Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Balkan Pork Stew with Eggplant: Enjoying summer's excess

In late summer, I'll be doing a newspaper article on eggplant, an underappreciated vegetable in the US but which is very popular elsewhere. I write an every-other-week food column for the Athens Banner Herald, but occasionally I do a bigger piece. The article will include a number of recipes for preparing that vegetable, which floods Georgia markets for several months.

Over the next few weeks, I'll get recipes into the blog as I develop and test them, to put them "out there" for people to try and comment back, before I get the full newspaper article together.

Here's a way of using eggplant to create a rich sauce for a hearty stew of the type made in the Balkan countries. The stew itself is based on pork, a reasonably economical meat right now. As with much of the food in the Balkans, this stew has both Slavic and Greek/Turkish influences.

The stew should be served with a starch as a side dish. Polenta would be more Croatian, Italian, and Romanian; noodles would be more Slovenian and eastern Slavic; rice would be more Greek and Turkish, especially a mildly seasoned pilaf; potatoes would be more Austrian and German.

A dry red wine would go with this dish. The recipe serves six.

Let me know what you think.

Balkan Pork Stew with Eggplant

1 medium (3/4-pound) purple eggplant
2 pounds lean pork (butt, leg, loin as last choice)
3 tablespoons rendered pork fat or olive oil for frying
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-large tomato, diced (or 1 tablespoon tomato paste)
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup red wine
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon oregano, fresh and minced, or 3/4 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt plus to taste
Minced parsley for garnish
Sour cream for serving

Peel eggplant and cut in roughly 1-inch chunks. To remove bitterness, soak in large bowl of salted water (2 teaspoons salt to 8 cups water) for at least 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Cut meat in 1-1/2-inch pieces.

Either fry some of the pork fat trimmings in the stew pot (and remove cracklings), or use olive oil, for frying the meat. Heat 3 tablespoons of rendered pork grease or olive oil in stew pot and add meat.

Quickly fry meat over medium-high heat, scraping under meat frequently and turning it until raw color is completely gone. Add onions and garlic, and fry, stirring frequently, until onion is quite softened.

Add tomato or paste, and fry 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until tomato starts to break down. Add a little water if mixture seems too dry.

Add bell pepper, wine, spices and herbs. Stir, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, until meat is starting to become tender, 20-25 minutes. The liquid should be thick, but stir often, scraping bottom of pot. Add a little water, if necessary.

Drain eggplant, and add it to meat. Simmer, covered, stirring frequently, until eggplant breaks down into the sauce, leaving only tiny chunks.

Taste, and adjust salt.

Serve with polenta, noodles, rice, or potatoes. Sprinkly with a little minced parsley for garnish.

Accompany with sour cream to be dolloped on top.

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