Baba Ganoush & The Eggplant Incident

My lack of love for eggplant has been previously mentioned herein.  Each summer, though, the tide of eggplant rises along with the other nightshades – tomatoes, peppers – and eventually, a globe or two shows up in our CSA box from T&D Willey and I must dispense with it.  This was the week.

That "previously mentioned" link above – to a recipe for Royal Eggplant with Garlic, which is a really delicious smoky roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes, onions, spices and butter – is one of my two ways of coping with eggplant.  My other coping mechanism is baba ganoush.  Load eggplant up with olive oil, tahini & lemon juice, and really, there’s no reason not to eat it. 

It’s sad that I have two eggplant recipes and a bajillion ways of using just about every other kind of produce, but they are two really good eggplant recipes.

So, not having posted my baba ganoush recipe previously, that’s where I headed on Saturday.  The heat had broken (it was going to be 104 instead of 112; that’s what we mean in Fresno when we say it’s going to be "cooler") and so I took some time before the day got really hot to roast the eggplant in the oven.

This occasion is one of those times that I think I should buy a grill to avoid heating up the house with the oven, and then Chimp reminds me that you have to cook on a grill outside.  Well, scratch that when it’s 110.

I think I could skip buying the grill entirely; just oil the eggplant up and lay it on a well-scrubbed section of patio, then go out and kick it every 30 minutes or so.  Come to think of it, why don’t I have a solar oven?  And along with that, why isn’t every roof in this town covered with solar panels?  You’d think we could make a mint.  I must be missing something.

But I’m getting off track here.

I came home from the market, washed the eggplant, and popped it in the oven to broil while I washed some shallots (for something else) to roast along with the eggplant.  I was tossing the shallots in a dish with some grapeseed oil and salt when

POOOFFfffffsssssss.

"Aha," I thought to myself, "That must be the eggplant exploding."

I opened the door.  My oven had birthed a Japanese tentacle monster.

Exploding the eggplant was not originally part of my baba ganoush recipe, but if you, like me, are tired or forgetful and omit the step of pricking the eggplant before you place it in the oven, I want you to know that this recipe has been tested with both exploded and intact eggplant on separate occasions, and both kinds work just fine.

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Sloppy Mobys

Eh, the lighting needs work in that, but the important part of the lighting task is accomplished: you can see what it is that’s being photographed. My Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Internal Regulation System says: “That’s good enough. Sit down and eat now.”

A few years ago now – yikes, it was probably 1999, back when I was working for Whole Foods, because it was when Play was first out – I made a hot lentil sauté on hamburger buns, inspired by the idea of Sloppy Joes, which I never liked as a kid, but the idea of that kid-ish-inspired food seemed like fun. We called them Sloppy Mobys, because they were vegan, and Moby was very much the uber-vegan symbol at the time. This isn’t meant to strongly resemble actual Sloppy Joes made of meat; it’s the idea I liked.

The idea came back to me recently, so we had something like that this past week, tucked into whole-wheat pita instead of on burger buns, because I couldn’t find any whole-wheat burger buns, and I am that insufferable whole-grain type.

I didn’t even eat most of this as sandwiches, either – after one dinner with it that way, the rest of it I added a little water to and ate as soup – and it was great.

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White Flour

I don’t put much time in at the regular supermarket. I end up there on occasion when I need aluminum foil or dried chilies, but most of the time I’m living in my little specialty foods retailer cocoon.

Before we moved to California in 2003, I went to Meijer every week in Michigan, along with the health food store and oftentimes the bakery and, in season, the farmers’ market.

Before we moved to Michigan in 2000, I had been working for Whole Foods for five years, and with a 20% discount, there was no reason to go anywhere else.

I’m fascinated by the regular grocery store whenever I’m there. I grew up with regular supermarkets – the red and orange A&P logo on the front of the market my family shopped at in New England is one of my earliest memories.

