Eggplant Mania

It's not often I dine in someone's home or in a restaurant and beg them for  the recipe of something they served. But when I do, you know it's good. The truth is I love making a dish at home that I have had elsewhere.

On ocassion, I've been forced to try, try and try again to recreate a recipe like I did with the Kale Salad from Lulu Wilson's in Aspen. (They were not interested in even giving me a hint on how to make the kale salad at home.) Other times the chef is honored to share a recipe, like when I asked Chef Jason Dady for the secret ingredients to his amazing beet salad. And then, by chance, a recipe is featured in the local newspaper or magazine making it that much easier. No begging required.

I love eggplants and since the local farmers have just started harvesting eggplants in San Antonio, I came home from this weekend's markets loaded with four gorgeous eggplants and I've been toying with a few ideas on what to do with them.

Here's a sampling of a few eggplant-centric dishes I've been considering:

Caponata is one of my faves. Sauteed eggplant, onions, red peppers, celery, capers, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It's good served cold, hot, on fish, as a dip, as a side, or even on tires! One of my newest and dearest friends Julia Rosenfeld made this last year at Thanksgiving and I begged her for the recipe. It's now one of the first things I think of when I have eggplant. But the recipe makes a lot. And I do mean a lot.

Baba ganoush is a typical Middle Eastern side dish that David and I both love. It's roasted eggplant pureed with tahini, a little garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Simple and simply delicious. But I'm not feeling like tahini today.

Eggplant parmesan is another go-to dish for me. It was one of the first recipes I shared on this blog and I do love it, but it's a little too heavy to make right now.

Then there's the eggplant puree recipe I got from the local paper well over a decade ago. This is an appetizer I used to love eating at one of my old stand-by restaurants (which will remain unnamed although locals will know it right away) and which I no longer frequent for reasons we won't go into here. Even still, it's delicious, easy, healthy and loaded with roasted garlic!

However, when David brought home a spectacular piece of swordfish from Groomer's today, I realized it would pair best with caponata. So caponata it is. I'll serve it with grilled zucchini and top it with my homemade tomato sauce.

This chunk of swordfish was a little over 2-inches thick
and David grilled it to perfection

What to do with the two remaining eggplants? I guess I'll whip up the eggplant puree and gift it to someone I recently met who moved to town a few months ago and is raving over this restaurant dish, too.

I do know the way to people's hearts...

So today I am doubling your eggplant pleasure with two recipes. Hopefully, you're doubly excited.

Buen provecho!

Grilled swordfish over caponata topped with tomato sauce
served with a side of grilled zucchini
The Cowgirl Gourmet begged a friend for the recipe who got it from Better than Store-Bought by Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Bolchie (1979 version)

This dish is a mind blower and is amazingly versatile. It is loaded with flavor and is good served hot, cold, as an appetizer with pita chips or grilled bread and fresh goat cheese, as a side dish with a piece of grilled fish or even by itself. It is truly spectacular, but does make quite a bit so plan on making it for a dinner party or have some friends you can share it with. They will love you even more once they try this dish.

Serves a lot of people

1 1/2 lbs. of unpeeled eggplant, cut into 3/4" pieces
1 Tablespoon coarse Kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil, divided into two 1/4 cups
1 cup coarsely diced yellow onion (1/2" dice)
3-4 medium red bell peppers, chopped into 3/4" cubes (to make 2 1/2 cups)
1 cup coarsely chopped celery (1/2" dice)
Ripe Italian-type tomatoes (about 8 medium), lightly pureed in a food processor or blender to make 1 3/4 cups puree and chunk combo
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup pitted black olives, sliced
1/4 cup capers (the smallest available), plus another Tablespoon if desired
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Sprinkle the eggplant with the coarse salt and toss the cubes. Let them drain in a colander for 30-60 minutes, then pat them dry with paper towels. As it sits, you will see a dark liquid emitted and that is the "bitterness" of the eggplant.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a 12" skillet and saute the onion, peppers and celery over moderately high heat for 5 minutes, stirring as it cooks.

Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and let it heat. Once it's hot, add the eggplant and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree, red wine vinegar, sugar and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

In the skillet (if the handle is oven-proof) or transfer to a baking dish, bake the caponata uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the olives and capers and stir well. Bake another 30 minutes or a little longer until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring frequently to get it to the right consistency which is thick not liquidy.

Cool the caponata, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate in a covered dish for 24 hours before serving. The caponata will keep for a week in the refrigerator or at least six months if placed in the freezer in plastic containers.

Eggplant Puree
The Cowgirl Gourmet via an article from the Food section of the San Antonio Express-News at least 10 years ago

Print recipe

Serves 2-4 people

1 whole eggplant (about 1 1/2-2 lbs.)
Olive oil to brush on the eggplant
1 whole head garlic
1 Tablespoon olive oil, or to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste
Dash of cayenne
Grilled bread or good pita
Butter or olive oil
Parmesan cheese, optional

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and brush cut surfaces with olive oil. Place on baking sheet. Wrap whole head of garlic in aluminum foil.

Place eggplant and garlic in 350 degree oven and bake until very soft, at least 45-50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little. Scoop eggplant out of the skin and put in a food processor.

Slice off top of garlic head with a sharp knife and squeeze softened garlic into the food processor.

Puree to a smooth consistency. Add olive oil and lemon juice to taste in proportion of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice. Salt lightly and season with a dash of cayenne.

Serve with grilled bread or toasted pita that has been brushed with butter or olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
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