Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Marinated Turkish Eggplant with Feta, Chili, and Mint

The eggplant wasn’t well known in Europe until the mid 1500s. Surprising, isn’t it? The Moors carried the fruit back from Persia in the 12th Century, but Europeans - initially suspicious that eating eggplant (a member of the Nightshade family) could cause madness or death – weren’t interested.

And frankly, I’ve spent much of my life in agreement. For someone who enjoys produce as ardently as I, I’ve been oddly reticent about the whole thing. Is it that little tinge of bitterness that can remain even after a proper degorging? Could it be the alarming speed with which the fruits oxidize as soon as they’re cut? Or is it the knowledge that Nightshades can cause that lovely little dab of foot arthritis my dance career left behind to sit up and sing: "Get ready for old age, honey. I'm comin' for ya." That's how foot arthritis talks, by the by.

My eggplant prejudice was probably just something I decided on while I was too young to know any better, and in the past few years, I’ve really done a 180. Clearly the eggplant – so called because some of the first varieties to arrive on the continent were shaped and sized like hen eggs – caught on in the Mediterranean eventually. And there’s been something of an eggplant renaissance (or is it naissance?) in our house too. I think it’s the stunning saturation of color paired with the fruit’s subtle smokiness that got me over the hump and helped me to finally, belatedly fall in love.

This salad is a great way of making up for lost time. Kind Nevia at Yuno’s Farm had a little heap of Turkish eggplants (gently flavored, narrow, no more than 2 oz a piece) at the market on Monday, and she always displays her produce on white linen tablecloths, which made the miniature wine-dark fruits glisten like gems. I snapped them up with this dish in mind. Mint offers up an eggplant’s smokiness better than anything I know, and the lemon vinaigrette that the grilled fruits steep in keeps the flavors light and refreshing.

There is no need to degorge (salt and rinse to remove bitterness) Turkish eggplant, or most of the smaller varieties for that matter. If you can only find the big eggplants near you, you might want to consider it, and I’ve included instructions below. In a month or so, I’ll add fresh fig halves to the mix. In the meantime I just count on the honey in the dressing for a lightly sweet contrast to the twang of the lemon and the heat of the chili.

Serves 4 – 6

1 ½ lbs eggplant, small/ Turkish if possible
kosher salt
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp honey
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small red chilis, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 – 2 oz feta cheese
1 handful fresh mint leaves

If using large eggplant, you may degorge it to remove some of the bitterness: Remove the stems and slice the fruit lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices. Arrange them on a tray in a single layer and sprinkle with kosher salt. Let sit for 30 minutes and then rinse well under running water. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Preheat the grill on high heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in as much extra virgin olive oil as there is lemon juice, whisking as you go. Toss in the chili.

If using small eggplants, remove their stems and slice them in half lengthwise. Working quickly to avoid too much oxidization, lay the eggplant pieces cut side down on the grill. Once the grill has seared the flesh (about 2 – 3 minutes), turn the pieces and grill about 5 minutes more. Remove the eggplant from the grill and toss straight into the lemon vinaigrette. Continue working in batches if necessary until all the grilled fruit is marinating in the bowl. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Before serving, crumble in the feta cheese and toss well to combine. Taste to see if your salad need more salt or lemon – you may be surprised by how much seasoning it needs if your feta isn’t very salty. Finally, scatter in the fresh mint leaves, toss once more, and serve at room temperature.


Cynthia said...

I think we all have a story about misunderstanding the eggplant :) I am not a big fan of it and only prefer to have it roasted before preparation in any dish. Your grilled version certainly looks as if it has the right amount of smoke induced that I would be brave enough to try it this way.

Sarah said...

Yum. This looks amazing as always! I just tried your Cherry Lavender cake (pic in my blog), by the way, and it is amazing!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Cynthia - Roasting eggplant is such a good way to make it seem less ominous, you're so right! Have you had the classic Italian dish Pasta Alla Norma? It's penne, roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, fresh basil leaves, and dollops of fresh ricotta over the top. A very good way to ease a little eggplant into one's life!

Hi Sarah - I'm so glad you've been enjoying the cherry lavender cake. It certainly is the right time of year for it!

Lydia said...

I think many people don't like eggplant because of the texture, not the taste. I love it, especially on the grill. This recipe looks wonderful!

