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In which I do battle with a giant purple vegetable and win - Tactical Ninja

Mar. 20th, 2012

09:11 am - In which I do battle with a giant purple vegetable and win

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I've always thought eggplants were beautiful, but been afraid of eating them. They feel weird when you squeeze them and had that aura of 'potentially a sweet mushy vegetable' about them, and I've found that offputting. I'm not a big fan of pumpkin, kumara and the like either. There's something about the texture combined with the sweetness that just doesn't work for me in what is supposed to be a savoury meal. It seemed to me that eggplant might be the same.

However, in the interest of continuing to expand my cooking horizons and because the latest box of couscous had a recipe on the back of it, I decided to overcome my eggplantphobia and have a go at cooking (and eating) one.


First, take your eggplant:


not shown actual size


The recipe called for four baby ones but this is New Zealand, we have 2 choices of eggplant at this time of year and none of them were very baby looking. There were these pink banana-looking ones that it turns out are Chinese eggplants but I'd never seen them before and figured going for your bog standard globe one might be better for a start. So I got one that looked about the size of four baby ones. Bearing in mind I have no idea what size a baby eggplant is..

The other thing I had to get was sumac, which it turns out they don't have in New World (in fact they don't know what it is and since I didn't either it was a bit hopeless). However, I have google and it turns out it's a spice and the Nut Store in Cuba St has it.

Seems eggplant can be bitter and you can reduce this and also improve the texture (read: make it more creamy* O.o) by salting it for an hour:



Chopped into slices, peeled (which they say you don't have to do but apparently the skin is tough and I hate fiddly food so I did), salted both sides and left in a colander for an hour. Meanwhile, the recipe also called for lamb back straps. I don't normally buy lamb these days because I can't equate the wiggly things I cut the wool off on Saturday being worth $16 a kilo (at about 30 kilos dressed weight) when I get $3-$7 for ministering to them. Also, supermarket lamb is often ram lamb and I can taste it. This time though I thought "Why the hell not?" And I lucked out because it was not ram.



Olive oil with sumac (also sat for an hour) painted over the meat, then sprinkled with thyme. The recipe called for coriander but EW YUCK CORIANDER BLEH BLEH BLEH and I had the thyme up my sleeve** so thyme it was. Into the oven with this pretty mess for a good grilling. Meanwhile...



Eggplant chips, after being rinsed off and getting dried on their way to the oven. Next time I'll rinse them a bit better because they were somewhat salty still when we ate them. Then some tomatoes, also sliced, went in with the eggplant on top of the lamb after it was turned over. And since this was a couscous recipe, there was also some couscous. Ten minutes and a sprinking of thyme (a short thyme?) later, voila!



Foodstuffs! That we ate, and nobody died! Again! I am developing a decent record of people not dying after I cook for them. I would love to know how chefs manage to put stuff on plates without getting splashes of stuff on the sides. Maybe they have a special stuff-putting tool?

* I am mildy weirded out by the prospect of creamy vegetables.
** rimshot.gif


The verdict? I think I quite like it. The prep is a bit of a pain but I suspect with practice I'd get better at it, and in terms of vegies that lend substance and variety of flavour to a meal, I'm sold. I've been trying to cook more meals without meat, so having another tasty vegie in my repertoire is a bonus.

This is your cue to post your favourite eggplant recipe because I can't rely on the couscous packet to keep supplying me with ideas, eh?

Meanwhile, yesterday I outed myself to my lecturer. He's now aware that this isn't my first go-round with drug policy issues. I'm not sure how I feel about that (I am afraid that it changes expectations) but I kind of knew I wouldn't be able to keep quiet for long. Ah well. Best be doing well at it then eh?

Comments:

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From:dianavilliers
Date:March 19th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
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From my extensive culinary experience*, I believe that chefs wipe the splashes off with a clean tea towel.

*Watching cooking reality shows on TV.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 19th, 2012 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Aww, and here was I thinking there was some fancy trick that I could learn.

However, it does mean my meals will look instantly chef-ey now!
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From:pythia
Date:March 20th, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
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Nope, no trick. Just wipe it off. ;)
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From:rivet
Date:March 19th, 2012 08:35 pm (UTC)
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Moussaka! Either vegetarian (mushroom) or meat. Totally flavoursome, well-spiced and relatively easy cassarole that's the greek equivalent of mac n' cheese comfort food. Like lasagne, it makes sense to make a large amount.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 19th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
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*NOM*

And winter is coming too!

