We return again and again to Olives, Lemons & Za’atar by Rawia Bishara. When she came to this country from Palestine, she discovered many new treasures in American markets, including those deep purple eggplants that seem to beckon us all. But, what to do with that eggplant?
Rawia offers a Middle Eastern solution to that question, one that marries roasted eggplant with a tomato salad zippy with chile peppers. As you can see in the picture, we’ve paired the eggplant with homemade bread coated with goat cheese. This is a meal unto itself, delightful for lunch, brunch, or dinner.
Eggplants are still widely known as aubergines, from the Arabic. The plant began in south Asia and migrated slowly, only reaching the Mediterranean area in the Middle Ages thanks to Arab explorers and traders. There were actually two paths of transmission with two related families of plants: the melongene family coming the Eastern Mediterranean and the aubergine family through the Western. The melongene terminology has faded, but aubergine persists.
And the word “eggplant?” By the 18th century, there were European cultivars that were yellow or white in color and resembled goose or chicken eggs. That’s where “eggplant” comes from. And, no, they were not looking at those purple giants when this new name crossed their tongues.
With its roots in Asia, eggplant is still grown predominantly in Asia. China produces the most: nearly 30 million tons a year. India and Iran are the second and third largest producers, with only a fraction of China’s output. The largest European growers are Spain and Italy, the 9th and 10th largest growers in the world. But they produce less than 1% of what China does. So, in your next visit to Chinatown, look for an eggplant dish.
On your way to China, consider this Middle Eastern excursion.
Grilled Eggplant with Spicy Tomato Salad
Yield: 8 servings
- 3 medium eggplants (2 ½ to 3 pounds total), cut into ½-inch rounds
- Sea salt for sprinkling
- Corn oil for frying
- ⅓ to ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil for the tomato topping, plus more for roasting
- 4 long hot or jalapeño chile peppers
- 8 plum tomatoes or 3 beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 lemons, juiced
- Freshly ground black pepper
Arrange the eggplant slices on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and set aside for 30 minutes or until eggplants begin to sweat. Pat dry.
Add ¼ inch corn oil to a large skillet and heat over high until hot. Working in batches, use a spatula to slide the eggplant slices into the skillet and fry, turning once, until they are medium brown on both sides, about 4 minutes total. Repeat with remaining eggplant, adding more corn oil to the skillet if necessary. Alternatively, brush the eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides and roast in a 500°F oven until golden, turning once, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, finely dice 2 chile peppers, removing seeds if desired. Finely slice the other 2 chile peppers. In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, chopped chiles, garlic, ⅓ cup of the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate. Gradually add as much of the remaining olive oil to achieve your desired consistency. Spoon enough of the tomato mixture onto each eggplant slice to leave a narrow border around the rim.
Garnish with the sliced chiles and serve.
Sources: Olives, Lemons & Za’atar by Rawia Bishara with inputs from Wikipedia
Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/3.5 for 1/30th second at ISO‑160
Have you ever followed a recipe in a cookbook, really and truly and honestly followed it, and the result was a disaster?
It wasn’t you. It was the cookbook. And the failure of the author and publisher to make sure that each and every recipe in the book has been tested and works exactly as written. A couple of decades ago, you could depend on that quality in any cookbook you bought. Today? It’s rare, and the recipes in many books can be hit and miss.
What’s the solution to this more than minor problem? First, if you make something and it fails, shoot off an email — maybe with a photo — and just very politely tell the PR department at the publisher that there may be a problem.
Second, and more directly, you can avoid the problem entirely by searching for books from authors and publishers you can trust. Authors like Marie Simmons. With well over a dozen cookbooks in her portfolio, Marie is one of those very special authors you can put full trust in. If it is a recipe in her book, and you follow that recipe, you will have something quite special.
In the past two years, there has been a flurry of cookbooks devoted to one sweet topic: honey. Marie has authored Taste of Honey and it ranks at the top of the hive. Typical of her books, it is smart and simple. The recipes are not 1-2-3 simple, I admit. But, Marie’s writing style is excellent. The directions lead you step-by-step with clarity and precision. Most importantly, Marie has a spirit of adventure, like this recipe where honey and ginger and walnuts and chicken all come together in a sticky, delicious delight.
Pan-Seared Lemon Chicken with Ginger Honey Sauce and Ginger-Honey Walnuts
Yield: 4 servings
For the ginger-honey walnuts:
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 small clove garlic, grated
- ½ cup walnut halves
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
For the lemon chicken:
- 1 ½ pounds boneless and skinless chicken breasts (see note)
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 thinly sliced scallion (about 1 tablespoon, green part only)
To make the ginger-honey walnuts, place oil, ginger, and garlic in small skillet. Slowly heat over medium-low until garlic sizzles. Add walnuts and honey. Cook on medium heat for about 2-3 minutes, adjusting temperature until honey boils and sticks to walnuts and walnuts turn golden. Sprinkle with the salt, adjusting to taste. Transfer to a side dish or sheet of aluminum foil. Do not put on paper towels because they will stick.
To make the lemon chicken, with a sharp knife, fillet the chicken breasts through the thickest part to make 8 cutlets.
Place them on a large piece of plastic wrap, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with second sheet of plastic wrap, and gently but firmly pound chicken with a meat pounder or underside of a small, heavy skillet to make fillets of even thickness of ¼ to ⅓ inch.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in large, broad skillet until hot enough to sizzle.
Add the chicken a few at a time and cook 1-2 minutes per side, until lightly browned.
As the chicken is cooked, transfer to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
Discard oil in skillet and let skillet cool slightly. Add remaining 1 tbsp. of oil, ginger, and garlic to skillet. Heat and stir over medium-low heat just until garlic sizzles. Add the lemon juice, chicken broth, and honey. Heat, stirring to loosen any browned bits in skillet, for about 3 minutes, or until mixture boils and thickens. Pour sauce over chicken and sprinkle with the walnuts and scallions.
Source: Taste of Honey by Marie Simmons
Photo Information Canon T2i, EFS 60 mm Macro Lens, F/3.5 for 1/30th second at ISO‑500