Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Simple, Delicious and Fast. Eggplant and Walnuts A Meatless Monday Star.

   I cook a lot of eggplant. Growing up in an Italian household, eggplant was a member of my moms' continuing cast of vegetables. If dinner was "Threes' Company" eggplant was Mr. Roper, always there, kind of weird sometimes, but never quite the star. When I got my first apartment, I had an eggplant special that I used to cook for my dates. It involved cheese, eggplant, tomatoes, crumbled saltine crackers (yeah you heard me right) and bringing it to the table was like lifting weights. I don't know what I was thinking. Oh yeah... I almost forgot, it was always accompanied by a bottle of Mateus. If you don't know what that is, forget I even mentioned it. Really. Forget it. It was a long time ago.
  When I started cooking Indian food 21 years ago, I was introduced to many wonderful eggplant dishes. They were spicy and sweet, hot and cold, and involved all sorts of eggplants from tiny little round ones to long skinny ones, to the big oval ones I grew up with. None of the dishes involved crushed saltine crackers. What I learned about eggplant was that eggplant dishes didn't necessarily have to be heavy and could still be hearty.
  When Paula Wolfert gave me her Indian cookbook collection a few weeks ago, one of the recipes that caught my eye was one that involved eggplant with walnuts and sesame seeds. I'd never seen a recipe like this before and I couldn't wait to try it. One of the things I loved about the dish was that it was doable in about 30 minutes, always a plus on a work day.

Eggplant and Walnuts

   Here's what to do:
 Wash and dry a 1 pound eggplant.
 Cut it at an angle into thin slices.
When you've sliced up the eggplant, put the pieces in a colander and sprinkle them with about 4 tsps of salt.
Rub the salt in well and let the salt-rubbed eggplant sit in the colander for about 10 minutes to drain.
Rinse the sliced eggplant in cool water. Wash the salt off and dry the eggplant slices.
In a large skillet heat 2 Tbs of vegetable oil.
When the oil is hot, lay the eggplant slices down one layer at a time, cover the pan.
Let them cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on each side until they're a light brown.
 When all the slices have been sauteed, place all the eggplant slices back in the pan.
 Toss in:
2 Tbs of chopped walnuts
1/4 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of sesame seeds
2 tsps of lemon juice
1/2 tsp of kashmiri chile. If you can't find that, use 1/4 tsp of cayenne mixed with 1/4 tsp of paprika.
Mix it all around.
Put it into a serving dish and sprinkle it with a bit of chopped cilantro.

   This is a great dish, meaty and yet light, tender and crunchy. The walnuts dress up the eggplant and take it uptown. It's perfect for a vegetarian meal with a nice rice dish and a couple of other vegetable sides. It mixes well with Western dishes too, and then there's that 30 minute thing. Can't beat that.
   So I started off my week with a cupcake frenzy, staring down frosting shots on a revolving cake carousel (my own personal Vegas) and I'm preparing to wind it up with my Foodbuzz 24 x 24 Pongal Feast (all vegetarian) on Saturday night. In a week where I'm prepping a major dinner, this eggplant is just the kind of easy, light dish I'm looking for. I'm so glad I found it.


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