Eggplant is a fruit that’s best cooked scorched, blistered or charred on top of a red hot grill. The purpose of all this man-handling is to transform the spongy flesh and tough skin into a creamy texture. But do we need to treat the eggplant so harshly to get it to behave and absorb all the wonderful flavors we throw its way?
In Korean cooking there is an eggplant side dish called gagi namul, where the eggplant is lightly steamed, and then shredded before it’s tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce, chili flakes, and copious amounts of garlic. My first uncle’s (maternal side) wife is the ordained master of the gagi namul in our family. She has been anointed by my grandmother, and it is an accepted truth that First Uncle’s wife makes the best gagi namul in the Lee family. She also lives in New Jersey, and I’m trapped? in Belmont at the moment, so I do not have her legendary gagi namul recipe to share with you. I don’t bother to ask her over the phone, because it will turn into an Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First? routine.
I’m not about to dethrone First Uncle’s wife through my petty blog anyway. Hubby is away again in Indiana on a business trip, and I’m left to explore the different ways to prepare steamed eggplant. The kids don’t seem to mind eggplant especially if cheese is involved. Although I like gagi namul, all that raw garlic can be overwhelming. Gently cooking the garlic in flavored oil can remove it’s sharpness while retaining its piquancy. And since I’ve decided to steer this dish towards a more mediterranean place (Greek dinner two weeks ago still on the brain), I’ll cook the garlic with some anchovies in olive oil. Add in a few capers and chili flakes into the warm oil, and it’s ready to be poured onto the steamed eggplant. Then, smother it with parmesan cheese.
Whether you eat it on top of crostini or pasta is your call. Today, it’s all about you. Me. And the eggplant, which has been abused for too long. Heck, go to the spa first, relax, zen-out, and then spread your happiness to the purple fruit. Peace, Man.
- 4 medium sized Asian eggplants
- 2 c baby spinach
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbs capers(drained and dried on paper towel)
- 3 cloves of garlic finely minced
- 1 tbs tomato paste
- 1 tsp chili flakes(add less or more to your liking)
- 1/2 tsp Italian anchovy paste
- Juice from half a lemon(about 1/4 tsp)
- 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- grated parmesan cheese
- Cut the ends off the eggplants. Slice the eggplants in half crosswise, and then slice in half lengthwise. Place them cut side down in one layer in a steamer. Steam for 8-10 minutes until their skins turn brown and the flesh is soft. (You may need to steam in two batches. Microwaving the eggplants is a convenient alternative. Just make sure to rotate the pieces so they cook evenly in the microwave.)
- Place steamed eggplants on a dish and allow to cool slightly.
- Shred the eggplant using two forks. Allow to cool completely. Then, taking two paper towels, gently squeeze the eggplant pieces so some of the moisture is removed.
- In a saute pan, heat 4 tbs of olive oil on high. Add dried capers to the oil. (Careful, there may be splatter.) Allow the capers to get crispy(a minute) before lowering the heat.
- Let the oil cool a little(30s) before adding the anchovy and tomato paste.
- Mix the paste into the oil for a minute or two, and then add chili flakes and garlic.
- Keep moving the minced garlic in the oil and cook it for another 1-2 minutes. (Make sure the heat is on low.)
- Remove pan from the heat and add the juice of half a lemon and 1/4 tsp of salt.
- Toss the baby spinach into the warm dressing. Add shredded eggplant and completely coat it in the dressing.
- Serve on top of pasta, crostini, or as a cooked salad.
Top with grated parmesan cheese.