(possibly time to crack out the crock pot)
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From:rivet
Date:March 19th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
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It's traditionally made in the oven, but i HAPPEN to have a very good crockpot recipe for it. I'll have to find the time to copy it out for you.
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From:cactus_cat
Date:March 19th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
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I just dice it and use it in tomato-y pasta sauce. Kinda like ratatouille but easy and quick. You generally don't have to salt eggplants these days - apparently they were very bitter 20 years ago but now they've bred varieties that don't need salting. Also very nice marinated as part of an antipasto platter.

I also have to second moussaka. So good, whether it's veggie or mince.

Stuffed eggplant on the bbq is also really good.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 19th, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
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That's good to know about the not-salting thing. Thanks!
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From:downwardlashes
Date:March 20th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
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Haha, I always wondered about it. I'm a lazy cook and skipped the salting, and it never tasted bitter. Now I know!
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From:myrrhmade
Date:March 19th, 2012 09:46 pm (UTC)
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YUM
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From:tatjna
Date:March 19th, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
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NOM. SRSLY.
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From:pombagira
Date:March 20th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
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gosh.. that does look very noms...


was going to come visit you for buttons.. *looks outside*.. maybe not today.. stupid rain.. *huffs*.. oh well maybe tomorrow??

*twirls about*
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2012 04:29 am (UTC)
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Tomorrow works, although this does look like it's settling in.

*cracking out the ugly wool stockings now*
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From:pombagira
Date:March 20th, 2012 04:36 am (UTC)
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yeah.. it does look like it.. maybe i will wait untill friday and follow you home for a bit.. *ponders this*..
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From:downwardlashes
Date:March 20th, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
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I used to make this dish a lot, but then I had toddlers and they were all "NO"; eggplant sauteed up with green curry paste from a jar because that's totally easy, and some soy sauce. It's yummy and really easy.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2012 04:33 am (UTC)
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There must be such a thing as curry without coriander, right?
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From:thatgirljj
Date:March 20th, 2012 04:08 am (UTC)
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Baba ganoush. Or mutabal. Whatever you call it. That links to my favorite version to make at home, but I prefer the armenian style mutabal when eating out. I could eat my weight in that stuff.

Also, I like to slice it like you did (I don't bother salting it), sprinkle parmesan cheese on top, roast it in the oven for 15-20 minutes and serve it with meat sauce over the top like it was pasta.

If I reach back into my memory, I know I can find more. We grow it every summer and I swear I get like 12 pounds of eggplant a year off 3 plants.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2012 04:32 am (UTC)
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I had to look up tahini, but that looks extremely tasty. Definitely giving it a go!
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From:bekitty
Date:March 20th, 2012 09:22 am (UTC)
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The awesome thing about all those dips like hummus, babaganouj and taramasalata is that they all have the same base, but different featured ingredients. So the hummus has chickpeas, babaganouj has eggplant, and taramasalata has anchovies (I think). And they all have lemon juice, garlic and tahini. So if you have a mixer, you can make any or all of them and look like a Proper Whizzy Chef!
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From:poor_toms_acold
Date:March 20th, 2012 06:04 am (UTC)
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I slice eggplant very thinly and either fry it with little to no oil, or grill it in a George Foreman Grill til brown and crispy. SO GOOD. I'm curious about the lamb - how can you tell if it's ram vs ewe, and how do you find the latter? I'm interested in the taste difference.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2012 07:12 am (UTC)
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Rams have a particular smell, in the same way billy goats do. It's the sheep smell2, more or less. That smell is related to their maleness (it gets stronger at tupping time) therefore it's in all their cells, and I can detect it as a flavour in the meat.

I guess most people don't notice because they don't spend a lot of time around sheep, but for me the smell of rams being a taste in my food is kind of offputting.

Ewe meat, even older mutton, is just fine. It has the tasty sheep flavour without the tang.
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From:bekitty
Date:March 20th, 2012 09:32 am (UTC)
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I'll bet you had thyme on your hands. :P
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From:weeweekittie
Date:March 20th, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC)
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Seconding baba ganoush. Grilled eggplant is the best for everything all the time.
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From:missprune
Date:March 20th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
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Well, my real favorite would have to be eggplant parmigiana, but that is more labor intensive than I'm into these days. My husband grows eggplants in the garden in the summer and this is the way I generally use them: Cut them in chunks (bite size) along with similarly chunked potatoes, maybe a green pepper, and an onion, stir them around with some olive oil and salt, put them in a covered deep casserole sort of thing and roast in the oven until just right. Almost mushy but not quite.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 20th, 2012 07:17 pm (UTC)
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Wow, so eggplant takes the same amount of time as potato to roast? I never would have guessed that.

