This weeks French Fridays with Dorie challenge was Eggplant Caviar. Let me tell you, I was really ready to dislike it, and it turned out not what I was expecting at all! Which goes back to “don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!”
Part of the fun of committing to cooking through all the recipes in a cookbook is that it pushes you to try things you wouldn’t, but also to cook things in ways you may never try or have ever bought, further expanding your repertoire of skills in the kitchen and your outlook on food in general. There are many names for dishes and foods that we associate with a clear dislike, such as sushi, liver and (of course) caviar. Most people you come across feel very strongly about it and either are seriously unwilling to try it or come near it or have tried it (often not at a reputable place it seems) and wouldn’t try it again. So when I saw that eggplant caviar was on the schedule I was expecting Dorie to have us all slaving away in the kitchen making tiny, dark balls of eggplant to be served on toasted bread or crackers or something, that had a rather abrasive taste, unappealing color and smell and just overall be a bad experience. Boy, was I wrong!
I LOVE to buy eggplant! When I do buy it, roughly once a month – sometimes two depending on my tastes, I know exactly what I’m going to do with it. Eggplant parmesan! I have a great recipe under my belt that involves some of the best matured British cheddar, a bottle of a nice, dry white wine, plump eggplant, Panko bread crumbs, marinera sauce and a little bit of fry action. It’s best straight out of the oven, although a nice treat the next day for lunch also because we always make enough for six or eight! There hasn’t really been a push to try eggplant cooked any other way because the parmesan is such a treat that I don’t want to make it any other way! But Dorie had me (and the other Doristas) in the kitchen making some eggplant caviar this week! Although just in case I didn’t like the caviar, I bought some chicken to make a chicken-eggplant parmesan with alternating layers of breaded chicken, cheese, marinera and eggplant – so that it wouldn’t go to waste – but it turns out I didn’t need it after all!
This beautiful, unassuming, plump – yet blushing eggplant sat on the counter in front of me and I put off stabbing it all over with a fork until the last-minute. I let the oven come to temperature, foil-lined a baking sheet, took some last-minute beauty shots of the precious eggplant…. let’s name her Bertha. Then, the evil fork came along….
To give you an idea of how much I like eggplant, I have embroidered an eggplant on my bit of muslin that I’m doodle embroidering… it’s a new hobby. So as I watched my poor Bertha, shriveling, wrinkling and roasting away in the oven, a piece of my soul died. Her beautiful unassuming round bottom, poked and violated in a way I have never treated an eggplant before, I could hear Bertha cry.
Now, while you are thinking to yourself how crazy I must be for allowing myself to go on about
Bertha my eggplant, I have to interject to tell you how amazing Bertaha it smelled as it roasted! And after this experience with the caviar, I might go on a hunt for some recipes for roasted eggplant!
There was something oddly exciting yet calming about scraping the soft flesh out of the skin. Mei watched me mash-up the eggplant and excitedly kicked her feet, thinking it was for her – meanwhile Patella was shoving her head between my feet becoming ever so excited at the prospect of her dinner hitting the table. I often mash some soft dog food into her bowl and it makes a very similar sound on the counter as mashing eggplant apparently. It was quite comical. Because it was just little ‘ole me planning on eating the caviar, I decided to cut the recipe in half which turned out unnecessary…
In the end, I took it with me along with some macaroons to make a delivery to a friend and asked both my friend and her mom to both try it and it turns out that they liked it too! Although it was not as amazing as one might have hoped for, after we all tried it and found it pleasant. It was a bit grey, or charcoal – if you want to be chic about your color names, green and had a brightness to it in both smell and taste. It was a medley of herbs and spices that sang a sweet melody. We even unanimously agreed that we would certainly consider making this for a party as an appetizer, provided most of the people would try it or like eggplant. We tried this on triscuits by the way. I had a couple of loaves of french bread that I had fresh-baked, but were still cooling – so while I had planned to toast and fry slices of fresh-baked french bread like brushetta slathered in eggplant caviar, we didn’t quite get there. More on the bread tomorrow.
For all the bits that went into it, I was shocked not to be bowled over with the taste of eggplant. Most people don’t appreciate eggplant due to its potentially slimy taste – even Tom Colicchio in the latest season of Top Chef mentions that it’s not one of his favorite foods and doesn’t eat it, and for those that have tried it, they describe not being able to get past the strong flavor of eggplant. The fresh herbs, lemon, onion especially, all made pleasant additions to the caviar and left my fingertips smelling ever so fresh and I think I would prefer more of most of them in the next batch I make sometime in the future. It was well-balanced and had a richness that I can’t quite peg but wouldn’t want to do without in this dish. While I wouldn’t be happy to sit and eat spoonful after spoonful, I would be happy to eat this on toasted bread or crackers as appetizers at a dinner party – maybe even with cheese and wine next time?… Hmmm….
If you’re wondering, like me, how the other Doristas made out with this one and how they chose to serve it, look no further. If you would like to join FFwD, click here! It’s great fun, there is food, friends and great stories of triumphs and sometimes… heartbreak – but in the end? Totally worth it.