I remember the logo’s shape-commonality with pills my father took while he was battling Hodgkin’s disease and the coated licorice Good & Plenty candies that I ate, mimicking his daily pill-swallowing routine and offering them to him with childhood-magical-thinking-surety that they would make him not sick any more.

In Virginia, we shopped at Safeway store #0002 and then the Giant when it opened down the street, plus the dreaded weekend-afternoon eating trips to the commissary that fill the childhood memories of lots of military dependents. When you started filling the second cart, you knew the end was in sight.

But I’ve been away from the supermarket so long, and away from the standard American diet even longer, that I’m sort of amazed by what I find there and what’s happening. I’ve always been a casual grocery cart anthropologist – I roped a date using this habit when I was working at Whole Foods by saying Hey, that’s great tofu, isn’t it? – but looking at people’s carts at Whole Foods is of limited interest. There’s the person who clearly buys all her produce elsewhere and the couple who buy six bottles of wine at a time and the family who ring up a gargantuan bill with meat and prepared foods.

At the regular supermarket, though, I get to see what most people are really buying. To tell the truth, I mostly find this depressing.

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Roasted Garlic

This may not be as in style as it was ten years ago, but it’s still awesome, can improve a great number of things, makes you look like you really can cook up a storm, and happens with almost no effort. What could be better?

1 head garlic
water
olive oil
salt and pepper
herb(s) if you want: thyme, rosemary, sage

Preheat the oven to 375. Cut about the top 1/3 off the head of garlic – just enough to expose most of the cloves. Place the head in a small dish (a little Pyrex ramekin is a good fit) and add enough water to come about halfway up the garlic head. Season the garlic with salt and pepper. Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil over it. Toss on some herbs – fresh or dried – if you wish. Cover the dish tightly with foil and pop in the preheated oven. Bake for about an hour. Remove the garlic from the cooking liquid, place it in the foil, separate the cloves somewhat with a fork, and place it in the freezer for five minutes. Take it out and squeeze the cloves from the papery skins onto a plate. Using a fork, mash the pulp with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil.

You can eat this straight if you’re brave and the others around you are willing to do the same. If you are not so brave, add some of it to butter or oil and use it on bread or as a seasoning for just about anything besides breakfast cereal.

Mostly Honest Garlic Bread

Michael and I went shopping at WFM last night after work and after that were too tired for anything but pasta and sauce. Happens to the best of us. So we grabbed a baguette too and made some garlic bread. Since I know you all know how to make dried pasta and bottled sauce for dinner, here’s my garlic bread recipe, which is only slightly more complicated.

As a kid, from 1st grade on, the only day I would buy school lunch was on spaghetti day, and as time went on, I quit even doing that. My dislike of school lunch came mostly from the menu offerings, which weren’t things I liked. As I got older, even the spaghetti lunches weren’t enjoyable. They started making me feel queasy. Looking back, I think the overcooked spaghetti was probably mostly to blame. When I gave up buying even the spaghetti lunch, the only thing I really missed about it was the plain French bread that came with the lunch. It was sliced on the diagonal, which I thought looked really neat and was fun to bite. My mother bought whole-wheat sandwich bread, so I rarely ate white bread and generally disliked the pasty texture of Wonder-type sandwich breads. I liked white French bread, though. Butter came with the bread, and I never used it. I have never liked buttered toast, and have never put butter on bread, pancakes, or baked potatoes either. I never had a taste for it as a child, and I have never developed one with age.

At the summer camp I went to, garlic bread was made with white sandwich bread, butter, and garlic salt, with a few flakes of dehydrated parsley. I enjoyed that, and otherwise never had any use for white sandwich bread. My parents very occasionally bought prepackaged garlic bread when I was growing up, but since I already didn’t like buttered toast, I disliked the soggy steamed texture and greasy margarine flavor of these foil-wrapped loaves.

