A Lovely Eggplant Zinger
In three-or-four-season produce land, September is just about the best time of year; it is a true cornucopia -- the best (and often the last) of summer crops as well as the arrival of cooler-weather heartier plants that turn our thoughts to Thanksgiving and woolen scarves. The seasonal choices are endless, sometimes overwhelming in that embarrassment riches sort of way. Gardeners and farmers are up to their eyeballs in peppers, squash and tomatoes, and everyone wants to know what the heck to do with all the basil and eggplants growing like crazing on the vine or what the neighbor has just dropped off.
Here’s one to lighten your eggplant, basil and tomato load, a Thai-Indian number that comes from “660 Curries,” a new cookbook from Raghavan Iyer. As I paged through Iyer’s 832-page tome, my finger came to a shrieking halt when I saw “Chile-Spiked Eggplant With Lemongrass and Scallions.”
I tend to shy away from huge volumes, as I get distracted and lost, but I love the enormous variety of ways Iyer offers to curry up one’s life. There are enough recipes to try one every day for nearly two years! In his intro, Iyer does a commendable job of explaining the term “curry” which often gets lost on Westerners, with a tutorial on the elements, which include salty, sweet, spicy, astringent, umami and bitter – and of course, aroma. Big points for a shopping cheat sheet that includes both the English and Hindi word for commonly used ingredients in Indian cuisine.
The dish in this case is a “dry” curry --- meaning it’s not saucy -- but in no way does that minimize the flavor factor. Cutting the eggplant into “fingers,” as Iyer describes, is an effective method for cooking the eggplant to a tender state in about 30 minutes.
Yes, this is definitely do-able on a weeknight; hurry up while those eggplants – and tomatoes – are a-plenty!
Chile-Spiked Eggplant With Lemongrass and Scallions
From “660 Curries” by Raghavan Iyer
¼ cup firmly packed cilantro leaves and stems
2 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass (KOD note: Remove its tough exterior, until you arrive at the pale yellow-whitish core. Chop off bulbous root and those hard-to-digest grassy tops)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 cloves garlic
2-4 fresh green Thai, cayenne or Serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed, coarsely chopped
2 large kaffir lime leaves (KOD note: I substituted the zest of 2 limes)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 eggplant, about 1 pound, stem removed, cut into French-fry-style fingers (KOD note: Literally think about the length and width of your index finger when you’re cutting up the eggplant. I prefer to remove the skin, but that’s a personal preference)
1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes (KOD note: I substituted a handful of in-season cherry tomatoes)
½ cup finely chopped scallions (both green tops and white bulbs)
½ cup fresh basil leaves, stemmed and cut into strips (aka chiffonade)
In the bowl of a food processor, place cilantro, lemongrass, salt, garlic, chiles and lime leaves (or zest). Pulse until minced. The mixture’s citrus-hot aromas will enliven your sense the moment you open the lid.
Heat a wok or a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over high heat. Drizzle oil; as soon as it forms a shimmering pool at the bottom, add eggplant and spread the minced blend on top. Stir-fry about two minutes. (Ventilation may be necessary).
Add tomato and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until tomato softens and eggplant is fall-apart tender, 10-15 minutes. (KOD note: Lower heat to medium to avoid scorching of eggplant)
Stir in scallions and basil, and serve. (Rice is a great accompaniment)
Makes four servings.
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