Sweet'n'Sour Grilled Mini Eggplant + Gram Flour Mashed Potato
Small, but oh-so perfectly formed these little Thai aubergines- and so delicious! I think the secret to preparing them to taste their best, is to add flavor, sure, but to not chop, slice, dice or mash them around... that would just be wrong by such sweet little things!
So it was just me and my griddle pan and the notion to make an aubergine dish with some traditional Sicilian flavor- but to make it a little different and new. Even the creamy and delicious puree of gram flour and potato I based on Sicilian "Panelle"- and yet this is a dish you won't find in any traditional cookery books from "the old county". But you might very well find it in mine some day!
The first thing I did was to start working on the puree, which I wanted to be a cross between a smooth and creamy hummus and a regular mashed potato. I love hummus, but find that it sometimes tastes either too dry and grainy (from the chick peas) or too greasy from too much added oil. So I thought that making a combination with potato would perhaps be a nice alternative and the addition of yogurt might make a nice, "light" variation. And wouldn't you know it- I turned out to be right!
I grated an average-sized potato finely and began to boil it in 3-4 measuring cups of water. I added 3-4 tablespoons of gram flour and began to whisk it in immediately, to create a smooth paste. Don't worry about any lumps- they will either be taken care of by your whisk right now or by your blender later ;-). I seasoned with salt, pepper and a hint of nutmeg and kept stirring. It is amazing how much liquid that flour will take up- but it IS a balancing act to get it right and for me it was a case of a little more flour, a little more water- until it became a nice, soft, smooth creamy consistency. I then added some crushed garlic, a chopped Spring onion and a squeeze of lemon juice. One last stir and then I left it to cool and turned my attention to the aubergines...
I heated up my griddle pan and in the meantime, cut the aubergines in two and drizzled them very lightly with olive oil. I left the stalks on, as I used them to pick them up by later- it made eating them much more fun as they are only 2-3 mouthfuls at the most! Once the pan was really hot, I pressed them down hard and then left them there for a good 3-4 minutes without moving them, to get a few little scorch marks going- just to make them a little prettier! I then flipped them over and let them fry from the other side for 2-3 minutes. After that time, I poured a little water onto the pan so that they would steam a little from the skin side- just to be sure they would soften up nicely and be cooked right through. Sounds crazy- but trust me- it was a good thing! The water soon evaporated away and the aubergines were as yummy and firm and intact as you could want them- but they were cooking and not just scorching- THAT is what it is all about.
I removed them from the heat, popped them into a bowl and drizzled them with honey, lemon juice, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, added a drop more oil, then returned them to the griddle. I put the faced down again for a minute or so to caramelize a little, then back onto their backs to go underneath the broiler and get nice and golden brown on top- yum!
Next, I took the puree, which was now cool and MUCH firmer and scraped it into my blender. I added a handful of coarsely chopped parsley, a couple of spoonfuls of plain yogurt and a few drops of sesame oil. I turned it onto pulse and then got back to the aubergines- they needed to come out of the pan as I needed to fix a little sauce! I did this by deglazing the pan with a good shot of Marsala, a squeeze of honey, a splash of malt vinegar and a few leaves of oregano. I let these cook down into a syrup and added a pinch of salt and a little cayenne- perfect!
I served the aubergine up on a bed of the creamy, herb-infused puree and added a drizzle of the Marsala reduction. What a wonderful vegetarian meal... and I am not even a vegetarian! It's a great combination that you are bound to enjoy- especially with lots of fresh oregano as a garnish- that flavor just pops in your mouth and brings it all to life!