When I went to work for Fresh Fields in 1995, I worked in the bakery for a time. There, they sliced a thin horizontal layer off the top of a grand baguette (bigger than a standard baguette) and slathered it with Plugra, (low-moisture butter, denser and richer than regular butter) then seasoned it with garlic salt and dusted it with paprika for color. While I liked the seasoning, I found that the procedure resulted in bread seasoned mostly on top and a bit soggy, with a significant amount of unseasoned bread underneath. It was also messy to slice into a hot-out-of-the-broiler baguette soaked with butter.

So, during the time that I was working for Fresh Fields, I started making garlic bread this way—the combination of my acquired like for French bread sliced on the diagonal and garlic bread but retained dislike of soggy fat-laden bread. The diagonal slicing is the essential step. It’s only “mostly” honest because though it uses butter and not yucky margarine like the packaged breads, it uses garlic powder, instead of rubbing the bread with a cut garlic clove gourmet style. I like the flavor of that as well, but the garlic powder flavor is what I want in this preparation.

1 large baguette or grand baguette, with a nice crispy (not soft) crust, sliced diagonally in about 1” pieces
Butter, softened enough to spread (leave it out for an hour or nuke a full stick for 15-20 seconds)
Garlic powder
Popcorn salt (you can use regular salt, but popcorn salt will get distributed more evenly)
Paprika
Dried oregano
Optional: freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (I don’t use it, but some like it)

Preheat your broiler. Spread the bread with butter to your taste. Remember that it will seem a little less buttery as the butter soaks into the bread during cooking. Tile all the slices onto a cookie sheet (a sheet with a rim is helpful). Sprinkle the bread liberally with all of the following: garlic powder, then some salt, a dusting of paprika, and a sprinkling of oregano. Some people add a sprinkling of grated cheese at this point. Place the bread about 3-5 inches from the broiler.

Cook for 1 minute, then check, then cook for another 30 seconds or a minute if necessary. Let it go until the edges start to get a little bit brown, more if you like darker toast. Once it gets going it can get very done very quick, so cook it right before you want to take it to the table, so you can keep an eye on it. Eat hot!

Cheesefakes

his is a cheesesteak-inspired sandwich. I have never eaten a cheesesteak, but Michael, who has lived in PA, says that this is better because it’s without all the crappy processed cheese & scary meat. There are optional mushrooms and cheese here. I can’t eat a sandwich full of mushrooms or halloumi & so just go for the seitan & peppers, but Michael loves it with the fried cheese.

4 large hoagie rolls or mini-baguettes
1 T. canola or other neutral oil
2 large onions
3 green peppers
1 red pepper
2 packages Sweet Earth or White Wave seitan, sliced into strips
oregano
salt and pepper

Saute the onions over medium-high heat in a large pan until slightly caramelized and reduced in volume. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Remove from the pan and set aside. Saute the peppers, in batches if neccessary to avoid crowding, until slightly caramelized and reduced in volume. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Add to the onions.

Taste the seitan before you begin cooking it. If it is tough, place in the pan with 1/4 c. water and a little soy sauce over medium heat, cover, and cook for 3-5 minutes. If not tough, saute as above. Add to pepper-onion mixture and toss.

If you want mushrooms, prepare them here. Use sliced mushrooms of any size, sauteed until their moisture comes out and evaporates somewhat. Mushrooms can be added to the pepper-onion-seitan mix or set aside.

Split the hoagie rolls horizontally and toast them lightly.

If you want halloumi, it can be done while the rolls are toasting. Place 1/4 inch slices of halloumi in a non-stick pan over medium to medium-high heat – no oil is necessary because of the butterfat in the cheese. Fry for a few minutes & turn when browned to cook the other side. Fried halloumi should be eaten quickly – be ready to assemble the sandwiches as you’re finishing it.

If you are not a fan of halloumi but want cheese, aged provolone would be a good fit here.

Spread the rolls with
Grainy mustard (I am addicted to Pommery Moutarde de Meaux)
and add the vegetables and cheese if desired. Jam them in a bit and then press down rather hard on the sandwich.

Makes 4 overstuffed hoagies.