This dish is inspired by a variety of eggplant known as Fairytale, and these sweet tiny globes live up to their whimsical name. About “Barbie” size and variegated purple and white, as pretty as a Monet. Really cute and probably only showing up at farmers markets, Fairytales can perplex cooks as they consider how to prepare them. Most regular eggplant recipes just won’t work here. So I had to come up with something new.
New and sneaky and easy….love that. You know, sometimes a great recipe has little to do with a long list of exotic ingredients, complicated steps or hours at the stove. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of mastering a technique.
So to create this dish, the fairytale eggplant is preferred, but I bet you could use Japanese or Chinese eggplant in a pinch—just dice it up. The latter might be slightly easier to find. What is critical and for which there is no substitution is a 10-inch cast iron skillet with high sides. Every kitchen should have one, so if you don’t have one yet, now’s the time!
And if you are wondering about the reference to liver and onions, it describes kind of how the house smells as you are cooking this dish—all those caramelizing shallots create that mouthwatering aroma, and it sure drew in the meat lovers, who ate it all up without complaint.
- Two tablespoons oil, something with a high smoke point like avocado, peanut or sesame (I chose avocado because of the neutral flavor. I would not suggest coconut or olive oil.)
- Six to seven cups chopped Fairytale Eggplant (or available variety—avoid large seeds)
- One cup thin sliced/chopped shallots (You can substitute yellow onion for at least part of the shallot if you need. Choose a high-sugar variety such as Candy.)
- Coarse sea salt
- Dry white wine or sherry—about a quarter cup
- Drizzle of high-quality olive oil
- Drizzle of dark aged balsamic vinegar
- Freshly ground black peppercorn
- The first step for this recipe is to season the cast iron pan. To do that, use the two tablespoons of oil and coat the entire skillet—bottom and sides. Place it on a medium-high heat and watch it until you see it start to smoke. This takes about three or four minutes. Just be patient and be sure you see it start to smoke. Place a hot pad on the handle and move it off the heat to calm down.
- Ready your chopped eggplant and shallots with all the other ingredients so that you can move smoothly from one step to another.
- Reheat the cast iron pan to medium-high and pile in all the eggplant—don't worry about crowding the skillet or sticking. Because you pre-seasoned the pan, sticking won’t be a big problem—and some sticking is exactly what you want—developing that fond. Toss continually, until the eggplant starts to cook down, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Once the eggplant is browning, sticking a bit and has reduced by half in volume, add the shallots, tossing to combine. Give this a generous sprinkle of coarse sea salt and continue cooking and tossing for another 10 to 15 minutes. You don’t have to keep tossing continuously while the shallots cook, but certainly stay by the stove. The shallots will sweat and start to caramelize as they cook. Don’t skimp on the time here, everything should become dark and crusty.
- When the shallots and eggplant are where you want them, turn up the heat slightly and add the dry wine or sherry, stirring to deglaze the pan; takes about two minutes.
- Remove from heat and drizzle with your best olive oil and best balsamic vinegar. Add a few grinds of fresh peppercorn to taste.
- Best served immediately while piping hot.
Reviewing the steps
The photos here provide a nice visual guide from the little washed raw Fairytales though the finished sauté. And here’s an idea: if you have mushrooms in the fridge, you can chop them up and add them right along with the eggplant. They will cook up about the same and add another delightful dimension to this flavorful dish.
My vegan “liver and onions” makes a great side dish for those meat lovers who insist on ripping something from a bone, but for vegans and vegetarians, this can be the meaty main course. Spread it on crusty bread as a tapas! Use it to fill up an acorn squash bowl. You’ll find all kinds of ways to eat this hearty vegan version of liver and onions.