The Eggplant Chronicles III: an Eggplant Appetizer

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One evening recently I found myself with four expected for dinner and two Japanese eggplants. I decided to use the eggplants as an hors d’oeuvre and sliced them diagonally (to increase the size of the slices) about 1/3 inch thick, sprinkled the slices heavily with salt, and set them aside to disgorge while I rummaged in the pantry and refrigerator. I came across my tub of salt-cured capers and set a large handful of them aside to soak. I found some leftover marinara sauce, about a cup’s worth, and put it in a little saucepan and reduced it to half a cup to thicken the sauce and intensify the flavors. I added a small handful of chopped fresh Greek oregano, and since the flavor was going to lean more Greek I threw in a few chopped fennel fronds too, a tablespoonful or so. I pulled a slice of feta out of the tub in my refrigerator and crumbled it. The oven was turned to 425 to preheat.
By this time the eggplant slices looked quite watery and were ready to be dried with a clean dish towel. They need to be pressed hard to get as much water out as possible. Then they were fried in olive oil in a nonstick skillet until nicely browned on both sides. I do this over fairly high heat, which requires constant unwavering attention so that they don’t burn but gets the job done quickly.
Once the eggplant slices are fried, they can be laid out on parchment paper on a baking sheet and the squeezed-dry capers fried quickly in olive oil in the same pan, not to crispness and not browned but just enough to turn them a shade darker and bring out their flavor. Then mix them into the tomato sauce and spread the mixture on the eggplant slices. Top with crumbled feta. Pop in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes, until the slices are bubbling-hot and the feta looks a little soft, and serve.
These can be made hours ahead, even a day ahead, and then the final baking done just before eating. They are suitable for low carbohydrate diets. They are suitable for vegetarians as long as the tomato sauce didn’t contain any meat. If cooking for vegans, you could leave off the cheese, fry the capers to the point of a bit of browning and crispness, and use them combined with toasted pine nuts for the top garnish.
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Thanks to my grafted Japanese eggplant I always have a couple of lovely fruit hanging around the kitchen waiting for inspiration to strike. If you don’t have a big vegetable garden, eggplant is attractive enough (in my eyes anyway) to be grown along a walkway in place of flowers.
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