I used to dislike eggplant for no other reason that as a kid I thought it was one of those foods one was supposed to dislike. Maybe I have a bad eggplant experience hiding in my past that I can't remember. That's okay — I feel no need to recover any such childhood memories of horror. But I do remember the first eggplant dish I fell in love with.
We were dining with friends at a Chinese restaurant in Pittsburgh some years back, and they insisted that we try the eggplant with pork. Slices of eggplant were split to make a pocket with a bit of ground pork stuffed inside and stir-fried with, if I remember right, black bean sauce. It was the dish that made me realize that eggplant was not the great dark evil fruit of yuckiness. It is a dish I still dream about.
In spite of that revelation, I did not start cooking eggplant myself until this year, when eggplant came as a part of our CSA farm share from Tantré Farms. Like many previously not-used-in-this-house-vegetables, it was cook it or lose it.
But I had a challenge to overcome: find eggplant dishes that even Joe would like.
It was something of a struggle. He has long voiced his dislike of eggplant. Fortunately for me, he'll try anything I cook at least once, and when I saw I was cooking eggplant tonight he said that he would taste it but, "Don't ask me to try brussel sprouts."
I promise, Joe, I will never cook brussel sprouts. (Do I get a ring to go with this promise? Oh wait, I already have one. Can I have another?)
When the eggplant was done, I asked him how he liked it. "It's pretty good," he said.
Yippie, I thought. That's sky-high praise for a normally despised food.
"Mostly because I couldn't taste the eggplant," he added.
Of course not. The eggplant was soaked in salted water. Not a bitter bite in the entire batch...
Well, and it was battered and deep-fried... (You know what they say: "if you don't like it deep-fried, you'll never like it at all..")
And dressed with honey, mint, and toasted sesame seeds.
Kinda hard to go wrong with that combination.
Fried Eggplant with Honey, Mint, and Sesame Seeds
Penelope Casas's La Cocina de Mama
One 1/2 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch crosswise slices
1 1/8 tsp kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 Tbs sesame seeds
1/3 C flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 C. milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
mild olive oil for frying
1 1/2 to 2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs minced fresh mint leaves
Preheat oven to 350.
Soak eggplant in 2 cups water with 1 tsp of the salt for 30 minutes.
Scatter sesame seeds on a tray and lightly roast for 5-8 minutes. (In truth, I skipped the oven bit and did this very quickly in a pan on the stove top, but you have to stir and watch the seeds constantly or they will burn.) Set aside.
Drain eggplant and dry well on paper towels. In a small bowl mix together the flour, remaining 1/8 tsp salt, and baking power. Whisk in the milk and egg.
Pour the oil into a large skillet to a depth of at least 1/2 inch and heat until it quickly browns a cube of bread (approx. 375 F). Dip eggplant slices in batter, coating well, then place immediately in the oil. Cook for about 30 seconds on each side. Drain on paper towels.
Warm honey in a small saucepan or in a microwave. Drizzle lightly over the eggplant, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and mint. Serve right away.
I used long narrow Asian eggplants with thin skins, and so I didn't peel them. I think I would do this with larger eggplants in the future mainly because it will be easier to batter and fry larger slices. With so many coin-sized slices, getting them all battered and into the oil without clumping took a bit of time.