Also, putting this here for future reference.
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From:plantgirl
Date:March 20th, 2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
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Random info:

When you pick an eggplant you want it to be as firm, plump, & dense as possible given its size & shape. What gets called baby eggplant are about the size of an adult fist. Chinese eggplant can be used anywhere you use a globe eggplant, but the globe eggplant work better for things like baba ganoush & roasted eggplant dips because you have a better ratio of soft middle bits to skin.

Salting the eggplant serves two purposes. 1) it removes bitter compounds (which may or may not be necessary depending on the variety of eggplant- taste a sliver of the raw eggplant if you are curious). 2) It removes extra moisture & helps keep the eggplant from absorbing as much oil if it's being sauteed. This helps keep it from turning into a Slimy Vegetable. I salt the slices & stack them on a plate so that they are slightly tilted/ramped (giving the extra liquid someplace to go). Sometimes I wedge a bit of towel or sponge under one side of the plate to help with the ramping. The following recipes both work better when the eggplant is salted. In fact the first recipe doesn't get the right texture if you don't salt the eggplant first.
__________
Recipe #1, aka Roasted Eggplant:
-Slice the eggplant in thick slices (about 1" thick). (I leave the skin on for ease of handling once the slices are cooked, but I don't generally eat it.) Salt, let rest for ~30mins (I usually go until they've oozed enough liquid for it to create a slick on each slice), rinse well, pat dry.
-Slather eggplant slices in olive oil (w/ spices & a bit crushed garlic if you want), spread in single layer on a baking sheet & bake or broil at some Very High Temperature until golden-brown & completely tender if poked.

I serve this as a side dish. Done properly the slices come out fluffy/creamy. I have converted a number of "I don't like eggplant because it is slimy" people with this method of preparation. (Sliced eggplant can also be tossed on the grill/barbie, but make sure you leave the skin on because otherwise the slices will just fall apart into mush.)
__________
Recipe #2, aka Eggplant Glop:
note the first: I like to cook eggplant until it is very well cooked because otherwise I can still taste the astringency/bitterness. My father doesn't taste whatever that astringent compound is, so when he cooks it his eggplant cubes are still fairly pale & firm (& I find them unpalatable but he loves it.) Experiment & adjust as you see fit.

note the second: This dish tastes better the next day/with time to sit, so it works well to prepare ahead & reheat. Served with [noodles/rice/bread/lentils] & with a [salad/veggies] it makes a fairly hearty meal.

note the third: I have several variations of this dish. For example with less garlic, some carmelized onion, & some cinnamon & cumin it can take on somewhat Moroccan flavors.
-*-*-*-
-Cube 2 medium/large eggplants into 1 1/2" cubes, or whatever approximations thereof the weird shape of eggplant allows. Don't worry if you've got smaller cubes from near the edges- having some range of sizes can help the final texture of this dish. Salt/rinse/drain.
-Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil in a large skillet (medium to medium+). Add eggplant & saute for ~20 minutes, stirring every few minutes, until cubes have darkened & are soft through if poked with something pointy. Add more oil during cooking as needed to keep it from sticking, but be careful because eggplant can be a giant oil sponge & if you let it will soak up so much oil that your resulting dish is just nasty greasy.
-Add 1-2 jalapenos, seeded & diced, & 2-4 cloves crushed or minced garlic to the eggplant. (If you don't have fresh jalapenos a small can of diced green chilis works as well). Turn up heat & saute for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic has mellowed a bit.
-Add 1-2 large cans diced tomatoes to all of the above (28 oz?). Add some freshly ground black pepper, & salt if needed. Stir everything up & let it simmer for 15-40 mins (or as you have time) to meld flavors. (I'm not trying to drive you crazy by being imprecise- 15 minutes of simmering will suffice if you're in a hurry, but it tastes better if everything can cook together for longer.)
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From:tatjna
Date:March 21st, 2012 07:08 pm (UTC)
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Pumpkin is ok in soup with All The Butter to make it creamysalty instead of mushysweet. Kumara will never pass my lips.
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