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

This looks really beautiful Amanda! I am not sure why - perhaps it is because I AM a bit mad - but I have always loved the stuff. Especially on the grill! I always have a batch of grilled marinated veggies in the fridge during summer. I absolutely agree with your comments about mint and eggplant. So much so that I am teaching a similar dish at one of my upcoming classes on Calabrese cooking techniques!
By the way, I stopped over here to let you know I nominated you for yet another award on my blog!
Take Care!

Pille said...

Lovely small eggplants/aubergines. I also only learnt to love them in my late 20s, but that had more to do with the fact that they weren't so common here in Estonia when I grew up. Now, luckily, I can buy mine from the market most days..

Joanna said...

I LOVE aubergine so much that I now can't remember the time when I didn't - blotted it out completely! I think Lydia's right, it probably is mainly a texture thing - although my mother-in-law always used to say that children didn't like Brussels sprouts because there is a chemical in them that they can't digest ... maybe there's something similar going on with aubergine (or maybe my mother-in-law made the whole thing up to spare those children the agony of being made to eat sprouts by their parents!)

Beautiful photograph - I'm off to buy some aubergine .. thanks for the inspiration!


Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Lydia - Thanks so much! I think you're right about the texture.I know that's one of the things that always bothered me the most, but when it's grilled, the texture is never a problem!

Jenn! Thank you so much for nominating me! I am really so pleased and so touched. You are too kind, and I have a big grin on my face as we speak! (Or type?) And I love the idea of keeping those veggies in the fridge all the time - do you just do them in a vinaigrette?

Hi Pille! You know, the little ones weren't as common here even 10 years ago. But I far prefer them, and some of the original varieties brought west to the Mediterranean were small too, so I figure it's ok if they're the ones I want to eat!

Hi Joanna! Thank you! That's so interesting about digestion - I'm going to look into that. I know that people of certain genetic backgrounds stop being able to digest milk once they're out of early childhood, so enzymes etc do shift around as we mature. Or maybe, as you say, she was just spoiling them because she was their granny! It's certainly what grannies do best.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Hey Amanda! Yes, I leave them in a vinaigrette that usually has red wine vinegar or balsamic, depending on my mood and sometimes anchovies. Very good stuff!

I had to nominate you, you are an inspiration for people wanting to become more environmentaly conscious with their food choices!

Figs Olives Wine said...

You are just too kind. Thank you so much for the encouragement and support!
As for those veg, I must try them right away with some odds and ends I've got in the fridge. My husband is an anchovy nut, and he'll flip for this! Thanks again for everything!

Wendy said...

A gorgeous combintation of flavours. Adore chilli and mint together.
And I also love how much I'm learning about the history of different foods on your blog!

marisa said...

Amanda, I haven't ever liked eggplant, but you make me want to give it another try with these beautiful photos!

Patricia Scarpin said...

I haven't had eggplants in ages and I don't know why - I love it!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Wendy and thanks! I love chili and mint too! I can't think of much it doesn't improve, and, as for the history, I'm just a big geek at heart I'm afraid.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Marisa, thank you so much! You might try the Pasta alla Norma I recommend to Cynthia in the comments above. It's very gentle for the more tentative eggplant-eaters among us!

Hi Patricia! I know just what you mean! It's never the thing that I think of when I wonder what's for dinner. But now that I've converted to being an eggplant eater, I really must make more of an effort.

Garrett said...

I love all of your food! It just seems so rustic and easy to execute!

Jan said...

Amanda, another beautiful post! I have to say, I really enjoy reading your blog.

Arfi Binsted said...

I love eggplants and we used to use the slender shapes and bright purple eggplants. And there are eggplants which can be eaten raw which are not growing more than a shape of a marble. My Dad loves them and they taste great for salad. We used to eat them with sambal oelek. The eggplants in NZ are huuuugggeee!! They are spongier than those of the slender ones. I prefer the slender shapes for curry or cook them with sweet chili sauce and coconut milk. The huge ones I prefer to cook them into lasagna or moussaka. YUM!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Garrett, I can't tell you how wonderful that is to hear, because that's my goal! If the ingredients are seasonal and local, they don't need much adornment. Thanks so much for your kind words.

Jan, I'm so glad you're enjoying the site! Thanks for letting me know, and stay in touch.

Arfi, I would love to try those tiny ones you eat raw! And I really like them in curry and lasagna too. Sounds so delicious - you just made me hungry!

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