Bon Appegeek posts dropped in number this summer, mostly because I haven’t been doing much of that that thing you do where you take food and mix it with other food and heat it. What’s that called…oh yeah, cooking. A combination of fresh fruit, microwaved sweet corn, tomato salads, and hot temperatures killed my desire to turn on the stove. Bad enough that I keep having to turn on the oven or boil sugar syrup in my ongoing October wedding cake preparation.
One big exception is this spiced eggplant recipe. In past summers, eggplant always depressed me. That vibrant purple bald vegetable should give you something exciting, but it always seems to end up mushy, flavorless, and, at its worst, bitter. I’ve escaped the bitterness and tedious salting by using Japanese eggplants or baby eggplants like these from my CSA box. But despite baba ganoush, ratatouille, and eggplant parmigiana, I never pick up eggplant and think, “Ooh, Eggplant! I can’t wait to eat this!” It’s more like, “Oh, eggplant. Damn.”
Well, things have changed. Take some roasted ground peanuts, a heady dose of Indian spices, halved baby eggplant, a hot frying pan, and you have a zesty finger food you’d never think could come from the bland little eggplant. Granted, it’s the spices and peanuts that make the flavor, but the eggplant provides the perfectly silky, slightly sweet base. It’s worth heating up the kitchen for it every week.
EXCITING EGGPLANT WITH EXCITING SPICY PEANUT TOPPING
Adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s Indian Home Cooking
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer or serves 2 as part of a meal
The skin keeps the eggplant from soaking up too much oil, but you could make this with sliced larger eggplants, if you like. A non-stick pan will let you get away with a minimum of oil. I prefer the flavor of home roasted raw peanuts, but to save the most time, you can do what I do now and use natural peanut butter or, better yet, The Heat Is On peanut butter from the fabulous Peanut Butter & Co. (If you have a chance, give their Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter a try too, because, my God. I eat it straight out of the jar. Just don’t use it in this recipe.)
· 1 pound small or slender eggplants, halved
· peanut oil or other frying oil
· chopped cilantro (optional)
· 1/2 cup peanuts, roasted and ground to a paste
OR 4 Tablespoons unsweetened natural peanut butter
OR 4 Tablespoons The Heat Is On peanut butter
· 1 Tablespoon amchoor (green mango powder)
OR juice of 1 small lime
· 1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin seed
· 1/2 teaspoon ground toasted coriander seed
· 1/2 teaspoon table salt (cut to 1/4 if you use salted peanut butter)
· 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
· 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
· 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste, can omit if using The Heat Is On peanut butter)
1) Mix all but the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Add enough water to make a thick but spreadable paste.
2) Spread the paste onto the cut side of the eggplant halves.
3) Over medium-high heat, heat about 1 teaspoon (for a non-stick pan) or 1 Tablespoon or so of oil in a pan just large enough to hold all the eggplant halves. (It’s okay if the eggplant will be crowded, but they shouldn’t overlap too much.)
4) Carefully place the eggplant into one even layer in the pan, paste-side up. They should sizzle a bit. Cover the pan and lower the heat to medium-low.
5) Steam-fry the eggplant, covered, for about ten minutes, or until a skewer slides right into the eggplant but the eggplant still holds its shape.
6) Slide eggplant out onto a paper towel to drain. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, if desired.