Posts Tagged ‘eggplant’

Pork Belly and Eggplant

image
Recently I scored a big chunk of local outdoor-raised pork belly and have been gleefully cooking with this delicious cut for about a week. First I seasoned it with salt and pepper, let the seasoning sink in overnight, then sous-vided the piece at 143 degrees for 24 hours, finishing with a rapid sear on both sides over hardwood charcoal. That was delicious, but today’s planned-overs are the best pork belly so far. This dish uses the eggplants that my garden is pumping out right now.

You will need:
6 slices across a half pork belly (raw or cooked, but salt if raw) about 1/4-1/3 inch thick. In effect, you have six very thick slices of unsmoked bacon. Cut the slices crosswise into pieces about 2″ long.
4 Japanese long eggplants cut into chunks 2″ long and then quartered, salted liberally and set aside to drain.
3 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed, soaked, and drained (you can find salted fermented black beans in bags or bulk at good Asian groceries. DON’T get the unfermented kind.)
Half a cup or so of my Quasi-Korean Sauce I have this in the refrigerator all the time.

Press the salted eggplant pieces hard with your hands in a clean towel to get out as much moisture as possible. Lay the pieces of pork belly flat in a hot skillet and fry them good and brown and crisp on both sides, but don’t burn. Set them aside on paper towels and pour most of the fat out of the pan, leaving a few tablespoons. Put the eggplant pieces in to fry, keeping the heat medium-high and turning with a spatula. They should be browned on the cut sides and pretty soft. Meanwhile, mash the fermented black beans with your mortar and pestle or grind them in a mini-prep. Add them to the Quasi-Korean sauce. When the eggplant is cooked add the sauce to the hot pan, stir and flip to coat the eggplant well and cook it in the sauce a minute, add the pork belly chunks, and stir to coat them thoroughly. Serve forth with suitable green bits on top. I used cilantro, but slivered green onions would have been better. Serves two. If you aren’t a ketogenic eater, you will want some white rice with this, and it will serve three.

Now, my rant about pork. Pigs are intelligent animals and the conditions under which they are kept in factory farms is heartbreaking and disgraceful. They go insane, as would we under similar circumstances. Please seek out a local farmer who raises pigs humanely and buy from him or her. Often local food co-ops are sympathetic to your quest and can either help you get the meat or direct you to farmers. Go to farmers markets or look on Craigslist. If you have no other source, ask meat dept. managers at Whole Foods. They may surprise you.

The Eggplant Chronicles IV

DSCN0199
Summer vegetables are at their peak now, and in my home most of our meals are based on them. This one makes a great lunch or light dinner. I used to wrap this mixture into a pita as shown above but now that I am low-carb I just pile it on a little plate, drizzle with the sauce, and eat it. I like it warm, but it is also very tasty served at room temperature. It can be made ahead, and keeps a few days in the refrigerator. Oil-cured black olives are used to add a meaty savor to eggplant and zucchini, and capers add an herbal note. This meal is vegetarian, and can be made vegan if you alter the sauce recipe a little. You can use all eggplant or all zucchini if that’s what you have, although I think that the mixture is best.

Eggplant and Zucchini with Olives and Capers

2 small or one large eggplant, fresh and firm
2 small zucchini
12-20 oil-cured black olives depending on your taste for them (no other kind of olive will do here)
3 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and then soaked in cold water for an hour and squeezed dry
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
chopped parsley to taste, probably a couple of tablespoons
Cut the eggplant in cubes 1/2 inch or a little larger on a side. Whether you peel it first is up to you. The finished dish has a more tender texture if the eggplant is peeled, but has less fiber and fewer antioxidants, so take your pick. Personally, I leave the peel on for this dish as long as the eggplants are young and tender. Cut the zucchini in quarters and slice each quarter into segments on the small side of 1/2 inch. Toss the vegetable cubes together in a bowl with 2 teaspoons of salt and let sit at least 1 hour, tossing occasionally. This step is important for this dish and shouldn’t be shortened. Don’t worry about the quantity of salt; if you do the squeezing step well, most of it will be removed with the liquid. You can soak the capers at the same time. Pit the olives and chop them coarsely, and chop the garlic finely. At the end of an hour, drain off exuded liquid and squeeze the veggie chunks in a clean kitchen towel, a few handfuls at a time, until as much liquid as possible has been squeezed out. Squeeze the capers dry and chop them coarsely. In a clay cazuela or 10″ skillet, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil and add the garlic. Cook until opaque and cooked but do not allow it to start to brown even a little. Now add the olives, capers, and veggie chunks, toss to coat with the oil, and cook over low heat for about an hour, tossing occasionally and making sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Add a little water if needed to prevent burning.
Texture is very important. Start tasting a little after 45 minutes or even 30 if it looks like it’s cooking quickly. When the zucchini is just tender but not mushy, and the eggplant is melting in texture, it’s done. Also check for salt, but the seasonings are salty and you are unlikely to need any. Stir in the parsley just before serving. Serve with the sauce below.

