Yaaaay….finally I got to this!! This is my second attempt in writing this post! I’ve realized something about me..if the moods not right, then it reflects on everything I do, especially in the kitchen. Something goes wrong with my cooking or baking..sort of like writer’s block! Oh and then there’s that! Writer’s block! How annoying is it when you want to write something and the words don’t come together…not in your brain, not on paper, and not on a post! And then you wait! Well that has happened with this eggplant dish numerous times! I don’t know why considering this is one of the easiest things I make. No sautéing…almost no precooking..everything just falls into place. But when the mood’s not right, the mood’s not right!
Turkish cuisine has tens of hundreds of eggplant dishes (I’m not taking the risk and saying thousands, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were thousands)! And so there’s an art to it from the moment you enter the vegetable section of the grocery store up to the moment you plate your dish. Picking and choosing the right eggplant for the right dish is very important. And there’s the whole thing about the bitterness of eggplants. I used to think it’s the seeds but I’m not so sure any more.
Here are a few tips about cooking eggplants…hope you benefit from them! :)) :
1. Picking the right eggplant: You need to find the right eggplant for the dish you’re preparing. For this dish, I’m using medium sized eggplants and sometimes I’ve used medium-large. You press an eggplant with your thumb and make sure it’s not hard…the skin should be a uniform color with no deformations or signs of discoloring. And a trick I learned from Mariam (my besty) is that you should watch out for the ‘thickness’ of the stem. If the stems are thin, then it hasn’t been watered enough and the seeds will be large. If the stem is thick, the seeds will be small…so far this trick has worked well for me.
2. Prepping: After peeling or chopping or cutting an eggplant (in short preparing it to be cooked), let the eggplants soak in salt water. Some say 10 minutes, some say 20 and some say 30…I keep it for 20 and change the water and redo the process. It helps with the bitterness. One important thing you should remember at this stage is after you drain the water, squeeze the water out of the eggplant too. Eggplants are sponge-like…they soak up any medium they are put in. So if you don’t want oil splattering all around, squeeze the eggplants, and pat dry them with a paper towl.
3. Frying: Usually, if a recipe requires the eggplant to be fried, it means deep-fry. Fill a deep pot with enough oil to hold the eggplant on top without letting it touch the bottom of the pot. Heat the oil on high heat. To check if the oil is ready, you can dip a tiny bit of the eggplant into the oil and see if the oil acts up. If it doesn’t, let it heat for a bit more…it shouldn’t take very long so keep checking until it’s ready.
4. Bitterness after frying: Last but not least, if you feel that the eggplants are still too bitter after frying them or grilling them, with your finger, rub a thin coat of sugar onto the flesh…something mom taught me :))) it should ease the bitterness a bit.
Ok with that done, here’s the recipe of an absolutely beautiful looking and delicious dish!! :)))
- 2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise in half (you can leave the stems on or chop them off, it's up to you)
- Large bowl of water
- 4 tablespoons of salt
- About 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying (makes about 1 inch in a medium sized pot)
- 4 boneless chicken breast halves
- 1 large tomato, sliced in half
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons red pepper paste (optional)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper powder
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
- 1½ cups hot water
- Keeping in mind that the eggplants should be intact on the top, slice the eggplants lengthwise into 4 strips up to ½ an inch to the top (the top being the end where the stem was/is)
- Dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in the large bowl of water and place the eggplants into the bowl. Let them soak for about 10 minutes
- Drain the water, and repeat the process (fill the bowl with water again and add another 2 tablespoons of water and soak the eggplants for a second time)
- Drain the water and squeeze each eggplant gently to remove any excess water that may have been soaked up. Leave the eggplant in the strainer until ready to use. Before frying the eggplants, pat dry the eggplants.
- On high heat, heat the vegetable oil for 5 minutes. Check the doneness of the oil by carefully dipping the edge of an eggplant in the oil. If the oil starts bubbling, it means it's ready. If not, leave it for a few more minutes, checking occasionally.
- Carefully place the eggplants into the hot oil and fry for 3 - 4 minutes on each side, until they are golden brown on the fleshy side.
- Remove the eggplants from the oil and put on plate or tray lined with paper towels.
- Set aside and allow to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 225 degrees C (437 degrees F).
- Thinly slice the halved tomato
- Slice the chicken breast lengthwise into ½ inch in thickness
- Arrange the cooled eggplants in a large baking dish.
- Into each strip of eggplant, place a slice of tomato and a strip of chicken breast. If the chicken strip is too long, you can fold it and tuck it underneath or you can trim it.
- In a measuring cup or medium sized bowl, add all the sauce ingredients and mix well until smooth.
- Pour over the eggplants.
- Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes.
- Remove foil and bake for a further 15 minutes.
- Once ready, allow to cool for 15 minutes and serve with rice or bread.
For a healthy twist on this dish, you can grill the eggplants instead of frying them.
1. Prepare the eggplants as directed above. Pat dry them then line them on a baking sheet, cut side up, and brush with olive oil on both sides.
2. Bake in a preheated oven for about 25 – 30 minutes.
3. Prepare everything as mentioned above except for the sauce…since these eggplants have not been fried, to enhance the taste, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the sauce and bake as directed above.