When I was first learning how to cook — which is another way of saying “When I was first plowing my way through The Silver Palate Cookbook in 1994″ — I remember coming across a recipe for an Avocado Dip that called for a cup of homemade mayonnaise. Homemade mayonnaise? Did such a thing even exist? Apparently it did — the ingredient list bumped me to page 339 where I could whirl a few eggs with oil and come up with something that promised to be both “luscious and versatile.” Maybe for other people. For me, a beginner, it just promised to be intimidating. I skipped the homemade mayonnaise. And, get this, I also skipped the Avocado dip. Obviously I couldn’t make the dip if I was only using regular old Hellmann’s. Recipes were recipes and you didn’t f#@k with them.
Fast forward twenty years (are you freaking kidding me by the way? 20 years!) to last Friday. I found myself in the possession of two beautiful eggplants, which, being married to Andy, was a surprising place to find myself. For him (OK for me, too, I’ll admit it) an eggplant falls into the category of Thing That I Would Probably Not Choose to Cook, but Would Eat if it’s in Front of Me. Well, on Friday, they were in front of me — right there in the CSA box nestled in with the corn, tomatoes, sage, carrots, and beets.
So what to do first? I did what any self-respecting CSA member would do — I pulled Plenty from my cookbook shelves, possibly the most inspirational vegetarian cookbook that exists in the world. The cover featured eggplants drizzled with a buttermilk dressing and bejeweled with pomegranates. I knew my kids wouldn’t go for that, but maybe Ottolenghi had some other ideas for me? Something where maybe I didn’t have to tell my kids that they were actually eating eggplant? I flipped to “The Mighty Eggplant” section…there was the cover recipe, then Soba Noodles with Mango and Eggplant, then Lentils with Broiled Eggplant, then Eggplant Tricolore, then…oh my God, jackpot:
Other than turning something into pizza, there is no more foolproof strategy for marketing a potentially offensive food to kid than turning it into a golden-fried, handheld, dip-able, glorified mozzarella stick. (At least none that I can think of.) I scanned the recipe…hmmm, russet potatoes, don’t have those. Feta, darn, just ran out yesterday. Tarragon aioli? Homemade? (1994 flashback!) That was not going to happen. Neither was the chilling in the fridge for “at least 20 minutes.”
In other words, the recipe was perfect!
I had some Yukon golds, which are generally not as fluffy as russets — I knew that — and I had Parm, which wouldn’t quite be feta, and, just by dumb luck, Blue Hill Farm had sent me a sampler of their brand new savory yogurts* (tomato, squash, carrot, and beet), one of which (tomato) I figured would be an excellent stand-in for the aioli. Other adjustments I made along the way: Instead of shaping the mixture into sticks, I shaped them into patties — a decision that was validated when Abby spied them frying in the pan and cheered “Are we having latkes tonight???” (Um, yeah, totally.) I was not in the possession of sunflower oil for the deep frying — pretty sure I never have been in my entire life — and so I used 3 tablespoons of olive oil for regular old pan-frying.
And the result? They were kind of genius. Not Ottolenghi genius, but On-the-Fly genius. Vegetarian, nothing wasted, kids ate it up, and, when served with roasted carrots tossed with sage and carrot yogurt and a classic tomato-corn salad the whole thing was the perfect Friday night dinner. I think my 1994 self would have been impressed.
Clockwise from top left: The eggplant fritters with tomato-yogurt dip; tomato-corn salad with cilantro and tomato yogurt; a photo of the Eggplant Croquettes in Plenty the way they were supposed to look before I decimated the poor recipe; savory yogurts (squash, carrot, beet, tomato) new from Blue Hill Farm.
*Editorial disclaimer: Samples get sent to me all the time, but that does not mean I always write about them. I only ever write about products that have a real use in my kitchen.