Lemon-garlic sauce
This sauce is like an aioli but looser and less rich. The egg yolk just binds it and thickens it a little. If you leave out the egg yolk the whole dish is vegan, and the flavor is less rich but still very good. The texture of the vegan version will be liquid, not thick, and it will need to be stirred up by each diner before taking any.
1 egg yolk
1 large clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
1 Jalapeno pepper, seeds and veins removed unless you are a heat freak
olive oil as needed, usually about 1/4 cup.
salt to taste
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
In a small food processor, chop the garlic clove and the chile pepper. I always mince fresh chiles before putting them in the processor to make sure that big chunks don’t startle diners. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice, process briefly, and slowly drip in the olive oil until it’s as thick as you want. I like it to be liquid and spoonable, but velvety. Taste and salt as needed. Add the thyme leaves and stir in. For the vegan version, proceed the same way except leave out the egg yolk, and be aware that it won’t thicken in the same way but will be more like a vinaigrette.
This dish is suitable for a low carb diet. All veggies have some carbs but not enough to worry about.
As far as portions, I think this quantity only serves two, maybe even just one on a hungry day. Daintier eaters might get three or four portions.

The Eggplant Chronicles II: cooking eggplant

image
Like most Louisiana natives I love eggplant, and I have fervent opinions about how it should be prepared for cooking. For any application in which it is to be sautéed, I believe that it must be salted and drained first. This is not to get out bitterness, as some cookbooks say; a well-grown eggplant of a good variety doesn’t have bitterness. The disgorging process gives the eggplant a better texture, almost silky, and in my view is not optional.
For this dish, I cut an enormous yet still young Black King eggplant into thick meaty slices about half an inch thick. I salted them liberally on both sides in the morning, stuck them in a bag in the refrigerator, and in the evening laid them out in a single layer on half of a clean towel and pushed down hard on the slices with the other half of the towel, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Now sauté them in olive oil over medium-high heat, laying them out on a baking sheet as they finish cooking, and making sure to cook them until they can easily be penetrated with a fork. Meanwhile, decide what you want to put on them. I had some horta (cooked greens mixture) made according to the description in my amaranth post, liberally flavored with garlic, fennel fronds, and salt-cured olives, and decided to use that. Other possibilities include leftover cut-up meat or chicken with herbs, scrambled eggs highly seasoned with herbs, tomato sauce, or whatever. I mixed the horta with crumbled feta for a little pizazz. Top with cheese ( I used an artisanal cheese similar to Parmesan) and pop in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes or so. Pull them out, top with pine nuts or your own favorite nuts and a lavish sprinkle of Maras pepper flakes or other good red pepper flakes, and put back in the oven for a minute or two. I added some roasted onion halves on the side. Serve. Eat.
This sort of dish screams for a good smooth red wine and has to be eaten with a carefree attitude. Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
image

image

The Eggplant Chronicles I: choose your plant

image

For the last couple of years I’ve rolled my eyes over the phenomenon of grafted vegetable plants, and griped lustily that there is nothing difficult about growing tomatoes or eggplants, so why would anybody  fall for the grafted ones? Then I saw a picture of the extremely deep rootball that the grafted rootstock develops and began to ponder whether this might be really advantageous in my very hot dry area. So this year I tested two grafted eggplants, one Millionaire ( a Japanese-type eggplant) and one Black King. I planted several standard Millionaire and Ichiban plants for comparison.

So far, the grafted Millionaire is out-producing the ungrafted Japanese eggplants at a rate of three to one. I don’t know how well you can see them in the picture above but the plant currently has five eggplants in various stages and is covered with blossoms further up. This one plant would have been plenty for us. The Black King seems sturdier than large eggplants I’ve grown in the past and is holding its enormous fruit without flopping.
image
So I will be planting grafted eggplants again. They cost just about twice as much as the ungrafted plants that I bought from a good local grower, but they are producing three times as much eggplant in less space. The two grafted tomatoes that I tried don’t seem to be outdoing their nongrafted kin at this point, but the jury’s still out. Also, one growing season isn’t a true test. But I’ve seen enough to be intrigued.
There are a lot of kinds of eggplant. The only types that I grow these days are the resplendent big Italian types and the long slender Japanese types. My preference is for meaty eggplants from which I can carve out big luxurious eggplant steaks. If your cookery leans Asian, you may be interested in the tiny bitter Thai eggplants and the dozens of other Asian types.
By the way, eggplants are highly ornamental at nearly every stage of growth. No need to stick them in the back yard.

