Eggplant Quest

Summer is here… And all that comes with summer. Warm weather, heat waves, ice creams… and eggplants. Yeah I said eggplants. You know it is a vegetable that you can find year around, but the price, the quality and the taste are so much better during the hot summer weather. It is a vegetable, or to be precise a fruit, that is very popular around the Mediterranean, specially in Greece, Turkey, Italy and Egypt. Yes I said a fruit. Technically a fruit, in botany, is the ripened ovary—together with seeds—of a flowering plant. And that is exactly what eggplant is.

Although the name sounds very deceiving it is not. The early fruit was very round oval shape and was white in color. It arrived in Europe during the middle ages with the Arabs. It is currently cultivated all around the word and has more than 120 different varieties. The purple is the most popular and has several variations. The really long and thin, purple with some white regions occasionally is the Japanese. Next to that is the Egyptian that is white in color and is more round. Finally the italian, which is very “fat” and gets wider away from the stem. The japanese and egyptian is nice since it is never bitter. Italian on the other side occasionally can be bitter. It depends on the conditions under it was harvested. If it is watered adequately prior to the harvesting, then it is sweet. If it was not watered then it has a bitter taste, which is not necessary a bad thing.

So many people consume a lot of time in de-bittering the eggplants. It usually requires to cut them in pieces and liberally sprinkle them with salt. This will draw a lot of the moisture out that carries all those tannins responsible for the bitter taste. It will leave behind and dark color sweet eggplant. And although there is nothing you can do for the color there are plenty you can do for the taste.

  • 1/2 cup of beer (a sweet ale e.g. not a dark beer)
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
  • 5 italian eggplants cut into 1/4″ slices and cured as described
  • 1/3 cup of flour

In a bowl mix the flour, salt and pepper with the beer to make a thin batter. Now let ‘s review why we need the beer and not water… The batter covers your food and when you fry it it is exposed to high intense heat that is transfer to the target food in very high rate by the surrounding oil. This intense heat will evaporate all the water that is in your food and that ‘s why frying things produces bubbles. The water that comes out in form of steam doesn ‘t allow the oil to sneak in and make oily food. Eggplant is acting like sponge and will suck the oil immediately, especially after we have removed the water with the mentioned curing process. If we were using water only, which evaporates in 100 C. The time that required for the water to reach the evaporation temperature would be enough to let some oil sneak in and spoil the fried eggplant. Beer on the contrary  contains some alcohol (5% aproxymately) that evaporate in 70 C. This evaporation will cover the time from the moment that the eggplant hits the oil till the water starts to evaporate. Not to mention that it is great tasting crisp batter. Back to the recipe now. Take the cured eggplant slices and dust them with flour (the 1/3 cup) and then dip them into the batter. Let the excess batter run off and then fry them in a olive oil from both sides. until golden brown and delicious. Place them on a rack and let the oil run off.

But this is not my favorite eggplant recipe. It is delicious, but it cannot be eaten as a full meal on it ‘s own. The Imam Baildi is my favorite eggplant dish. It is simple, fast and delicious. The hardware will require a baking disk and a frying pan.

  • 10 Medium Japanese or any other long eggplant
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 Onions
  • 4 ripped tomatoes finely diced
  • 2 tbsp of tomato paste
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 parsley
  • 1 lb. feta cheese
  • Olive oil, not necessarily extra virgin, but sure good quality

Start by removing the head of the eggplants and cut them lengthwise. No need to cure them since the long eggplants are most likely sweet. Heat up your pan over medium heat and add some olive oil to completely cover it. Put some of the eggplants with the cut side facing down and slightly fry them till they are golden brown. We are not looking for cooking here just to brown them and get some of those sugars caramelized. After you brown all of them, in batches of course unless you have a huge pan, place them in a baking dish with the fried side up this time. The mean time dice your onions and saute them in some olive oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two. At the end add the chopped tomatoes with all their juice and make sure you take all those little tiny bits of burned goodies from the pan. Season to taste. Cover the eggplants with this sauce and bake in 350 F for about 1 hour or till the eggplant is cooked. Make sure that during the cooking process you scoop some of the sauce on the eggplants to make sure that they don ‘t dry out. Take them out let cool down a bit and serve. Crumple the feta cheese and sprinkle it over the baked eggplants along with the parsley. And Enjoy!!! Oh boy I am so hungry now. WOW!!!

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