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Eggplants pt. 1 – Alice Waters’s Eggplant ‘Caviar’ (Dip)

September 24, 2008
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Everyone say hi to our friends from Food Junta, a couple of Yale alums currently living in a Manhattan cadre of revolutionaries dedicated to empowering the young, broke and hungry. Here’s their take on one of the most abundant vegetables on the farm right now – the mysterious eggplant.

 

(This post appears courtesy of Food Junta, and it also appears on their blog.)

I’m pretty sure most people don’t think of eggplants much outside the realm of the eponymous parm, but they are quite versatile, very easy to handle, and in season right about now. An eggplant is not something you want to just pick up and bite into. Uncooked and unseasoned, they are tough and flavorless, but add some heat and about half a ton of garlic and you’re in business.

This dip comes from Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Vegetables, and, as it happens, was on the menu in the pilot dining hall for the Yale Sustainable Food Project when I was there.

She calls it eggplant caviar. I call it eggplant dip. But that is why she is Alice Waters, and I am a lowly blogger.

Dip soon, but first, it’s learnin’ time, kids: Eggplants, also called aubergines by the English and annoying people, is a fruit native to India. Anyone who takes the time to correct you when you call it a vegetable should be thrown in the annoying category along with those aubergine-saying jerks. They are usually purple or white or purple streaked with white, but there are green eggplants as well.

When people refer to “American” or globe eggplant, they mean those purple ovoid ones that are probably what you think of as “normal” eggplants. “Italian” are like “American,” but a bit smaller. “Chinese” or “Japanese” or “Asian” eggplants are longer and more delicate with a thinner skin. As a rule of thumb, use the former for American and Mediterranean recipes and the latter for Asian. I am sure I’m going to get a harsh rebuke from some eggplant fetishist out there for being overly simplistic, but I don’t concern myself with the mad ravings of eggplant fetishists.

Ok. School’s over. Let’s dip:

Eggplant ‘Caviar’

1 Large globe eggplant
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 shallots
Balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Peel the eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes.  Put the eggplant in a baking dish, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss with a generous amount of olive oil.

3. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons water, cover tightly, and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until very soft. (And she means VERY soft. You’re going to be mashing them up with a fork. Let that be your guide, as ovens vary widely. Mine needed more than 40 minutes.)

4. While the eggplant is baking, peel and dice the shallots very fine, and let them macerate for about 10 minutes in about 2 tbsp. of the vinegar.  Then peel and mash the garlic and add it to the shallots and the vinegar.

5. When the eggplant is done, add it to the shallot and garlic mixture, mashing with a fork, and let it cool to room temperature. (She makes it sound so easy. After some vigorous fork-mashing, I had a pile of mushy eggplant bits, not a creamy dip. My food processor saved the day. A blender would also work. If you have neither, be extra-sure that the eggplant is soft before taking it out of the oven.)

6. Stir in the chopped cilantro or parsley, or a combination of both, and adjust the seasoning.  Add olive oil and vinegar to taste.

Alice says to serve on grilled bread, but I was taking this to a large cookout and didn’t want to fight for grill space. Instead, I made my own pita chips by cutting pitas into wedges (you can separate the two layers or not), drizzling them with olive oil, and baking them in a 400 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. You can omit the olive oil, but I wouldn’t.

And that’s it. Dip away.

Stay tuned next week for another eggplant idea from my colleague, Claire. But until then, buon’ appetito:

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