Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to Smoke an Eggplant (No, not like that)

So, some of us are not fortunate enough to have anything resembling outdoor space we can call our own, and thus the adorable tiny Weber we bought to grill the pants off all our food sits neglected in our basement storage unit. Hey, at least we have a basement storage unit.

And a gas stove. Enter the new technique I have been applying to many-a-market-vegetable these days in effort to achieve something akin to smoky flavor in our food. It also helps me suppress the urge to punch a stranger in the face every time I smell someone else's delicious, char-grilled dinner wafting in through my open windows.

Basically, what you can do is set anything with a protective outer coating (like the skin of eggplants and peppers, say) straight onto the burner over a medium-low flame. Too high and you get instant burn with raw insides; too low and you'll be smoking that thing all freaking day. Set it right on the burner grate and keep a pair of tongs handy. You'll want to stand nearby but you don't have to watch it like a hawk. After several minutes, you have to turn the thing to make sure other parts of the 'plant get cooked. Keep turning and smoking until most sides of the eggplant look well charred and the flesh is smooshy when you poke it.
Now, toss the whole thing in a big bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 15 minutes. This will continue to cook the insides. To get the goods, split the eggplant and scoop out the flesh with a fork or spoon. Not all the way cooked? Not a problem. Throw the meat in a microwave-safe bowl and zap till it's done; you've already got the flavor you want.

Eh, now what, right? Who eat smoked eggplant? Well, it's got a very distinct flavor, and one that may not be for everyone. In fact, if my dad is even still reading this post I'll be very impressed. He's probably already stopped to vomit at least 4 times. If you are interested in ingesting smoked eggplant, you may consider some Middle Eastern stylings, like baba ghanoush which is based around this very ingredient. I'll include some ideas to get you started.

Baba Ghanoush
1 large or 2 small eggplants; smoked and flesh scraped out
1 Tbsp tahini
1 large clove garlic, grated
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together in a food processor or just aggressively with a fork. Best at room temp. Serve with flatbread, pita chips, or bagel chips that you made from the leftovers that Bagel Man at the farmers market continues to heap upon you, despite your protests that you only have a household of two and cannot, in fact, eat two dozen bagels in a week.

Yogurt-Eggplant Dip
1 large or two small eggplants, smoked and flesh scraped out
1/2 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Mix and eat.

Eggplant Caviar (sort of)
1 large or two small eggplants, smoked and flesh scraped out
2 red peppers; smoked as above, tossed in a paper bag for 5 minutes, then skin slipped off
1 medium red onion, cut into rings and sauteed or microwaved until soft
2 cloves garlic, grated
3 Tbsp tomato paste (or more, to taste)
2-3 Tbsp olive oil

Use a food processor for this one to achieve a finely ground, uniform texture. Season with salt to taste.

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