My children would disagree with this statement but you’re looking at one of the best things I ate last week on vacation that did not include corn or tomatoes. It’s crispy fried eggplant with Romesco sauce and shredded basil and even though I couldn’t get the girls on board, I locked in Andy whose most enthusiastic endorsement of eggplant in the past had been “I mean, I’d eat it if someone served it to me.” I don’t know if it was the eggplant (local, skinny Japanese) or the technique (coating in corn starch and, uh, frying), but the result was the most crisp-tender eggplant I’ve ever made. I served it on Romesco sauce, which I’ve recently discovered as a great recipe to have in the arsenal (indulgent-feeling while being gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan) but Andy noted that the eggplant was tasty enough to stand on its own without the sauce. I might try the eggplant for dinner tonight with just plain yogurt over rice and maybe cashews and cilantro.
Romesco is a Spanish sauce that traditionally includes charred tomatoes, red peppers, almonds, garlic and bread as a thickener. This is a shortcut pepper-forward version.
1 (12-ounce) jar roasted sweet red peppers, completely drained
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Process all the ingredients in a blender until smooth and emulsified. You want it to be slightly thick so it’s spreadable on a plate.
Crispy Eggplant with Basil
3 skinny Japanese eggplant, cut into chunks as shown
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon paprika
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
Spread out eggplant in a strainer as much as possible and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. (This helps sweat out a little bitterness.) Rinse with cold water. Add cornstarch, paprika, and more salt and pepper to a zip-top bag. Add eggplant (it’s ok if eggplant is still slightly wet) and shake gently so all pieces are slightly coated.
Add oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Using a slotted spoon, scoop eggplant out of bag and on to skillet, making sure not to crowd the pan. (Do it in batches if your skillet is small.) Try to arrange the pieces so that they are flesh-side down. Let sit about 2 to 3 minutes, then toss again, allowing other sides to get crispy. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate. Once all eggplant is fried and crispy, add on top of Romesco (if using) and top with basil.
Every week, I send out a free newsletter with a few quick thoughts on what I’m cooking and reading and eating, delivered directly to your inbox. You can sign up here. If you’d like to get bonus content, including access to community threads, book news, and my monthly podcast, you can subscribe for $5 a month.