Sunday, October 04, 2009

Spicy Braised Eggplant with Lentils

A few weeks ago, I did an article in the Living section of the Athens Banner-Herald on eggplant. The article included five international and internationally inspired recipes for using that wonderful vegetable. Eggplant grows extremely well in Georgia, producing heavily in mid to late summer, but cooking it here is pretty much limited to eggplant parmesan and batter-fried strips. Here's one of my recipes from the article.

Although this stew-like dish tastes Mediterranean, it is in fact a creation that combines some of my favorite flavors and textures. During cooking, the eggplant melts down into a rich creamy sauce.

This can serve a substantial vegetable with roasted or grilled meat, or as a main dish when accompanied by rice. Alternatively, if diluted with more liquid, it makes a full-bodied soup.

I enjoy dry, spicy Garnacha/Grenache wines with a dish like this. Alternatively, a Malbec from Argintina does well.

The recipe serves six, with leftovers.

Spicy Braised Eggplant with Lentils

1 pound (2-1/4 cups) dry tan/green (ordinary) lentils
1 medium eggplant (1 to 1-1/4 pounds)
1 medium onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 stick celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 medium-sized tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons salt plus to taste
2 cups water or unsalted broth
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat (“Italian”) parsley
1/4 cup either canned, evaporated milk or sour cream

Place lentils in large bowl. Add boiling water to cover by 3 inches. Soak until needed.

Peel alternating strips of skin from eggplant, keeping about half the skin attached. Cut eggplant in 1-inch chunks. Soak 30 minutes in salted water (4 teaspoons salt to 8 cups water), stirring occasionally.

In large pot, gently fry onion in oil, stirring frequently, until turning golden. Add celery and garlic. Fry several minutes, then reduce heat.

Stir in seasonings other than salt. After one minute, add tomato and fry until softened, stirring frequently.

Drain eggplant. Add to onion-tomato mixture. Increase heat, and fry 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Drain lentils. Add to pot, along with salt and water or broth. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally and scraping bottom of pot, until lentils are tender but not disintegrated. During cooking, add a little water, if needed, to keep mixture moist.

Taste, and add salt if necessary. Stir in parsley plus milk or sour cream. Heat until bubbling. Remove from heat.

Serve as vegetable side dish or as main dish with rice. Or, add extra liquid, adjust salt, and serve as soup.

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