Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great Expectations - Chopped-No-More Eggplant

I am expecting!!  Ha ha, no, not at my age (not at any age) - I am expecting a UPS delivery.  Even better, I am expecting a book, a real book with a cover and real paper pages.  Which can only mean one thing:  I am expecting a cookbook!

I got bitten by the Kindle bug years ago, and almost never buy real paper books anymore, but when it comes to cookbooks and knitting books, I remain a traditionalist.  Never mind that I already have hundreds of cookbooks; the collection still grows, albeit a lot slower than it did 20 years ago.

My latest acquisitions are Ina Garten's Make It Ahead which I found at BJs, and Emeril's Cooking With Power,  which I ordered from Amazon and awaited the delivery with much glee.  First of all, I adore Emeril Lagasse.  He's the best in the business, the man who made Food Network what it is (ruler of the airwaves) and a funny and fabulous teacher.  I learned so much about cooking from watching him 5 nights a week, every week, back when Food Network was more than a 24 hour game show.  I have most  of his cookbooks and I swear by his crawfish étouffée recipe even though there's no roux in it.

This book contains about 100 recipes which are made in either the crockpot, multi cooker (that was a new one for me) pressure cooker, and deep fryer.  I've already read through it twice (Yes, I read cookbooks.  So do a lot of people) and have a bunch of recipes I have to try.  Linguine with clam sauce.  Shrimp and lima beans.  Crawfish étouffée (this one has a roux). Stuffed calamari in a smoky tomato sauce.  Jerk chicken with rice and peas (but without 8 of the 9 Scotch bonnet peppers called for in the recipe).  And that's just for the crockpot.

After doing a little research, I learned that a multi cooker is a rice cooker with a split personality; an appliance that can't decide if it is a rice cooker, a steamer, a slow cooker, or an electric frying pan.  After a little more hand's on research at Walmart, I decided there is little difference between my rice cooker/steamer, and a multi cooker, certainly not enough to justify the purchase of yet another electric appliance.  I am pretty confident I can prepare the vast majority of Emeril's multi cooker recipes in my spiffy rice cooker, like the seafood soup with coconut milk and tamarind.

Successful delivery!

Okay, I really didn't need another crockpot cookbook since I have nine others.  And this recipe did not come from any of them.  It came from my grandmother, who never owned a crockpot in her life.  Actually, this recipe is a joint effort between me  my wonderful cousin, Cary Altschuler.  He threw in the food processor while I threw in the crockpot.  Besides the hardware, you will need:

1 eggplant
1 medium onion, chopped
olive oil (or canola or corn oil)
Kosher salt and black pepper

Coat the inside of the crockpot with some no-stick spray.  With a sharp, thin knife, pierce the eggplant in a few spots on all sides, and then place the eggplant into the crockpot.  Add about a half cup of water; cover and cook on High for three hours.  Turn the eggplant at the end of each hour.  When it is done, it will be soft to the touch and look like has collapsed.  Using tongs, carefully remove it to a baking dish.

Cut the eggplant in half, and remove the skin.  It should peel off fairly easily.  Break the eggplant up just a bit, and along with all of the juices in the pan, place it into a food processor bowl fitted with the chopping blade.  Add the onion.

With the processor running, pour a thin stream of oil through the feed tube until the eggplant-onion mixture holds together.  Try not to overprocess.  Remove to a small bowl and add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate overnight.

This looks nothing like my grandmother's chopped eggplant, by the way.  She chopped hers, noisily and laboriously, in an old fashioned wooden bowl, using a double bladed hand chopper.  The physical work involved was considerable, which may account for why she only made it once a year.  Her finished dish looked somewhat like a relish, while this version is more like a dip or spread.

Taste-wise, this version is lighter and a lot less oniony.  She used two medium onions, and although she tried to get the milder Bermuda variety, most of the time those onions were extremely pungent and sharp to the taste.  And wonderfully odiferous, which is how Uncle Red was able to track it across three counties.  I used a sweet onion, or part of one equivalent to a regular medium onion, and it was very mild.  But wait ...

Allowing the eggplant to sit overnight is critical.  First of all,  the dish solidifies, making it both spoonable, dippable (is that even a word?) and spreadable.  Second, and most importantly, the flavors really come together and bloom during their restful evening, so when you taste this the next day, the onion will be much sharper on your senses, even if you used a sweet, mild onion as I did.  I remember my grandmother saying that this dish took a lot of salt, but I would recommend you wait until the next day to add salt.

This is good on toasted bagels or Wheat Thin crackers or matzo.  It would probably work really well as part of a Jewish or Mediterranean appetizer and salad table.  I suppose it is an acquired taste, but it was one I acquired at a very young age. So good, really.

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