Vegetable dinners: things to wrap in a pita


My new category, Vegetable Dinners, will be a collection of meals based on vegetables. Some are vegetarian and some aren’t, but where meat is used, it’s a small amount and is used more as a seasoning than as the bulk of the meal. Where relevant, notes on how to make them vegetarian or vegan are included, but many of them taste best with a little meat or fish included, and my recipes note this. My kitchen mantra is “Eat less meat, eat better meat,” and the same goes for eggs and dairy products. Since you aren’t using much, you can afford the best and most sustainable.
Summer vegetables are at their peak now, and in my home most of our meals are based on them. Mixtures that can be wrapped in a pita make a light easy meal on hot days. The filling can be made ahead, and keeps a few days in the refrigerator. OIl-cured black olives are used to add a meaty savor to eggplant and zucchini, and capers add an herbal note. This meal is vegetarian, and can be made vegan if you alter the sauce recipe a little.

Eggplant and Zucchini with olive paste

2 small or one large eggplant, fresh and firm
2 small zucchini
12-20 oil-cured black olives depending on your taste for them (no other kind of olive will do here)
3 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and then soaked in cold water for an hour and squeezed dry
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
chopped parsley to taste, probably a couple of tablespoons

Cut the eggplant in cubes 1/2 inch or a little larger on a side. Whether you peel it first is up to you. The finished dish has a more tender texture if the eggplant is peeled, but less fiber and fewer antioxidants, so take your pick. Personally, I leave the peel on for this dish as long as the eggplants are young and tender. Cut the zucchini in quarters and slice each quarter into segments on the small side of 1/2 inch. Toss the vegetable cubes together in a bowl with 2 teaspoons of salt and let sit at least 1 hour, tossing occasionally. This step is important for this dish and shouldn’t be shortened. Don’t worry about the quantity of salt; if you do the squeezing step well, most of it will be removed with the liquid. You can soak the capers at the same time. Pit the olives and chop them coarsely, and chop the garlic finely. At the end of an hour, drain off exuded liquid and squeeze the veggie chunks in a clean kitchen towel, a few handfuls at a time, until as much liquid as possible has been squeezed out. Squeeze the capers dry and chop them coarsely. In a clay cazuela or 10″ skillet, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil and add the garlic. Cook until opaque and cooked but do not allow it to start to brown even a little. Now add the olives, capers, and veggie chunks, toss to coat with the oil, and cook over low heat for about an hour, tossing occasionally and making sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Add a little water if needed to prevent burning.
Texture is very important. Start tasting a little after 45 minutes or even 30 if it looks like it’s cooking quickly. When the zucchini is just tender but not mushy, and the eggplant is melting in texture, it’s done. Also check for salt, but the seasonings are salty and you are unlikely to need any. Stir in the parsley just before serving. Serve with good pita bread, lightly warmed, and the sauce below.

Lemon-garlic sauce
This sauce is like an aioli but looser and less rich. The egg yolk just binds it and thickens it a little. If you leave out the egg yolk the whole dish is vegan, and the flavor doesn’t suffer at all but the texture will be liquid, not thick, and it will need to be stirred up by each diner before taking any.

1 egg yolk
1 large clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
1 Jalapeno pepper
olive oil as needed, usually about 1/4 cup.
salt to taste
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

In a small food processor, chop the garlic clove and the chile pepper. I always mince fresh chiles before putting them in the processor to make sure that big chunks don’t startle diners. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice, process briefly, and slowly drip in the olive oil until it’s as thick as you want. I like it to be liquid and spoonable, but velvety. Taste and salt as needed. Add the thyme leaves and stir in. For the vegan version, proceed the same way except leave out the egg yolk, and be aware that it won’t thicken in the same way but will be more like a vinaigrette.
Don’t save leftover sauce more than a day in the refrigerator, because of the egg yolk, but I like to spread leftover sauce on a warmed pita for lunch the next day.

More vegetable-centered meals

july 2009 012
This time of year, vegetables are abundant and make up the bulk of our diet. Recently I wanted to put together a meal cooked on the grill using only vegetables that can easily be found at the farmers’ market. The kitchen stays cool, and people who don’t have a garden aren’t left out. If you need to accomodate vegetarians and vegans at your table, this meal can have everyone at your table happily eating the same thing, with no need for special plates.

The only remotely exotic seasonings that you’ll need are Spanish smoked paprika, readily available as Pimenton de Vera at The Spanish Table and other specialty grocers, and some capers, preferably the kind preserved in salt.
Click here for the recipe Continue reading