry, but that’s about it. As a vegetable, it’s pretty much there to soak up the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with. Eggplant, on its own, is not a taste treat.

Which is why you see most non-stir-fry recipes drenching the things in tomato sauce, cheese, or both. Eggplant parmesan, mousaka, eggplant-noodle lasagna, stuffed eggplant, ratatouille, and so on.

What has eggplant got going for it? A bitter astringency when raw… that’s gotta go. Complex sugars that don’t really taste sweet to the human palate – something needs to happen there, as well. A surprising amount of oil/fat is bound up in there. Well, fat’s flavor so maybe we can work with that a bit. Even cooked, it can be a little stringy, so we’ve got to alter the texture as well.

So – how do we make stringy/tough veggies tender, give up their flavor, and get sweeter without adding sugar? To answer that, we’ll look at stuff like cauliflower, potatoes, and yams. Simple – roast ’em and mash the hell out of ’em! And what do you do with roasted, mashed eggplant? Babaganoush!

Great for dipping pita chips and fresh baked naan, or as a chunky sauce alongside grilled meats, babaganoush isn’t really that hard to make and only requires one specialty ingredient. So, hie yourself to the nearest Asian grocery (or even perhaps the international foods aisle of your megamart) and grab a jar of tahini. This paste of ground, roasted sesame seeds gives a nutty, toasty hit to both this recipe and hummus. You can also thin it with some citrus juice, add a pinch of ground cayenne pepper, and use it as a sandwich/salad dressing.

You’ll be whompin’ the bejeesus out of two separate things here, so lay hands on a food processor and a mortar & pestle. A sturdy coffee cup and a bar “muddler” works, if you don’t have a mortar & pestle. If you have neither, use a garlic press and just mix the pressed cloves and salt together – not optimal, but it works.

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp tahini
2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice (minus pulp & seeds, please)
1/4 c finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Set oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Wash eggplant. Remove the green “cap” from the eggplant with a paring knife. Poke it about a dozen times all over with a fork to allow steam to escape.

Place eggplant on baking sheet and place in oven uncovered. Roast until tender all the way through, about 15-20 minutes if you started from room temperature, or about 30 minutes if you pulled your eggplant from the fridge. When tender, remove from oven and let cool until comfortable to handle.

Mince garlic cloves and combine with the 1/2 tsp kosher salt in a mortar & pestle. Grind/mash into a smooth paste.

Slice eggplant in half lengthwise, and with a spoon scoop out the interior into the bowl of your food processor. Get as much of the flesh off the skin as possible. Pulse until smooth in texture, about 6-8 pulses.

In a bowl, combine eggplant puree, garlic paste, lemon juice, and tahini. Mix in parsley, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for use as a dip. Serve at room temperature as an accompaniment to roast chicken or lamb.