Sometimes the weather has turned so hot and humid that only cold food will do. And while gazpacho is a popular choice (Oh, yes, I do have a favorite recipe.), it’s not the only one. With eggplant plentiful at the market, I’ve been turning these gorgeous globes into cold yummy meals of “little bites.”
It took my husband a while to warm up to eggplant. He likes traditional eggplant parmesan, but what an ordeal to prepare. And, eggplant is at its best in summer, straight from the market. Who wants to come home and dredge, bread, sauté and bake on a hot summer day? (Although, I’m always open to new ideas on traditional recipes, so if you have an idea for eggplant parmesan let me know.)
Then I discovered a Middle Eastern dish called Baba Ghanoush. Yum. It is prepared in different ways, depending on the country—Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Pakistan all have their versions–and many cookbooks—especially vegetarian ones—carry a recipe or maybe even two. Here is how I make it:
Slice about one and half pounds of washed and dried eggplant into half-inch thick disks, discarding both ends (Exactly how your slices look depends on the type of eggplant you are using. I choose light purple or dark purple globe eggplant for this dish, but you could use Japanese or Chinese eggplant, which are long and skinny with less seeds, or even white eggplant—a specialty variety. What matters most is that the eggplant is firm to the touch and fairly free of bruises or blemishes.)
Since eggplant can contain a lot of water, I put the slices on the counter on clean paper towels and sprinkle generously with coarse sea salt. Then, to help extract water and bitterness, I cover the slices with more paper towels and weight them with a few casserole dishes or my cast iron skillet for 20 minutes. I try to evenly distribute the weight on all the eggplant slices.
Once the eggplant has “leached” you can either roast the slices in a high temp oven, around 425-450 degrees, or grill over medium-high heat until very well done—the skin will look nearly burnt and the flesh will be mushy. We grill because it’s less mess, and you get that smoky grilled flavor.
Here you will just have to watch your eggplant and be ready to take it off the fire or out of the oven when it is perfect. Might take a couple of tries. Some people then remove the skin, but we never have—up to you.
- Two tablespoons tahini (This is a sesame paste available almost anywhere. However, buy one that is raw, not toasted, and good quality. If you can find fresh-made tahini, grab it and store in your refrigerator. In fact, store all “open” tahini in the frig.)
- Two to three cloves of garlic
- A small red or yellow onion or a shallot (Shallots… what a taste treat. We will explore later.)
- The juice of one medium to large lemon or two small
- Two to three tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh ground black pepper (Remember all that salt you sprinkled on the eggplant in the beginning—there shouldn’t be any need to add more.)
Once you’ve combined the chopped eggplant and the puree, add at least a half cup of fresh chopped cilantro. If you hate cilantro (And many do—they’ve traced this back to a particular gene, supposedly.), use parsley. Give it a stir and grab a pita or a corn chip… or just a spoon!
Delicious, yes, but one can only eat so much Baba Ghanoush. So I was on the lookout for another tasty eggplant dish to please Don—that’s my husband, remember. I found just the thing last year in the August issue of Food & Wine (another great resource) under the title “Quick and Easy.” Sold.
You can prepare a medium globe eggplant just as you do for Baba Ghanoush and let it cool to room temperature. (Food & Wine roasts it whole over an open flame, removes the skin off and scoops out the flesh.) Next, put the chopped eggplant in a food processor with four roasted red peppers (either peppers you roast yourself or from a jar), garlic (They used one clove and, of course, I used two.), three tablespoons of lemon juice and two tablespoons of chopped parsley. (I didn’t have parsley, BTW, and fresh thyme from my own herb garden worked exceedingly well.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Food & Wine paired this lovely bright red eggplant relish with steak—Don was drooling—but I paired it with the Baba Ghanoush and a dish called Raita, an Indian condiment that works really well with highly spiced, savory or spicy hot dishes. It is cool, creamy and sweet—the perfect foil to the other two savory dishes featured here.
To make a basic raita, start with the best plain Greek yogurt you can find. I am really lucky because a small dairy farm in Trenton, IL makes about the best yogurt I’ve ever eaten. Windcrest Dairy is a family-owned, reputable farm, located just a few miles from Edwardsville. Their products are starting to show up everywhere, and with good reason. As I said, this is the best yogurt ever, so check your local grocer to see if they are carrying Windcrest products.
To the yogurt add a healthy tablespoon of honey (I like raw but any honey will do, so try for local and increase your immunity to local allergens!) and whisk well.
Dry toast some cumin seeds and black tillecherry peppercorns (about a half tablespoon each) in a small cast iron skillet, stirring occasionally, until the spice becomes aromatic. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Then, crush with a mortar and pestle. Add this to the yogurt mixture.
Finally, seed and chop a medium cucumber and add it in. Stir and enjoy!
The three dishes featured here will feed two or three hungry people. Just add some pitas or your favorite chips. This combination also makes a lovely appetizer sampling for your next party.
What’s keeping you cool this summer? Share a small bite.